Higuain move proof that Juventus' 'giant' reputation has been restored
If Juventus activate Gonzalo Higuain's €94.7 million release clause, they will be making the second-most expensive purchase in football history. Only Real Madrid paid more for Gareth Bale. Yet while Juve fans marvel at the financial muscle of their beloved club, they cannot help but be anxious. Is he worth it?
The short answer is no. Does that matter? Juventus are not splashing the cash to buy a player thought to be the missing link in an otherwise perfect squad. No, the purchase of Higuain is a strategic move designed by the club to achieve prominence, to win back the world's curiosity. Juventus want to be taken seriously, and here is the money to prove it.
When the Bianconeri returned to Serie A after their demotion, they spoke of a project, a burning desire to return to winning ways. While trophies were and remain their main objective, the re-establishment of their reputation as a European giant of football was a key priority. The Calciopoli scandal suffered in 2006 had stripped the club of its pride.
They watched their archrivals, Inter, win the treble as they collapsed into obscurity. Juventus finished seventh two seasons in a row, and players rejected moves to Turin while Juve struggled to keep their best from leaving for better clubs. They longed to be feared again, to play in the Champions League and be deemed a favourite and not the underdog.
Like a wounded lion, Juventus accepted their fate and with the help of Antonio Conte, they faced reality and built for a brighter future. By making clever moves on the market, success came quickly and under Massimiliano Allegri, their plans are coming to fruition. The trophies have arrived but while the potential sale of Paul Pogba was thought to render them a selling club, the purchase of Higuain will secure their reputation as high rollers.
The icing on the cake? They don't need to sell Pogba. They can have both. Juventus are back and happy to fight it out with the best and wealthiest and they're keen for the fans to know it.
While the Old Lady have certainly earned a brow lift or two, one cannot help but wonder if the club are better off taming the ego and staying loyal to their philosophy. Juventus do not buy the best players, they create them.
A side renowned for plucking the brightest potentials only to turn them into legends worthy of the world's attention, Juventus are a rare breed of a big club. It is one that challenges for honours yet still has the patience and time to develop its players in a serene atmosphere. Is it any wonder why Kingsley Coman, Paulo Dybala and Paul Pogba sought moves to Turin? Like Zinedine Zidane before them, they want a chance to progress while simultaneously collecting trophies.
Yet while Higuain's potential arrival will signal their intent on a global scale, it's also important to note that Juventus have never hidden their admiration for the player. A star who will ensure goals and a winning mentality, Higuain is not the finest striker but he has proved himself in two different European leagues, the latter being one of the hardest to score in.
At 28, the Argentine is at his peak. Experienced enough to understand the game but still young enough to keep improving. Quick, skilful and perfect for Juve's style of play, Higuain has improved during his time in Italy even if he's still capable of a missing a sitter or two.
In Maurizio Sarri, the striker found a coach who implored him to fulfil his potential and provided the right conditions to achieve optimum results. Each player in Napoli's forward line worked for one another. The tactically intelligent Jose Callejon stretched defences, Higuain made impressive runs to create space while Lorenzo Insigne exploited those gaps to provide the coveted through balls. All together, they proved a sensation, allowing the Argentine to break a 66-year-old Italian record and score 36 goals.
Demanding an already efficient player be more proficient, Sarri urged Higuain to move more intelligently and make runs to the near post to convert the crosses that came in. The aim was to teach the player to always be at the right place at the right time to convert goal scoring opportunities. With Alex Sandro and Dani Alves on the wings and the likes of Paulo Dybala behind him, Higuain won't struggle for service at Juve.
"The contract will be respected. He'll only go if a madman offers the buy-out clause," the fiery Aurelio De Laurentiis once noted.
Here is hoping the mad men of Juventus will not rue this very demonstration of power. After all, if Juventus do indeed win the Champions League, €94.7 million will seem like a bargain.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.