Gonzalo Higuain plays for Club International de Futbol Miami for at least the rest of this season and, despite some supporters' frustration, he will be the Herons' most important player every time he puts on the kit.
Higuain's father, Jorge, raised questions about the 34-year-old Argentinian superstar's future last week when he told TNT Sports that his son would retire after this season. Gonzalo said his father's comments were mistaken and told reporters he is focused on Inter Miami.
"“When the moment comes, I will be the first person to communicate it, the first one to say it. But at this moment my focus is on this club and fulfilling my contract.”"- Gonzalo Higuain
"Obviously, I’m close to that time in which I’ll stop playing fútbol, but that’s not on my mind at the moment," Higuain said after Tuesday's training session. "What’s on my mind is fulfilling my contract and then I will analyze how I feel and I will sit down with the club to make the best decision. Right now I feel good and I just wanted to clarify this, and when the time comes it will be me that communicates my decision.”
Higuain left Italian Serie A powerhouse Juventus in the summer of 2020 to join Major League Soccer expansion side Inter Miami, immediately becoming one of the league's highest-paid players. The striker has 15 goals and 12 assists in 44 appearances, but his performance and attitude have been inconsistent. Inter Miami has Higuain under contract through this season, with a club option for 2023.
The Herons' short MLS history is overwhelmingly underwhelming, and the Men in Pink appear headed to new lows in 2022. Many supporters are laying a large portion of the blame at Higuain's feet, and second-year coach Phil Neville has publicly demanded more from the team's only designated player.
""He is the one that we demand the most goals from. He is the one that we demand the most assists from. Period.""- IMCF coach Phil Neville
“For us to be successful, he has to perform,” Neville said of Higuain after losing to LAFC in March. “That’s the challenge. For me, and I’m really strong on this, his role hasn’t changed. He is the one that is our best finisher. He is the one that we demand the most goals from. He is the one that we demand the most assists from. Period.”
Higuain did lead the Herons in both categories after five matches, with two of the team's three goals -- both on penalty kicks -- and an assist on the other goal. Those are paltry numbers for a player who scored 121 goals for Real Madrid, tallied 91 goals and 26 assists in 146 matches for Napoli, and recorded 31 goals in 75 matches with the Argentine national team.
A player who has enjoyed such success individually, for his clubs and his country is naturally frustrated by playing for what is unarguably a very poor side in a middling league, and that's shown on the field over the past two-plus years. Still, soccer is the ultimate team sport; sustained success depends on quality and shared vision from ownership to management to the players on the field and the supporters in the stands. While Inter Miami struggles to find its balance, Higuain, Neville and fans will continue to be frustrated, but it's important we all learn to manage our frustration.
The built-from-scratch Herons' roster has loads of potential and almost no proven performers. That means the veterans -- Higuain, Deandre Yedlin, Damian Lowe, Brek Shea and Kieran Gibbs -- must play well but also must lead and teach. In the preseason, Higuain seemed to embrace that role, but his body language has become more negative after four straight losses.
With no real playmaker, Higuain has dropped back to help connect the midfield to the attack. Unfortunately, the side has no proven finishers other than Higuain. It's no wonder he's frustrated. As the team's most recognizable and most accomplished star, it's up to him to manage his frustration and set a positive example for the squad. It will be a challenge for him, but one I believe he can master.
It doesn't help that Neville is pressuring his DP so publicly. I think Higuain's temperament demands a more respectful approach; if he needs taken to task, do it privately. Ensure Higuain understands precisely Neville's expectations -- which should be to lead, educate, shape and anchor a young team, to model professionalism and growth mindset.
A standout player at Manchester United, Neville should share with Higuain how he ended his career, how he adjusted as his skills began to dim. I think Neville needs to cast Higuain not only as the team's captain, but as a lieutenant on the field.
The team's young players, especially the young South American players, idolize Higuain and will follow his example, good or bad. That's why I believe Higuain is the most important player on the Herons' roster, and still could be the key to salvaging something positive from this season.