After scoring 22 La Liga goals for Real Madrid, perhaps the biggest club in the World, most players are handed big contracts and chances to excel for their national team. For Gonzalo Higuain, this was not the case.
Higuain stepped in to fill the role of Ruud van Nistelrooy after the Dutchman was injured last season, and was arguably Madrid’s best player as they finished second in La Liga. It had been Higuain’s first opportunity to shine for the club in a starting position after playing more as a sub during his first two campaigns in Spain.
Since then, Real Madrid have gone on a monumental spending spree, perhaps ending Pipita’s reign as a starter.
Although Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo are not out-and-out strikers, there has been talk of Ronaldo playing in such a position. The club has also been linked to a classic center forward in David Villa, but after failing to capture the Spainiard’s signature, they settled on Frenchman Karim Benzema, who will look to start up front.
Benzema’s signing in particular puts Pipita in quite a predicament. It is unknown what formation Manuel Pellegrini will prefer, but it is quite possible that Higuain will be the odd man out.
Although rumors suggest that van Nistelrooy will depart the Bernabeu, Raul, the club captain and icon, is certain to remain. Raul, a classic Madridista, has enough pull in the dressing room, with club administrators, media, and fans to warrant a starting place under Pellegrini. The fact that he scored 18 goals last year despite being on the wrong side of 30 helps his claim.
It is unlikely that a player like Benzema, bought from Lyon for €35 million, will be put on the bench. It may be unfair, not only considering how well Pipita did leading the line last year, but also because of his super sub par performances during Madrid’s back-to-back La Liga titles in 2007 and 2008. Such is life at Real Madrid.
While Higuain was starting up front, linking up well with Raul and Arjen Robben, Madrid never struggled to score goals. In fact, had they not conceded six in a humiliating performance against Barcelona in the Bernabeu, Madrid could have taken enough momentum from the Catalans to win the league.
The problem was never Higuain, but a back line with the likes of Cannavaro and Heinze, whose horrendous performances could have been even worse had it not been for the heroics of “San Iker” Casillas in goal. Although Raul Albiol has replaced Canna, the rest of the back line remains unchanged thus far.
We will certainly learn a great deal about Pipita’s character if he is again relegated to the bench. If he is able to keep his place in the lineup, we will see a man who persevered when others tried to replace him. If he does not, Higuain could go down the path of many one-season wonders.
Higuain’s perseverance must also apply to his desire to play for Argentina. Boss Diego Maradona has constantly said things like, “I know he had a great season but I now have other players of a lot of importance in that position.”
Instead, Maradona is refusing to bench Carlos Tevez, a player Maradona loves because they came from similar backgrounds and both played for Boca Juniors. Tevez has a horrible scoring record for his country (50 caps, eight goals), and is one of the biggest reasons Argentina have struggled to qualify, having received two red cards, both before the half hour mark, and missing an important penalty against Ecuador despite pleas from Messi to take it.
Higuain is most likely struggling to play for Maradona because he sat out of the Olympics in order to rest, at the urging of Madrid. Maradona has said that any player who turns down the shirt will not play while he is boss, although he has since contradicted himself by claiming the door is open for Roman Riquelme to return, despite retiring from international football twice.
Having played for Maradona’s archrival club, River Plate, cannot help Pipita’s cause.
The fact that Maradona is displaying such biases would crush most players, but Higuain is still stressing it is his dream to play for Argentina at the World Cup next summer. Some pundits have urged Higuain to play for the country of his birth, France. Although such a move would be unlikely, as Higuain doesn’t speak a word of French and was only born there because his Argentine father was playing football for Brest. He left the country when he was ten-months-old, and has no real connection with it, but he could swap national teams should Maradona continue to shun him.
If Higuain is able to gain a starting place amongst Real Madrid’s galacticos, and force his way into Maradona’s side, it will be a truly great achievement. If he doesn’t pull it off it will be sad, but few can blame Pipita’s effort on his predicament.