With the season now officially over, players are beginning to head away for their end of year break following a long and arduous domestic campaign. With it, the inevitable spinning of the transfer carousel has begun to grind into motion as a number of performers are touted for moves to the biggest and best clubs in the world.
Even though players aren’t officially allowed to swap teams until the beginning of July, the gossip columns haven't held back from filling with vital inches that will see fans salivate at the prospect of signing that big name striker they so desperately crave. Like every summer period, there will undoubtedly be a number of big money transfers across Europe, with the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, amongst others, supposedly set to move onto pastures new prior to the close of the transfer window on August 31st.
Another one of those is Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuaín. The France-born Argentina international has endured a mixed period during his time in the Spanish capital, despite netting 107 times in 190 La Liga appearances for Los Blancos since his 2007 arrival from River Plate. Averaging a goal every 1.77 games, only Lionel Messi (203) and Cristiano Ronaldo (146) have netted more goals in the Primera Division than Higuaín (107) since Higuaín made his Real Madrid debut.
Even in 28 appearances - 19 of which were starts - Higuaín netted 16 times this season, adding a further five assists as Real Madrid finished second in La Liga. Regardless of his exploits at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, the club’s hierarchy have confirmed the 25-year-old will be leaving this summer, no matter his average rating for the club (7.23); the sixth highest of every Madrid player to have made over 15 league appearances this year.
Furthermore, despite having to regularly share the striking burden with teammate Karim Benzema, Higuaín’s goal return is nothing to be looked down upon, with only club top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo (34) netting more in La Liga over the campaign. Understandably, interest in the Argentine is high, with a host of Europe’s top clubs showing a desire to land the striker before the transfer window has even opened.
His input to the team was evidently crucial to their league finish this year, and the likes of Arsenal and Juventus continue to be mooted as possible destinations for the striker in time for the new campaign. The pairing will have been attracted in the main by his goalscoring capabilities, with only 3 of the 38 players to have scored 15 or more goals in Europe’s top five leagues this season - Dario Cvitanich (63.3%), Lionel Messi (57.5%) and Alexander Meier (57.1%) - boasting a higher success rate than Higuaín (55.2%) when it comes to percentage of shots on target which were scored. His record, in fact, is better than the likes of Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robin van Persie and Stefan Kießling, all of whom finished as their respective leagues’ top scorer this year, giving further rise to the argument that Higuaín needs to be playing more regularly.
When comparing this success rate with the top scoring strikers of both Arsenal and Juventus - Theo Walcott (14 goals) and Olivier Giroud (11) of Arsenal and Mirko Vucinic (10) and Fabio Quagliarella (9) of Juventus - Higuaín’s prolificacy again stands out, with their respective rates coming in at 35.9%, 29%, 25.7% and 25%.
Focusing on the strikers the Serie A champions have been linked with - Stevan Jovetic (13 goals) and Carlos Tévez (11) - and their acquisition of Fernando Llorente (17, from the 2011/12 season), Higuaín is by far the most prolific in front of goal. Llorente’s success rate with Athletic in the 2011/12 campaign - the season that convinced Juventus to move for the Spaniard - may have been the highest of trio (48.6%), followed by Jovetic (30.2%) and Tévez (27.5%), but Higuaín’s goal to shots on target rate weighs in his favour.
Further, only five teams - Palermo (20.6%), Pescara (22.9%), Genoa (23.4%), Parma (25.4%) and AC Milan (27.4%) - boasted a worse success rate than Antonio Conte’s side (27.5%) when it came to shots on target in relation to goals, a particularly poor return for a team that are beginning to stamp their authoritative mark on Italy once again. The need for a reliable goalscorer is evidently a necessity and while Llorente will be arriving over the summer, his lack of playing time for Athletic this season under Marcelo Bielsa could prove telling as he aims to adjust to a new league.
Should they move for Higuaín however, a greater threat will be added to the Bianconeri, with the Argentine netting 15 of his 16 2012/13 Primera Division goals in the area, evidence of his potentcy when close to goal. His arrival could well provide that natural goalscorer Juventus lacked this season.
However, as Higuaín's heatmap of his touches of the ball highlights, he was expected to be involved in the building of attacks during the past season with Real Madrid, the Argentine dropping deeper to receive the ball to aid in the recycling of possession, with a similar pattern emerging for Llorente during the 2011/12 season.
Yet, when compared to that of Quagliarella and, in particular, Vucinic this season, the Juventus frontmen have seemingly remained more centralised and closer to the opposition goalmouth. With Higuaín's striking prowess, the Argentine, with an increase in first team action, would surely benefit from Conte's approach.
His stats, coupled with his overall domestic tally for the campaign, should see the striker move to the head of the wanted list at the Juventus Stadium. The club's hierarchy might be warming to Fiorentina’s Jovetic and City frontman Tévez, but both would cost a darn sight more than Higauín, whose insistence on following José Mourinho out of the Bernabeu exit door will only weaken Real’s bargaining hand.
The La Liga based duo will understandably need time to replicate the form they have shown in Spain, should Juventus firm up their interest in Higuaín, but with the system currently in operation under Conte, the Argentine would undeniably prosper.