Gonzalo Higuain: Best forward in club soccer?

Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain. (Salvatore Laporta/AP)

Name: Gonzalo Higuain
Born: Dec. 10, 1987, in Brest, France
Position: Forward
Pro club: Napoli
National team: Argentina


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Why is he in the news?
The Argentine has been in blistering form this season, scoring 24 goals in 24 matches in Serie A, helping Napoli to the top of the table ahead of four-time defending champions Juventus.

With 14 games remaining, Higuain is easily on pace to break the 30-goal plateau, something that has only been accomplished eight times since the inaugural 1929–30 Serie A campaign. The last person to do it was Luca Toni, who bagged 31 goals for Fiorentina in 2005–06.

He’s also looking to join Diego Maradona (in 1987–88) and Edinson Cavani (in 2012–13) as the only Napoli players to be crowned Capocannoniere, top scorer in Italy.

Higuain is currently riding a six-game scoring streak in Serie A, tied with Maradona for the club mark. He can break the record on Saturday when Napoli visits Juventus in a battle of first-versus-second.

He’s special because
Although not the quickest player, Higuain makes up for it with his hard work on the pitch, his prolific scoring rate, and his technical skill. He’s known for his ability to hold up the ball and his striking in front of goal, which has earned him comparisons with Argentina legends Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo, who also made names for themselves in Serie A.

Club career
Higuain came up through the youth system of River Plate before making his senior-team debut for the Buenos Aires giants in 2005. The following year he scored his first goal for River Plate, and ended the 2005–06 campaign with five goals in 12 appearances.

Considered one of the hottest prospects in South America, Higuain, then 19, moved to Real Madrid in December 2006, with the Spanish club paying River Plate a €12-million transfer fee.

After a quiet first two years in Spain, Higuain broke out in 2008–09 when he scored 22 goals in La Liga. He topped that the following campaign when he finished as the club’s top scorer with 27 goals in La Liga.

A back injury limited his playing time in 2010–11, but he rebounded the following season with another 22-goal campaign. Higuain played one more year in La Liga, scoring 16 goals in 2012–13, before Real Madrid sold him to Napoli in the summer of 2013 for €40 million. Higuain left Spain having one three league titles and one Copa del Rey with los blancos.

He picked up in Italy where he left off in Spain, scoring a combined 35 goals in his first two Serie A campaigns, and helped Napoli win the 2014 Coppa Italia.

All of which leads to this season, where Higuain has Napoli in pole position to win its first scudetto, Serie A title, since 1990.

International career
Higuain was born in 1987 in Brest, where his father, Jorge, played. He was only 10 months old when he moved to Argentina with his family and he lived there until moving to Spain when he signed with Real Madrid.

The Napoli star holds a French passport (his father was naturalized in France) so he was eligible to play for both Argentina and France. He initially rejected calls from both countries, but eventually chose Argentina. He scored in his debut for the senior team in a World Cup qualifier against Peru in 2009.

Higuain was included on the squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where he scored a hat trick against South Korea in the group stage. He finished the tournament with four goals after scoring once more against Mexico in the second round.

He was also a member of the Argentine squad for the 2011 Copa America on home soil, but he made only two appearances (one as a starter) as manager Sergio Batista preferred Carlos Tevez.

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Higuain scored the only goal in Argentina’s win over Belgium in the quarterfinals. He also scored twice for his country at the 2015 Copa America—Argentina lost to Chile in the final.

His most famous moment
It’s actually his most infamous moment. With the score tired 0–0 in the first half of the 2014 World Cup final, Higuain squandered a one-on-one chance against Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, firing his shot wide of the far post, after being played in on goal by an errant back-pass by German midfielder Toni Kroos.

Here are a few interesting facts
• Higuain once scored two goals for River Plate in the Superclásico derby against bitter Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors.
• He is one of only three foreign-born players to have appeared for Argentina in a FIFA World Cup, along with Pedro Arico Suarez (of Spain) and Constantino Urbieta Sosa (of Paraguay).
• Higuain is one of only three Argentinians to score a hat trick in the World Cup, after Guillermo Stabile in 1930, and Gabriel Batistuta in 1994 and 1998.
• His nickname is Pipita, a reference to his father, who had the nickname Pipa.
• His older brother Federico is a forward with the Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer.
• His father was a defender who played for a number of top clubs—including River Plate and Boca Juniors—during his playing career.

What they’re saying about him
"In the last 16–20 metres Higuain is deadly, a unique striker who knows how to come from every direction and sees the goal as well as anyone. He knows how to attack the front and the back post with the same quality, he makes ghastly figures of his markers, he's very strong athletically, intelligent in conversation with his team-mates and then scores repeatedly.” —Fabrizio Ravanelli, former Italy international, in interview with goal.com

He said it
"It’s not the most important game of the year. It’s a game like all the others." —Higuain on this weekend’s top-of-the-table clash between Napoli and Juventus in Turin