Maurizio Sarri sees early signs that Gonzalo Higuain is capable of repeating at Chelsea the huge impact the striker had during our boss’s first season in charge at Napoli.
That was the 2015/16 campaign when at the start, Gonzalo Higuain had returned from the massive disappointment of missing in the penalty shoot-out as Argentina lost to Chile in the final of the Copa America. As Sarri points out, the player had also missed a penalty in the last Serie A game of the preceding season (although he did score twice in that 4-2 home defeat by Lazio), yet he bounced back to become the Italian league’s topscorer with 36 goals and was described as the best striker in Europe that season by his new manager and worthy of the Balon d’Or.
Higuain arrives at Chelsea after a relatively barren first half of the season at AC Milan, but scored twice on his Stamford Bridge league debut.
‘At the moment he is really very determined,’ reports Sarri.
‘In my first season in Naples he arrived later from the Copa America. He missed the penalty in the last match in Serie A and he missed the penalty in the final, but he reacted really very well. He was really very keen and he played an exceptional season. I think he is able react very well to the difficulties.
‘He is really very keen so I think he can play very good in the last part of the season.’
It was put to Sarri that he and Higuain have a father-son type of relationship.
‘I hope that I am the football father. I don’t know the mother of Gonzalo!’ Sarri jokes in response.
‘Gonzalo is very suitable for my football, so the feeling is really fantastic but it is a football feeling.’
He believes the new arrival is already having a lifting effect on the rest of the team.
‘I think so, I am not sure, but my feeling is this at the moment. As you have seen in the last match, Eden passed the ball very often to Gonzalo. They speak the same language with the ball, and so I think Gonzalo will be very important for us for this.
‘He needs confidence first of all. He needs a very good relationship with the coach, with the team-mates, and sometimes he needs a message from the coach in the press conference.’
Sarri learning from Sacchi
Higuain’s next chance to impress is in tomorrow’s game against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Sarri has been describing his rapport with his counterpart at City.
‘We have a good relationship, very good. Usually during the summer we have dinner together. I hope he speaks very well about me as a coach, not as a friend!
‘Usually we learn from Arrigo Sacchi. Arrigo is always with us, so it’s very interesting to speak to Arrigo.
‘It is interesting when you can listen to Arrigo speaking about football. I think he is father of our football, the football of Guardiola and my football, so for us it is very important to listen.’
Sacchi, the legendary former AC Milan and Italy manager famously said: ‘You don't have to have been a horse to be a jockey,’ in defence of his lack of a notable professional playing career. Sarri concurs with that with regard to his own progression.
‘I did something else and I think the other jobs then helped me in this one,’ he explains. ‘Because I know more, I am able to organise my time, I am able to organise my job, I am able to speak to my players and I don’t know if I was a professional player that now I am able to know these things.’