Inter Miami has its leading man–at last.
Gonzalo Higuain, the 32-year-old Argentine striker, has signed with the MLS expansion club after reaching terms with Juventus to end his contract with the club a year early. Inter Miami announced the signing on Friday to end a prolonged period of anticipation for his official arrival.
Higuain, whose older brother, Federico, plays for D.C. United, is reportedly signed through the 2022 MLS season, and he becomes the club's third and final Designated Player, joining young Argentine winger Matias Pellegrini and Mexican midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro.
He also joins one of his former Juventus teammates in Florida after French midfielder Blaise Matuidi signed with Miami last month on a free transfer. That Matuidi was able to be signed with Targeted Allocation Money–and thus avoid becoming a DP–allowed Miami the roster flexibility to land a player of Higuain's caliber. According to Gianluca Di Marzio, Higuain will be paid 7.5 million euros ($8.8 million) annually, which would make him the highest-paid player in the league (it's unclear if that is taking into account figures beyond base salary). Higuain was met at the Miami airport by club owner Jorge Mas, who welcomed him via social media last Friday.
“We are pleased to close a deal with Gonzalo and add an experienced and successful goalscorer, who has excelled in the world’s best teams and leagues,” Inter Miami COO and sporting director Paul McDonough said in a club statement. “Our ownership group has always said our goal is to not only bring elite players to Inter Miami, but also good people that share our ambition and aspiration of making history in North American fútbol, and we’re confident we have found that in Gonzalo.”
Higuain's scoring record over the years is impressive, from his time at River Plate to Real Madrid to Napoli to Juventus (and loans to Chelsea and AC Milan in between). In 2015-16, while playing for Napoli, he set Serie A's single-season scoring record with 36 goals (a mark matched this past season by Lazio's Ciro Immobile).
His league goal totals have fallen every year since, though. In his first season with Juventus, 2016-17, he tallied 24 league goals, followed by 16 a season later (he scored five Champions League goals in each season, too). He spent 2018-19 on loan with Chelsea and Milan and combined for 11 goals before returning to Juve this past season and scoring eight.
“First of all, I want to thank Inter Miami for the effort it has made to sign me. I think it will be a beautiful experience in my life. It’s what I was looking for - a new experience, a new league and a beautiful city. I’m really happy to be here and that it’s official,” Higuain said in a statement. “My goal is to try to transmit all the experience I acquired in Europe and to help the team grow.
“I feel good, I feel whole as a player. I’m motivated to try a new league and help the team grow. Individually, my goal is to demonstrate that I can contribute and continue playing great fútbol here, and I hope I can achieve that because I have all the tools necessary to succeed. Inter Miami is a team in construction but there is already a good base to reach important goals."
Higuain also has had a decorated yet complicated career representing his national team. He scored 31 goals in 75 matches for Argentina, appearing at the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cups. His international career is also notorious for the misses he's had on big stages, though, with infamous failed conversions in the 2014 World Cup final, 2015 Copa America final and 2016 Copa America Centenario final playing significant roles in Argentina failing to win any of those tournaments. He retired internationally after Argentina's last-16 ouster vs. Matuidi's France in the 2018 World Cup.
Miami will certainly hope Higuain, who overlapped briefly with club owner David Beckham at Real Madrid in 2007, hits the ground running in MLS. The club has scored just nine goals in its first 11 games in existence and sits in last place in the Eastern Conference with a league-worst 2-7-2 record. The glass-half-full approach would say Miami is just three points out of a playoff spot, with the unusual, coronavirus-altered season resulting in an expanded postseason field. Ten teams in the Eastern Conference will make the playoffs, with the final four seeds playing in one-game play-in matches to determine who advances to a 16-team bracket (eight in each conference).
With Higuain and Matuidi in the fold, manager Diego Alonso has two more stars with considerable clout to build around for the home stretch.
MLS revealed the next chunk of its regular season schedule last Friday, and Miami will play at Atlanta, home vs. the New York Red Bulls and at the Philadelphia Union on Sept. 19, 23 and 27, respectively. Any matches after that will be revealed in due time.