It almost feels as if Maurizio Sarri has been making a point in recent weeks. Does he really believe Eden Hazard can lead the line for Chelsea as a ‘false nine’ or has he played the Belgian up front to prove to the club’s board that a new striker must be signed in January?
The Italian has lost faith in both Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata, with the latter expected to depart Stamford Bridge this month, whether that’s on loan or permanently. Neither have satisfied Sarri, not just in terms of their instinct, or lack thereof, in front of goal, but in terms of their incompatibility for his system.
That’s what has led Chelsea to Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentinian has worked with Sarri previously, enjoying success at Napoli together, and is predicted to sign for the Blues on loan until the end of the season in the coming days. In terms of pedigree, Higuain certainly fits the bill, but is he really the striker Chelsea should be signing?
No matter which way it is viewed, a deal for Higuain would be a short term measure. At 31 years old, the former Juventus and Real Madrid forward is fading somewhat as a force. He hasn’t exactly met expectations at AC Milan, scoring just six times in Serie A for the Rossoneri this season. This isn’t peak Higuain that Chelsea are signing.
This goes against the grain of why Sarri was appointed in the first place. The Italian was hired to change the identity of the team at Stamford Bridge, moving Chelsea on from the identity set for them over the course of more than a decade by the likes of Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho. It was a long term play.
A long term managerial appointment is no use if the transfers are short term focused, though. Instead of looking at Higuain, Chelsea should be instead looking at another Milanese striker – Mauro Icardi. He’s the goalscorer Sarri should be pushing for.
It’s true that Chelsea would face intense competition to sign Icardi. The Argentinian has long been linked with a switch to Real Madrid, and so a move from the Blues could prompt the Spanish giants to make their own bid. Chelsea could be priced out of the market for a player who has marked himself out as one of the best goalscorers in Europe.
Signing Higuain over Icardi, though, shows where Chelsea are as a club right now. It’s widely suspected that Roman Abramovich has pulled the purse strings tight in recent times and particular episode, Sarri’s search for a striker, almost proves this theory. A few years ago, Chelsea would have surely moved for Icardi, the more expensive, but more suitable target.
Higuain will likely be an improvement on both Giroud and Morata. Sarri will at least know what he’s getting, having worked so closely, and effectively, with the 31-year-old before. But is Higuain really good enough to take Chelsea where they want to go? Or is he merely a stopgap designed to keep Chelsea treading water?
Treading water might be good enough for the Blues, such is the importance of qualifying for the Champions League, but Sarri should aspire to better. He is a footballing philosopher, a man who deals in the idealistic. Signing Higuain is in no way idealistic.
It could be that Chelsea are planning a move for a more ambitious target in the summer, when signing players of such calibre is a little easier. But the club’s recent transfer activity doesn’t exactly suggest this will prove to be the case. Higuain certainly isn’t the worst signing Chelsea could make at this time, but he’s not the best either. The best plays in the same city, the same stadium, but for a different team.
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