Forced out of Juventus to make way for Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer, Gonzalo Higuain has now become the latest victim of AC Milan’s infamous number nine shirt. The Argentine has failed to score in his last seven games in all competitions, a spell stretching back to the match against Sampdoria on October 28.
Deprived of the sort of service he enjoyed at Juventus, the 31-year-old argues with referees and remonstrates with his younger team mates, flapping his arms in exasperation, when the ball is not passed to him in the way he wants. Milan too have fallen into a rut, drawing 0-0 in their last two Serie A games and suffering an embarrassing group stage exit in the Europa League after losing 3-1 at Olympiakos in between.
They host Fiorentina at San Siro on Saturday and, although they are fourth with 27 points they are closer to Udinese in 17th (13 points) than to leaders Juventus (45). Milan paid Juventus 18 million euros ($20.63 million) in August to loan Higuain for a season and while have an option to buy him for 36 million euros there is already much speculation in the Italian media that they may let him go.
Higuain, who scored 55 goals in 105 appearances during two seasons at Juventus, left the Turin club shortly after they signed Ronaldo in July but made it clear in a recent interview with Gazzetta dello Sport that he did not want to go. “They told me that I could not stay and that they were trying to find a solution. The best solution was Milan,” he said.
When Milan faced Juventus last month, Higuain’s nerves were clearly frayed as he missed a penalty and was later sent off for his furious reaction to a decision that went against him.
UNLUCKY NUMBER NINE?
Higuain, who has scored seven goals for Milan, is not the first player to struggle with the club’s number nine shirt. Portugal forward Andre Silva, who wore it last season, scored only two goals in 24 Serie A appearances after a 40 million euros move from FC Porto.
Three seasons ago, the shirt belonged to Luiz Adriano, who managed four goals in 26 outings, while two players wore it in 2014/15 without success – Fernando Torres scoring once in 10 games and Mattia Destro three times in 15. Alexandre Pato failed to score in four appearances in 2012/13 and nobody was allocated the shirt in 2013/14.
The most impressive performer was Gianluca Lapadula, who scored eight goals in 27 outings in 2016/17 — only to be loaned to Genoa at the end of the season. Coach Gennaro Gattuso said before Tuesday’s 0-0 draw at Bologna that a change in attitude from Higuain was as important as better marksmanship.
“Higuain is as disappointed with anyone about the situation,” said Gattuso. “We need his goals, but above all we need his character and his experience, he has to be an added value and motivate his teammates. He can do more.”