There’s hope for humanity yet.
As the top echelons of professional football become populated almost exclusively with bionic superbeings, one man stands alone against the inexorable march to physical perfection.
Enter earth’s unlikeliest hero, Gonzalo Higuain.
The Argentina international was the lead figure in the biggest transfer story in Italy last summer.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) July 27, 2016
Having allowed Paul Pogba to rejoin Manchester United for a world-record fee, Juventus reinvested an eye-watering €90million in prising Higuain away from Napoli, where his 36 goals had made him the most prolific Capocannoniere, Serie A’s top scorer, since Gunnar Nordahl in 1949-50.
With that fearsome reputation and hefty price tag fresh in our thoughts, the sight of an expanded Higuain casually ambling on as a substitute for his La Signora bow in a pre-season friendly against West Ham led to more than a few sharp intakes of breath, and plenty of stifled chuckles.
After losing the Copa America final to Chile in the final week of June – a third defeat at an international tournament showpiece in succession for Argentina’s players – Higuain must have felt he deserved to put his feet up and relax, no matter how briefly, before linking up with his new employers.
Whatever he got up to on those days off was not cast in the most positive light by Juve’s unforgiving all-white away shirt at London Stadium.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) August 7, 2016
And while they say vertical stripes are flattering, pulling on the classic Bianconeri home strip did not improve things.
No matter, we all said, the sports scientists and nutritionists behind the scenes at Italian football’s dominant force would soon whip the recalcitrant marksman into better shape.
But as the weeks and months went past, the transformation expected to be wrought by the rigours of playing regularly for one of Europe’s powerhouse clubs did not quite materialise.
Would Juve, much like their prized asset, be left red faced and panting at having parted with such a sum for a player seemingly below, at least initially, his physical best?
Thankfully for Higuain, and perhaps maddeningly for those players living a monk-like existence in a bid to extract every last drop of physical effort in the quest for glory, the goals did not dry up.
While falling short of the stellar haul he managed in his last Partenopei campaign, with 24 title-winning goals in Turin, Higuain has delivered his second-most prolific league season since 2009-10, while shedding at least some, if not all, of the baggage he carried upon arrival in Piedmont.
Time and again the 29-year-old has made the difference when it mattered for Juve, including in matches against his former team, would-be Scudetto challengers Roma and local rivals Torino.
Perhaps his most important intervention came this month in Monte Carlo, where he struck twice to secure a 2-0 lead in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Monaco, dealing a fatal blow to the hopes of Leonardo Jardim’s team.
If the goals were classic, opportunistic Higuain finishes, the celebration for the first also embodied the idiosyncrasy of the striker’s potency, as he hauled himself gingerly over an adverting board – a manoeuvre many others would have taken at a hurdle – to celebrate with the travelling fans.
A night earlier, the antithesis of Higuain had exerted a similarly definitive influence on the first instalment of a Madrid derby last-four showdown.
Former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, a hat-trick hero to brush aside Atletico, epitomises the aforementioned modern football superman and is never afraid to remind us of his taut, muscular prowess.
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) April 7, 2017
In Cardiff, the two men will go head to head, six pack against sharp shooter.
Even taking into consideration Madrid’s historic and very recent dominance of Europe, it would be a stretch indeed to ever try and bill Juventus as the underdog.
But in Higuain at least the neutrals have an everyman to cheer for, our very own average joe on the biggest stage in club football.
Should he walk away a winner on Saturday night in south Wales, we all deserve a celebratory blowout.
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