Last summer as Real Madrid forked out over £150 million on signing some of the finest attacking players money could buy, doubtless there were plenty of the squad who will have feared for their future at the Bernebau.
Some such as Wesley Sneijder and Ruud Van Nistelrooy have left, others have remained and simply complied with the competition such as Raul and Rafael Van der Vaart, but one man above all has risen to the challenge, the ever-impressive and under-rated Gonzalo Higuain.
Few players can have so slipped under the radar, and yet done so in such impressive fashion. His statistics for the season are nigh on remarkable, with 26 goals in 28 starts in all competitions, as he keeps Karim Benzema and Raul on the sideline.
As El Pipita recently said: "Ruud (Van Nistelrooy) told me that goals are like a bottle of ketchup. Sometimes they don't come no matter how much you push, but later they all come out in one hit.”
Not that Higuain has been sticking to Van Nistelrooy’s staple diet of six-yard tap-ins, his collection is a burgeoning list of goals of all varieties with deft chips, neat headers, and a collection of fine finishes.
This weekend he again came to the rescue of his team, grabbing the third goal in Real’s 3-2 victory over city rivals Atletico, to keep them ahead of Barcelona in the La Liga title race.
The sad irony of Higuain’s prolific run of form is that for Real Madrid fans, the one time he really came to their attention was for his rather inexplicable and costly miss during the club’s exit from the Champions League against Lyon.
His response to the miss was telling, as he plundered a hat-trick against Valladolid in Real’s next match, and prompted Sporting Director Jorge Valdano to remark: "He [Higuain] has made a tremendous reaction, because he is a high class player and character.
“He has suffered a lot this week because we have done him an injustice. He is accused of being selfish when a striker by definition is greedy. You can not be condemned for one moment after three impeccable years.”
This comes to the crux of the issue with Higuain, which is that he remains at 22 very much a work in progress.
It is this which fans can be inclined to forget, after all, Higuain arrived at Real as a 19- year-old wunderkind from Argentina, but has turned out to be less a shooting star, but more a slow burner.
This is not a criticism, as few players can take to Europe’s top leagues like a duck to water as Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney have before them, and even Cristiano Ronaldo took two to three years to develop at Manchester United.
The best comparisons are perhaps with fellow Argentine's Fernando Gago and Ever Banega, who also moved from Argentina at a young age, and he has comfortably surpassed those two in terms of progression, as both Real and Higuain reap the rewards of his patient development.
As teammate Alvaro Arbeloa said: “What Higuain is doing is crazy, he has no limits. He is improving every day and deserves everything that is coming his way. I hope he continues in this form and ends up winning the Pichichi (leading scorer in La Liga)."
This has been the season where the boy has, not to labour the metaphor, become a man, scoring vital goals for a Real team perhaps more scrutinised than any other in their history, and thriving within an environment which has so far failed to ignite the likes of Karim Benzema and Kaka.
He currently lies second in the Pichichi charts to a player who was most recently described as playing like Diego Maradona but at more revs per minute, and is currently ahead of the most expensive player in the world ever, who also happens to be his teammate.
He has also established himself as the front man to Diego Maradona’s intrepid band of Argentinean misfits, earning his first cap in their qualifying match against Peru, and he recently plundered the winner in a friendly match against fellow favourites Germany.
The striker recently told ESPN : "My dream is to be the top scorer at the World Cup. I am enjoying a positive time at Real Madrid and I intend to follow that up with events in South Africa.
"This season has presented many opportunities. To win the Liga and the Champions League and then the World Cup, that is the dream of any footballer and I am fortunate enough to have that chance.”
If this season is anything to go by, you wouldn’t bet against him managing it. As this season has proved that no matter what the obstacle, in Real Madrid’s galaxy, Gonzalo Higuain’s star is very much in the ascendant.
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