Feature Photo: EPA
Records are set to be broken, even the oldest ones. One of the longest-lasting primacy in Serie A was the single-season scoring record in a 20-team league, which had been in the hands of Milan’s Swedish striker Gunnar Nordahl and his 35 goals since the 1949-50 tournament.
In the last round of the 2015-16 season however, Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli made a triumphal entrance into the history of the Italian campionato, delivering a hat-trick to poor Frosinone to bring his seasonal tally to an astonishing 36 goals – one more than the legendary Nordahl.
What made the exploit even more remarkable was the fact that Higuain produced his 36 gems in just 35 games. The Argentinian star was forced to miss three league matches due to a controversial ban he received for his reiterated protests at referee Massimiliano Irrati, who had sent him off in a 1-3 loss to Udinese.
Gonzalo had already scored 30 goals when he was disqualified, and despite the original ban being reduced from four to three games, it promptly became food for conspiracy theorists: They don’t want him to break Nordahl’s record!
But Gonzalo didn’t listen, or simply didn’t care, and came back stronger than ever to complete his masterpiece and finalize it in the very last match of the season, his 36th goal being the most beautiful of all – likely one of the best pieces of skills seen on a Serie A pitch in the last decade. That’s what you call breaking a record with style!
Gonzalo Higuain’s chase to history started three years earlier, when he landed in Napoli from – Hear! Hear! – Real Madrid in the summer of 2013. He had a daunting task ahead of him. He was expected to make the demanding Napoli fans forget Edinson Cavani, who had just left Partenope as a traitor to cut a rich deal with Paris Saint Germain.
But Neapolitans’ hearts are as easy to break as to fall in love again, and it didn’t take much for El Pipita to enter the graces of his new supporters (well, if you come from Argentina like Diego Maradona, half of the job is done already…)
Higuain put together two more than remarkable seasons with the blue jerseys, scoring 17 and 18 goals, before literally exploding during his third year. His experience with the Partenopei culminated in a rainy night on May 14th, 2016, when Napoli received Frosinone at the San Paolo Stadium for the last act of the season.
With Napoli already sure of their second place in the table behind the unreachable Juventus, and the debutant Ciociari already relegated, the match expectedly turned into a huge collective effort on the part of the home side to push their star – who was sitting at 33 goals – towards the scoring record.
Frosinone’s midfielder Mirko Gori also lent a hand as he gained a red card early in the match, but despite Napoli bombarding the unfortunate Frusinati, the scorecard at half time read only 1-0 – thanks to a goal by Marek Hamsik, not by Gonzalo Higuain. With 45 minutes left, El Pipita needed two goals to equal Nordahl, and a third to break the record.
Higuain’s first goal came seven minutes into the second half, and it was a gentle homage by midfielder Allan Marques. The Brazilian penetrated the Gialloblu defense like a knife through butter, dribbling three opponents before passing the ball back, and serving Napoli’s number 9 an easy tap in.
Ten minutes later, it was a cross by Elsaid Hysaj from the right flank to find Higuain’s deadly conversion, moving the score to 3-0. And then, with less than 20 minutes to go, the Argentinian rightfully ascended to the status of legend when Lorenzo Insigne served him the ball in the box with a lob pass.
He could have done anything with it. He had all the time in the world. Instead, he stopped it with his chest, and whipped it into Frosinone’s goal with a masterfully-executed overhead volley that made the whole San Paolo explode, and left TV commentators breathless. (One of them can be heard shouting “THIS IS NOT TRUE!” four times in the below clip, which is now a cult classic) His timing was perfect. His movement fluid, and lethal at the same time. It was a true gem.
36 goals in 35 games, and Napoli had found a new hero.
All good, then? Not exactly, as only a few months later Higuain left, just like Cavani had done, after three seasons. But in the Neapolitans’ eyes, he did something even worse than the Uruguayan, as he moved to the much-hated Juventus. He became “Mr. 90 Million,” the exorbitant price the Bianconeri paid to secure his services – which, however, never reached the peak of his Napoli days.
Gonzalo Higuain has been through a few rough seasons recently, especially the present one where he moved around between Milan and Chelsea. It’s just like his career climaxed in that rainy night of 2016, the moment when the picture of his sensational overhead became as famous as Carlo Parola’s similar feat displayed on the Panini stickers logo.
Maybe it was just meant to be like that. After breaking a 66-old-record with a goal like that, what else could you ask?
May 16, 2016 – Serie A 2015-16 Round 38
SCORERS: 44′ Hamsik, 52′ Higuain, 62′ Higuain, 71′ Higuain
|NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Koulibaly (31′ Regini), Chiriches, Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik (83′ Lopez); Callejon (64′ Mertens), Higuain, Insigne (Rafael, Gabriel, Maggio, Chalobah, Strinic, Valdifiori, Grassi, El Kaddouri, Gabbiadini) Coach: Sarri|
|FROSINONE (4-3-3): Zappino; M. Ciofani, Russo, Blanchard, Crivello; Frara (76′ Soddimo), Gori, Kragl (68′ Carlini) Sammarco; D. Ciofani, Dionisi (68′ Gucher) (Leali, Rosi, Ajeti, Pryima, Paganini, Tonev, Chibsah, Longo) Coach: Stellone|
REFEREE: Mr. Celi from Bari
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Jorginho (N), Crivelli (F)