21 June 2013

What Higuain's arrival would mean for Theo

We're all suffering from feverish anticipation as rumors continue to swirl around Higuain. I think we'll hear something important today, something more substantial than the stories peddled by The Mirror, Sun, Marca or other tabloid-ish sources. Without going so far as to jinx it, I think the club has been waiting to get past the anniversary of signing Dennis Bergkamp to avoid risking the "anointing" effect. If the signing had been confirmed yesterday, 18 years to the day after Bergkamp had signed, Higuain would then carry the heavy mantle of replicating Bergkamp's feats, style, and glories, and that's just too much to ask of anyone. Look at how Ramsey struggled to "be" Cesc, or how Theo has labored under the "next Henry" burden (something I'm guilty of pushing). Instead of expecting new players to imitate the legends, we'd all be better served by letting them develop their own identities and their own games.

Speaking of Theo, I look forward to signing the likes of Higuain or some other center-forward (I'm going to continue to hedge because I don't want to queer the deal) because how it disabuses Theo of the notion that he should play more centrally. I've long pushed the concept that he should play on the wing--it suits his abilities so much more than playing centrally. He's incredibly fast, largely one-footed, and small. He's at his best running onto a through-ball to finish or to fly down the wing to create chances for others. Put him in the middle, and he all but disappears. His ball-handling is not strong enough to allow him to take a ball from the air or to receive a pass with his back to goal and then dribble through a thicket of defenders.

However, in his defense, the aura of the center-forward position is not to be underestimated. When you think  of the players who have played there in the last decade, you can understand why Theo would want to: Henry. Bergkamp. Van Persie. Wright. It's arguably the most-glamorous position on the field, the one that demands the most attention and that receives the most opportunities. It's like the lead guitar in a rock-band. Theo wants to be that man, but it's just not meant to be (in my opinion). You could almost see him this year craving that role after it was vacated, even more so after each time Giroud or Gervinho squibbed or fluffed or sent one into the cheap-seats. Theo's mind probably raged, "I would have put that home! That should be meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  Makes sense. I remember a few times screaming at the set that I could have finished better than Gervinho did, and I'm a 39-year old with a torn ACL.

If we can bring in someone like Higuain, the knock-on effect will benefit Theo in the long run. No longer will he have so much inspiration to crave the center-position as it will finally be filled by someone who knows what to do and how to do it (I'm sure Giroud will improve on this year's performance, but he'd still need time to change perceptions). Like a lot of us, I've written extensively on Higuain's virtues, but one neglected quality is how he'd mesh with the team. His willingness and ability to share time with Benzema and to defer to Ronaldo suggest that he doesn't have so much of the "me-first" quality that players like Rooney carry. Maybe that's a personality flaw that drives excellence--maybe a dominant finisher needs a certain dickishness as part of the skill-set. Then again, Messi. Moving on. Higuain seems like he can come in without stifling Theo's development, and the two could then form a powerful 1-2 punch. Not hero and sidekick, necessarily, but a working relationship that gives both the space and the touches they will need to score.

Freed from always hoping to play centrally, no longer tempted to drift in to "prove" his superiority over Gervinho or Giroud, could encourage Theo to accept his position as a destiny rather than a fate and would allow Theo to focus on redefining the position. It's not for nothing that he scored so many of his 21 goals from the wing (17, I believe). There are few sights more breath-taking than seeing him bolt down the wing past hapless defenders and curl in through the corner of the box. I've argued that this looks to be a break-out season for the lad, and I believe that pairing with a more-dominant center-forward will help that prediction to bear fruit.