By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Juventus' return to Europe's elite continues to gather pace. Serie A champions this season and last, la Vecchia Signora reached the last eight of the Champions League this term, too. But if all goes to plan for president Andrea Agnelli and the club owners, this will be just the start. The next piece in the puzzle looks like being Gonzalo Higuain - and El Pipita might just be the man to fire the club to the next level over the coming campaigns.
Mirko Vucinic (14 goals in 2012-13), Alessandro Matri (10) and Fabio Quagliarella (12) are not quite good enough for a top team like this one, Sebastian Giovinco (11) has yet to fulfil his potential, while Nicklas Bendtner failed to score in his recent loan spell in Turin and Nicolas Anelka was even worse in his five-month deal, making just two goalless appearances. So Juve didn't need just one striker - they needed to sign two.
But if, as expected, Higuain follows Fernando Llorente from Spain to Italy this summer, coach Antonio Conte will be suddenly spoilt for choice in attack. Llorente, whose move from Athletic Bilbao was agreed in January, is an old-fashioned centre-forward with physical presence and strong aerial ability; Higuain possesses pace, runs tirelessly and scores lots of goals. Two special signings who should also be compatible in a partnership due to their different playing styles.
With the additions of Llorente and Higuain, Conte can choose between several systems, with 3-5-1-1, 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 all alternatives next term. But the pair are likely to start together whenever possible, with the Spaniard set to drop deeper in a two-man tandem.
Llorente, though, is still something of an unknown quantity in that his head was all over the place earlier this term at Athletic - and it remains to be seen how he will adapt to playing in another country. Higuain, however, has been there and done that. He has the T-shirt, and he has the goals to prove his success. Always a fighter, Gonzalo has seen off many of the world's finest forwards at Real Madrid over the last few years - Ronaldo, Raul and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar have all left the Bernabeu in his time in Spain.
Gonzalo's goal ratio is impressive too: 120 in just 264 games represents almost one in two and considering he hit just 11 in his first two seasons in Spain, it really is special. But Higuain has long been tired of spending so much time on the Bernabeu bench and only stayed for the current campaign after assurances from coach Jose Mourinho in the summer. And this term, neither he nor Karim Benzema have hit the heights of 2011-12; for Pipita, it is time to move on.
GONZALO HIGUAIN | ALL-TIME MADRID STATS
Madrid fans will be unhappy to see him go. Higuain's hard work has won him many admirers during his time in Spain. Indeed, he is a player even appreciated by supporters of other clubs: tireless worker, battler, goalscorer, runner, generous-natured good guy and excellent professional, Gonzalo is both a player's player and a fans' footballer. Everyone likes him.
So should Juventus fans, even if Luciano Moggi appears unimpressed. "He is a good player, but he is no champion," the former club director opined last week. Diego Maradona disagrees, however. "If Higuain becomes a Juventus player and gets regular first-team action, he can win the capocanonniere trophy next season," the Napoli legend said of the forward, who was a starter in his Argentina side at the 2010 World Cup.
Whether Higuain does go on to become the top scorer in Italy next season or not, Maradona's assessment looks much more accurate than Moggi's: Gonzalo is a player who can add goals to this Juventus team and take full advantage of the champions' magnificent midfield, which is among the best in Europe.
So from being short in supply up front in terms of real quality, Juventus will start 2013-14 with two world-class strikers. And Higuain, who seems to have been around forever but is still only 25, possesses the pace and the goalscoring ability to take the Bianconeri to the next level in the Champions League. So Madrid's loss may just be Juve's gain in Europe next season.
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