Gonzalo Higuain is a quality striker and a top-notch forward whose talents and abilities have nevertheless been widely disputed both on club and international stage.
The Argentine has been slapped with a big-game bottler’s tag which in great deal came from his goalscoring record in the Champions League. Remarcably enough, until Wednesday, Pipita has only scored two knockout stage goals in Europe’s elite club competition – against CSKA Moscow and Galatasaray, respectively.
Criticism and doubt related to his performances in big games date way back to his Napoli days in 2015 when his lethal instincts abandoned him for a missed penalty against Lazio which could have earned Partenopei the Champions League spot. The international scene only deepened the issue as Gonzalo Higuain went on to miss a penalty in a shootout for the Copa America title against Chile.
His bottler reputation was solidified, self-confidence lost and a problem remained to haunt him ever since.
Little are fans able to recognise in the moments of pure ecstasy that football players are also humans – same flesh and blood – capable of making mistakes and falling short under heavy burden.
Higuain had been constantly insulted and ridiculed by both football fans in Italy and his native Argentina, and even his own mother got to feel it on her own skin. And the Argentine was bound to make a backlash.
Never-ending pressure pushed Higuain close to a breaking point in 2015 when the Argentine player confronted and almost physically assaulted a fan looking for an autograph in Ibiza. Higuain refused, got insulted with a remark that he ‘can’t even score penalties’ before he snapped and threatened to ‘rip your head off’.
Constant bullying found the way to torment the player whose incredible goal scoring exploits from the 2015-16 season and whopping 36 Serie A goals in 35 league matches for Napoli were not enough to do him justice and clear his name of any negative feedback.
Mental barrier broken?
Questions were raised when Serie A champions decided it would be a good piece of business to invest €90 million on a man who tends to choke in big situations that were inevitably going to come in numbers at a club such as Juve.
The 29-year-old Argentine fought through heavy barrage of criticism and weight issues to score 23 Serie A goals for Bianconeri this term.
With their domestic title all but wrapped up and with a bow on top, Juventus focused on the closing stages of the Champions League as Higuain was forced to face his fears. The initial signs offered little promise as the Argentine went on to miss three clear-cut chances against Barcelona in the quarter-final stage of the competition.
Unable to take his Champions League tally to more than mere 2 goals in 24 Champions League knockout games, Higuain headed into the game in Monaco with a huge weight on his shoulders.
What Wednesday night ended up bringing up is the first step towards proving doubters and critics wrong. Well executed brace after a first-half unfortunate slip came as a huge reward for the tormented striker who will be hoping his mental barrier is finally broken.
Higuain will need to do much more if he is to clear his name completely and force his critics to cut him some slack.
The Argentine is keen to get his name on the scoresheet in the return leg of the Champions League semifinal against AS Monaco as well, in order to keep the momentum going and improve his UCL knockout stage numbers even more.
The newly-found self-respect and self-belief will have done wonders for Juventus striker who would be the undisputed winner of the bottle-flipping challenge – sort of speak – if he ends up winning the Champions League with Juventus at 11/10 betting odds in the end.
His two goals against AS Monaco would, in that case, be long remembered as the turning point in his career.
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