18th April 2016.
Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain turned 28 in December. His resume at this point includes more than a decade of senior football play, including six and a half seasons with Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid. Despite those facts, though, Higuain is currently in the midst of the best season of his entire career. Playing his third season at Italy's Napoli, Higuain has netted 30 goals in 31 Serie A appearances since last fall. He's never scored more than 27 goals in a league season before, and he's never cracked the 30 mark even across all competitions.
A Career-Defining Performance
Higuain's 2015/16 campaign accomplishments are even more impressive when considered in relation to what everyone else in the Serie A is doing. With 30 goals, the Argentine offensive star is handily the league's top scorer. In fact, at this juncture, he's scored more than double the number of goals of any other player in the division. Juve's Paulo Dybala, AC Milan's Carlos Bacca, and Inter Milan's Mauro Icardi are in a three-way tie for second, with 14 goals apiece.
You can even go one step further and compare Gonzalo's 2015/16 performance against the Serie A's past top scorers. Spoiler: he still comes out looking like a hero. Last year, Icardi and Verona's Luca Toni tied as the league's best offensive player, with 22 goals each. The year before, it was Torino's Ciro Immobile, again with 22 goals. Higuain has even outscored 2012/13 Edinson Cavani (29 goals) and 2011/12 Zlatan Ibrahimovic (28).
The last time a Serie A player scored 30 goals or more in a season was a decade ago when Luca Toni netted 31 goals in the 2005/06 season. Higuain has six more games to beat Toni's number. If he does, he'll have just played the highest scoring season of any Serie A player this millennium. There's even an outside chance that he could set the all-time Serie A record for goals in a season-a record that has stood since the 1920s. The record is 36 goals in a season and belongs to Torino's Gina Rossetti, who set it in 1928/29.
Leading the Charge for Napoli
Needless to say, there isn't much precedent in Italian soccer for the kind of season that Gonzalo Higuain is having right now. In the space of one season, he has the chance to go from a solid striker to a star with his name in the record books.
Even if Higuain falls short of the 36-goal mark, though, he has still almost undoubtedly been the Serie A's most valuable player this season. Indeed, Gonzalo has scored more than 45% of Napoli's goals for the season. The football club's goal total-66, after 32 matches-is better than Juve's 58 (though not quite as good as Roma's 67).
As of right now, Juventus are the frontrunners to win the Serie A title. However, as the season hits its home stretch, it's possible that the 31-time Italian champions could face more of a challenge for the top slot than they have in years. Napoli are just six points behind Juve on the Serie A standings table, 70 points to 76. Considering that Juventus won the 2014/15 title by a margin of 17 points (and that Napoli finished fifth, 24 points off the lead), it's rather remarkable that the race is so close. Clearly, Higuain-who netted just 18 goals in league play last season-is leading the charge for Napoli.
A Rough Patch
Higuain's otherwise flawless season has hit an ugly patch recently, with the Argentine star receiving a four-match ban after being sent off during a game with Udinese. He missed last weekend's match against Verona-a game that Napoli won 3-0 even without their star player. However, if Higuain is going to challenge the all-time one season scoring record (and if Napoli are going to have a shot at the title), that four-match ban is going to have to get a bit shorter.
Higuain has appealed the ban, and Napoli are reportedly seeking to get the suspension shortened to two games instead of four, which would leave Gonzalo with five games to shoot for the scoring record. A shortened suspension would free up Higuain for Napoli's April 25th game against Roma-a game that could make or break the football club's chances of landing in the top two.
Even if Higuain doesn't get a shortened suspension, even if he doesn't break Rossetti's record, and even if he can't steer Napoli to their first Serie A title in 26 years, he will still have played a remarkable season of soccer. Heck, he could end his campaign today and it would still be the best one-season performance by a Serie A offensive player in 10 years.
Gonzalo's remarkable season will make him a top transfer target this summer. The question is, will Napoli let him go?
Last summer, news broke that Higuain had rejected a contract extension offer from Napoli. The decision sparked speculation that Higuain was ready to move on to another club and another league-likely to finish out his career. Then again, that contract offer came through in August, before Napoli's fantastic title-contending season or Gonzalo's peak late-career performance. After a season like this one, the Argentine striker might be more inclined to stick around in Italy.
There's also the matter of Higuain's existing contract. He may have turned down an extension, but his existing contract ties him to Napoli until 2018. With Gonzalo responsible for so much of Napoli's success this season, it seems unlikely that the Blues will be willing to let him walk away. Then again, the soccer club might have a chance to get a huge transfer deal for Higuain-something that might be worth considering, seeing as the Argentine star will turn 30 next year. One rumor is that, if Napoli could finagle a deal to sign Everton star Romelu Lukaku, they might be willing to let Higuain go.
Already, the rumors are flying about where Gonzalo could end up if Napoli do decide that the price is right for a transfer. So far, Chelsea seems to be the top prospect. The reigning English champions recently confirmed the appointment of a new manager-Juventus and Italy national team veteran Anthony Conte-which means that the soccer club's 2016/17 plans are slowly starting to come into focus. Specifically, rumor has it that Conte is impressed by Higuain's Serie A performance this year and wants to bring him to Stamford Bridge this summer.
Chelsea certainly aren't the only Premier League club being linked to a possible Higuain transfer. The Argentine striker has never played in England, having started his career at Argentina's River Plate, advanced to Real Madrid, and then transferred to Napoli. It's possible that Gonzalo could be interested in trying his skills in the competitive ranks of the Premier League, and he will evidently have plenty of suitors this summer. In addition to Chelsea, both Arsenal and Manchester United are supposedly eyeing Higuain.
Arsenal nearly signed Higuain in 2013, before the Argentine striker headed to Napoli instead. With the Gunners dragging behind Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League title race-arguably because they lack a star striker-manager Arsene Wenger is reportedly looking to remake the club's offensive lineup. As for Manchester United, there have been some reports that Jose Mourinho struck a secret deal to bring Higuain to Old Trafford-a rumor that should be taken with a grain of salt since Mourinho hasn't even been announced as Manchester United's manager yet.
Regardless of where Gonzalo Higuain ends up next season, can he replicate what he's done in 2015/16 to remain one of the world's foremost strikers? Or will he revert back to his previous patterns, of being a solid offensive player, but not necessarily a leading star? Is Higuain worthy of an expensive transfer deal, or will leaving Napoli ruin the momentum he's found this season? Only time will tell. As for Gonzalo's record-seeking campaign, keep an eye on the news to see whether or not Napoli can manage to get their star player's suspension shortened to two games instead of four.
Will Gonzalo Higuain Be a Premier League Transfer Target This Summer?
18th April 2016.