Real Madrid Transfer Rumors: Why Los Blancos Need to Hold on to Gonzalo Higuain

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Real Madrid Transfer Rumors: Why Los Blancos Need to Hold on to Gonzalo Higuain
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Real Madrid should convince Gonzalo Higuain to stay at the Bernabeu.

At the beginning of June, Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain signalled his intentions to leave the Bernabeu for pastures new. 

However, the sale of the Argentine will not be sanctioned whilst Los Blancos remain without a coach, which gives president Florentino Perez and sporting director Zinedine Zidane valuable time to convince Higuain and his representatives that El Pipita’s future would be best served by staying put in the Spanish capital.

Higuain, scorer of 113 goals in 217 La Liga and Champions League appearances for Los Blancos since his January 2007 transfer from River Plate, was made captain by Real in their final La Liga match against Osasuna—a goal for Higuain and a 4-2 Real win was a satisfactory end to a lacklustre and disjointed season.

According to the Daily Mail, immediately after the final whistle, a disgruntled Higuain addressed a group of Spanish reporters:

I am leaving Real Madrid, the decision has been made, I feel the time is right and I want a change of scenery. I have not decided where I will go, but the club already know that I want to go. It was my decision. I feel that this is the end of my cycle here. I came here for £10million and I am leaving for more.

Cue writers’ fingers frantically rattling away on their laptops and pens scratching wildly on crumbled scraps of paper. Naturally, speculation followed, particularly linking the hitman with Italian champions Juventus and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.

Sky Sports reported that following the conclusion of the Real Madrid vs. Juventus legends game, president Florentino Perez and Juve sporting director Giuseppe Marotta sat down to discuss business.

Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images
Higuain could be on his way to Scudetto winners Juventus.

Here's what Marotta told Sky Sports Italia:

Higuain is a great player but Real Madrid are looking to appoint their new coach and therefore they have not yet defined their market strategies. Consequently, Higuain is not on the market for the moment but when a new coach is appointed we will talk again with Real Madrid.

In Arsenal’s case, the Guardian stated on Saturday that Wenger is ready to break the club’s transfer record in securing Higuain's services and that talks have already taken place between the North London club and the player's representatives.

Higuain’s frustration of a lack of playing time is a key factor behind his decision to seek new employers, and his desire is to become the main man elsewhere—particularly since next season is an all-important World Cup year. With Cristiano Ronaldo scoring 181 goals in 175 La Liga and Champions League games for Real Madrid, only injury to the Ballon d'Or men's runner-up would see Higuain able to rediscover himself as Real’s top dog.

During the 2009/10 season, Higuain finished runner-up in the La Liga scoring charts (ahead of teammate Ronaldo) with 27 goals and scored four goals for Argentina at the World Cup Finals in South Africa.

Yet injury derailed his Los Blancos progress during the following season, and Ronaldo successfully took the opportunity to cement his place as the Bernabeu headliner.

Whilst Higuain is adamant that he wants to leave, Real should consider there are two very important factors to ponder before they make their final decision. The first is Ronaldo’s commitment to Real and the second—Moneyball.

The former point relates to an article written by Gary Jacob in The Times, where Ronaldo essentially contradicted president Florentino Perez’s claims that the Portuguese would spend the rest of his playing career with Los Blancos.

With this in mind, can Real afford to lose Higuain if Ronaldo decides to walk out?

The latter point of Moneyball inevitably relates to statistical analysis. Upon collating playing data (sourced from ESPN) concerning Real Madrid’s current front three (Ronaldo, Higuain and Frenchman Karim Benzema) plus adding the crème of Europe’s finest club strikers into the equation, the results are certainly an eye-opener.

Those added were: Lionel Messi (four-time Ballon d'Or winner), Robin Van Persie (top scorer in England during the last two seasons) and, Robert Lewandowski (one of the most in-demand forwards in Europe).

The table below summarises data solely regarding the players’ Champions League and respective domestic league campaigns for the last three seasons (2010/11 until 2012/13). Whilst Ronaldo and Messi lead the scoring charts, this analysis looks specifically at efficiency and effectiveness in front of goal.

Higuain Compared to Europe's Best
Rank Player G GLS S GLS (%) ST ST (%) GLS/ST (%)
1 Higuain 107 54 206 26% 110 53% 49%
2 Messi 137 161 697 23% 349 50% 46%
3 Benzema 126 65 333 20% 177 53% 37%
4 Lewandowski 117 65 359 18% 163 45% 40%
5 Van Persie 117 83 464 18% 222 48% 37%
6 Ronaldo 140 148 977 15% 395 40% 37%

KEY: G = total games; GLS = goals scored; S = shots; GLS (%) = percentage of goals compared to shots; ST = shots on target; ST (%) = percentage of shots on target compared to overall shots; ST/GLS (%) percentage of goals compared to shots on target

Despite scoring the least amount of goals (he has also played less games), Higuain demonstrates the best efficiency in that 26 percent of his total shots result in goals. By comparison, his club teammate Ronaldo has a 15 percent conversion rate.

Furthermore, Higuain demonstrates clinical ability with almost half of his efforts on target beating the goalkeeper, compared to Van Persie, who scores with 37 percent of his attempts on target.

Of course there are other variables to contemplate, but ultimately for those who pour scorn on statistical analysis, consider that Messi, the four-time World Player of the Year, and Higuain's compatriot is a close second in these rankings (in addition to being top scorer and having the best goals-per-appearance ratio). As an aside it is probably worth throwing some loose change on an Argentine topping the scoring charts in the 2014 World Cup.   

Based on the discussion points, it makes sense for Los Blancos to hold onto Gonzalo Higuain rather than sell him and, in turn, strengthen a Champions League rival.

Furthermore, given El Pipita's obvious talent, it would be more prudent to convince him to stay rather than break the bank for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale.

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