Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Higuain finds respect in Napoli
Gifted Argentine will get deserved playing time with Italian club
Last January, three days after a goalscoring performance against Valencia in which he clinically turned an Angel Di Maria cut-back past goalkeeper Diego Alves, Gonzalo Higuain spent the entire 90 minutes of a Copa del Rey quarter-final on the bench.
The same thing had happened following a two-goal, two-assist performance away to Mallorca in October. A standout performance followed by a puzzling omission. By season's end the 25-year-old had decided to leave the Spanish capital.
"I wanted to leave Real Madrid because I wanted to play regularly, and that wasn't possible there," he told Gazzetta dello Sport this week.
He scored three goals in his final four matches in La Liga before agreeing a Ç¨37-million move to Napoli.
On Sunday, Higuain will play his first match for his new club when Bologna visit the San Paolo. And he will line up in manager Rafael Benitez' first 11--a place he can expect to find himself over the course of the 2013-14 Serie A season.
Brought in as part of club owner Aurelio De Laurentis' grand strategy for replacing top-scorer Edinson Cavani, who joined Paris Saint-Germain in July, Higuain will be expected to replace the departed Uruguayan's 29 goals and help Napoli contend for the Scudetto.
It's a sort of second chance for the Argentina international, and it's one he's relishing.
"I'm convinced this will be an important experience for me," he told Gazzetta. "The club, the coach and the squad are all of a high level."
Benitez, who will also be making his Napoli debut against Bologna, has been extremely active in the summer transfer window, not only acquiring Higuain but bringing in left-back Pablo Armero, forward Dries Mertens and goalkeepers Rafael Cabral and Pepe Reina as well.
And to keep his No. 1 striker company, both Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol signed on from Madrid for a combined total of Ç¨21 million -- about a quarter of what Benitez has spent over the past few months.
Goalscoring, it goes without saying, will be Higuain's primary objective with the Partenopei, and with the likes of Goran Pandev, Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne creating chances in the attacking third he shouldn't have too much trouble finding the back of the net.
One of the elements that made him such an attractive asset to Napoli was his history of winning at Madrid, where he was a part of three La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey crown.
Napoli haven't won the league since 1990, when a certain Diego Maradona was a city icon, and Higuain is hoping to emulate that success in his own spell with the club.
"I'm here to make history like Diego Maradona, because my only target is to win," he said, adding, "We have to believe in the Scudetto."
Turn that belief into reality and he'll join his famous countryman as a local legend. Replicate the goalscoring record he compiled at Madrid and he'll enjoy in Italy what was never given him in Spain: respect.
- Monday's glamour match between Manchester United and Chelsea is already being overshadowed by a third Blues offer for disgruntled United attacker Wayne Rooney. There have also been rumblings of a swap involving the 27-year-old and Juan Mata, and with Brazilian playmaker Willian set to be unveiled at Stamford Bridge there's a chance the Spain international could, indeed, be on the auction block. United, meanwhile, have yet to make a significant signing this summer and, as manager David Moyes suggested on Friday, may enter September without a meaningful addition.
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2013 C6
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