Football News

Gonzalo Higuain’s unfortunate Argentina legacy

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 15:39, 29 March 2019

Gonzalo Higuain has retired from international football.

“My time with Argentina is over. Thinking things through in depth, my time is up,” Higuaín said. “To the delight of many people, now I will only look at it from the outside.” Wait, what? That’s one hell of a parting shot to aim at people.

Why is a striker who has scored 30 goals in 75 appearances for Argentina, who is the sixth highest scorer in the nation’s history, speaking like an emo teenager who’s trying to make their parents feel bad for not giving them money to buy some black skinny jeans?

How is a striker who has scored 293 goals in 588 club appearances, who holds the record for most goals ever scored in a single Serie A season, who has scored in El Clásico, the Superclásico and the Derby d’Italia, be going out on such a sour note?

Well, it’s all to do with three shots.

Three shots in three finals.

Three finals in three years.

Three years that changed football history and defined the way we discuss greatness forever.

You see, consistency is amazing, but people remember big moments the most. Zinedine Zidane’s sumptuous volley in the 2002 Champions League final obscured the fact that Real Madrid lost three of their last five liga games of the season, dropping from 1st to 3rd. Liverpool’s historic night in Istanbul makes you forget that they finished that season fifth, level on points with Bolton Wanderers. And Gareth Bale’s Kyiv heroics last season made everyone overlook how Los Blancos finished 17 points behind La Liga champions Barcelona.

So, you see, Gonzalo Higuain can rattle off 30 goals in 75 games and consistently produce for club and country. He can link superbly with Leo Messi and Angel Di Maria as the most functional Argentine front-line (Sergio Aguero, the superior player, has been terrible for his country outside the 2008 Olympics and 2018 World Cup) and help create danger in the brutal South American World Cup qualifiers but no one will care because in the most decisive moments, those shots… man, those three damn shots.

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In the 2014 World Cup final, the score was 0-0 and Argentina clearly had the German defence rattled with their ability to break out. Toni Kroos, to that point one of the standout players of the tournament, heads the ball back towards his own goal not seeing Higuain lurking there, offside. The striker grabs the ball and hares down on goal, but panics and shoots too early, missing the target. That was Argentina’s best chance, and they fade from the game as Germany eventually win the World Cup.

In the 2015 Copa América final, the score was 0-0 and Chile had been kicking Argentina all over the park to disrupt them. Tata Martino’s weird vision included Argentina using Messi as a decoy, but eventually the no. 10 got on the ball and drove Argentina up the field. He fed Ezequiel Lavezzi and in the last minute of the game, Lavezzi squared to Higuain at the far post. The angle was tight but all he had to do was lift the ball into the net and Argentina would win their first Copa América in over 20 years. He blazed it wide, then later missed in the penalty shootout as Chile claimed their first ever Copa.

In the 2016 Copa América final, the score was 0-0 and Argentina had begun positively against Chile, looking to avenge the previous years misery. Higuain was having his best tournament for Argentina since 2010 as he rattled in a brace in the quarter-finals and then again in the semi-finals. Then early in the first half Higuain robbed Gary Medel and charged straight at goal, surely this would be his moment. Claudio Bravo stepped out but this should have been an easy finish. But no, Higuain chipped the onrushing keeper but his shot dribbled miserably wide. He was broken, Argentina were broken, and they eventually lost on penalties again.

So there you have it. Three finals in three years and three 1v1’s missed in utterly ludicrous fashion. Each miss got worse as the years went on! So yes, Higuain scored a great goal against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup quarter-final to get his nation to the semi-finals, and yes he rattled in four goals in two knockout rounds in the 2016 Copa América, and yes he’s scored countless other important goals for his nation, but all people will remember is the big moments.

Those three shots.

Three shots in three finals.

Three finals in three years.

If Argentina win even one of those tournaments, it changes everything for them. Suddenly a generation of losers who have won nothing at senior level since 1993 would become winners, and just ask Spain how that can transform a nation’s mentality. The Argentine leagues would no doubt see a resurgence as more money would be pumped into them by companies eager to get on the winning team.

Leo Messi would have finally won something for his nation, relieving him of the enormous burden he feels to deliver a title for Argentina. And given how much that crushed him in 2016 (after the horrors of 2015 and 2014 too), just what would an unburdened Messi have done for the face of international football? It would have really been something to see. Could Argentina have been the first nation since Brazil to retain the World Cup in 2018? It’d be hard to rule Messi out if Argentina were no longer playing so afraid of their own legacies.

So many things would have changed if Gonzalo Higuain would have just done what he has done 324 times for club and country and find the back of the net. But he didn’t. And so now when he retires from international football, he does so with a sourness. Taking shots at his critics and saying he “gave everything for the national team.”

But that’s the thing, Gonzalo. No one’s saying you didn’t give everything.

It’s that, in the end, at the most decisive moments, your everything wasn’t enough.