No pre-season at the Bernabeu is complete without rumour, speculation and big-money arrivals and departures - and it'll be no different this summer. One of those players who's set to take up most column inches in Marca and the like is Gonzalo Higuain - will he stay or will he go? Should he stay or should he go?
Indeed, talk over the Argentina striker's future is already in overdrive and the Liga season only finished barely a week ago. Juventus, Paris St Germain and Chelsea have all been linked with a swoop for 'El Pipita' this summer. I've been bombarded with Twitter messages asking to discuss the player's future in the Spanish capital, and I've been bombarded with Madridistas desperate for Pipita to stay.
Madrid as a club and Madrid's supporters seem joint in their desire to see Higuain pull on the famous all-white kit again next season. Jose Mourinho has said: "An offer of 40, 50, 60 million euros could be made, whatever, but Madrid will not want to sell. I don't have a problem. My two centre-forwards for next season will be Higuain and Benzema." Quite a definitive statement from Jose, one of intent that he's certainly keen to keep Pipita. Madrid's fans, too, chanted 'Please stay Pipita' during Los Blancos' final game of the season against Mallorca at the weekend. When a club the size of Madrid is desperate to keep you, you usually stay.
But Higuain's rotation with Karim Benzema this season, and seemingly being second-chouice behind the Frenchman in key games such as El Clasico and the Champions League, has led to rumours of him wanting a move away to a club that will utilise him week-in, week-out, a desire to be the main man at one of Europe's other major forces - namely Juve, PSG and Chelsea.
"We do not know yet if he will come to PSG. It is true that there are contacts. I am delighted that PSG wants to get him. He's a friend and a great player who do us the greatest good. PSG can become one of the biggest clubs in Europe." Javier Pastore, friend and fan of Gonzalo Higuain.
Higuain's dad has also got involved, saying in March that he and Gonzalo would "analyse the situation" at the end of the season and "are ready to talk with Juventus". The statement came back in March - well-timed to try and get Mourinho and Madrid to play Higuain in the key games both domestically and in Europe that were set to come? Or a real threat of leaving Los Blancos this summer?
So where does Higuain's future lie next season? At the Bernabeu? In a different country? England, France or Italy? Or in Spain, but elsewhere in La Liga? Madrid may be seemingly keen to keep Pipita, but reports have also suggested Madrid may be prepared to send the striker the short distance to the Calderon in a player-plus-cash deal for Atletico's Columbian striker Falcao.
For me, he's one of the best finishers in the world. But here's the problem - I think there are better strikers out there that Los Blancos, with their deep pockets, could lure to the Spanish capital next season if they so desire. Players such as van Persie, Sergio Aguero and Falcao, in my opinion. That debate, however, is for another time. Why? Because I feel Madrid should do everything in their power to keep Higuain at the club next season and forget the rest. The reason? His seamless rotation partnership with Benzema, something which has been key in the club's title triumph.
Few players like being rotated. It's a fairly recent concept as managers try to live with the demands of more games, success in various competitions and keeping larger squads happy. It happens, and it's happening more often than ever. To use a rotation policy where big names are involved, such as Higuain and Benzema, is a high risk strategy. Something has to give. Will two players who are ranked amongst the best finishers in the world be happy to be played in rotation, knowing they're not going to be playing week-in, week-out?
For Madrid, the rotation of Benzema and Higuain as the leading man in attack has worked an absolute treat this season. It's been a key part of winning their first league title for four years and it'll be a key part for next season. I struggle to remember two strikers rotating so fluently on a week-to-week basis. Mourinho's tactics have helped keep both players fresh throughout the season and kept an extremely healthy competition going in attack. No moaning, no grumbling, just playing for the team and playing extremely well. Can you see CR7 settling for a rotation role? Messi? Thought not.
The stats? Higuain has played in 35 games, totalling 1777 minutes on the pitch and scoring 22 goals. Benzema has played in 34 matches but totalled 2317 minutes, scoring 20 goals. Higuain has contributed seven assists to Benzema's four. There's little between the two players this season, but Higuain, just, comes out on top.
They've scored 42 of Madrid's goals this season - that's more than or the same as seven other Primera Division clubs have managed to score in the whole of the season. It's just under a third of Madrid's record-breaking goalscoring league tally this season - they've notched up a scintillating 117 goals going into the final game of the season, and they couldn't have done it without Benzema and Higuain.
I'm always one for improvement. Never stand still. But with Mourinho's approach and tactics at the Bernabeu, I see few better partnerships emerging in rotation than Benzema and Higuain. The question was also asked early in the season if the pair could play together, and not just either-or. 'No chance' said some. But Mourinho proved those doubters wrong, too, playing the pair together on numerous occasions and proving that they can play together and play together well. One up top and one out wide, usually with Cristiano Ronaldo on the other flank. No problem. A healthy rotation and healthy flexibility within the squad.
Higuain will now take a well-earned break following the rigours of a hectic schedule for Los Blancos in 2011-12, and a bizarre end-of-season trip to Kuwait to play the national team - one the players could have done without. It'll leave the rumours circulating and the supporters worrying over where the future lies for one of Madrid's more popular players. One can only hope Pipita decides to stay at the Bernabeu next season and continue his lethal partnership with Benzema in attack. Madrid needs it to retain their La Liga crown, and finally put an end to their Champions League misery by a claiming a tenth European crown.
Pipita quédate, Pipita quédate!
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