While it’s never productive to look back on what might have been, it’s worth noting that Chelsea could have had an even sharper attack this season – by adding Aleksandr Golovin and Gonzalo Higuain to their ranks.
The highly rated pair were both on the West Londoners’ radar during a slightly underwhelming summer transfer window and came agonizingly close to donning the blue of Chelsea. Here is where it all went wrong.
Gonzalo Higuain to Stamford Bridge would’ve been the perfect marriage. The most successful Blues sides of recent times have all had one thing in common: a clinical, no-nonsense marksman upfront.
It is something the 2012 Champions League winners have lacked since the departures of Didier Drogba and Diego Costa. Chelsea’s need for a true goalscorer was even more apparent last season following Alvaro Morata’s struggles in front of goal. The Spaniard has not shown much hope for improvement this term and Olivier Giroud, while a capable deputy, still not considered good enough to be the main striker.
Higuain, on his part, found himself on the Juventus transfer list in the summer despite having netted 55 times in two seasons for the Old Lady. Having already enjoyed great success with current Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri at Napoli, it seemed for all the world like the pair would be reunited in England.
Sarri was indeed interested in 30-year-old – a striker already compatible with “Sarri-ball” and still clearly one of the deadliest finishers in Europe.
The move never materialized, nonetheless, with Higuain – now at AC Milan – claiming that, despite Sarri’s clear interest, Chelsea themselves did not make much of an effort to acquire his signature.
“In total sincerity, the esteem I have for Sarri is huge but he was the only who wanted me,” said the former Real Madrid man last month.
“Here at Milan everyone wanted me, and this is why I made my choice to come here. That’s the most beautiful feeling a player could have, to feel that you are really welcome. The motivation and conviction they showed at Milan was fundamental.”
Indeed, Sarri himself went on to admit a tinge of remorse over the failed transfer, telling Sky Sport Italia: “Higuain? It’s a little regret but in the end everyone after the market has a few little regrets.”
Higuain, who scored 92 goals in 147 apps in Naples and 122 goals in 264 games Madrid, has already scored twice in 4 apps for Milan. Meanwhile, from a combined 14 apps this season, Giroud and Morata have just one goal between them.
For young Aleksandr Golovin it was more a case of trying to avoid unhealthy competition at Stamford Bridge. Having proven one of the breakout stars of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the 22-year-old instantly became a hot property in the summer with several illustrious clubs in Europe vying for his services.
Juventus and Chelsea were two of them and, despite the player’s mother seemingly preferring the Blues, Golovin joined neither. The versatile and tricky midfield operator instead joined Monaco where he immediately picked up an injury and was only able to feature for the club last week.
In the words of Monaco VP Vadim Vasilyev, Chelsea’s midfield was “overloaded” and therefore unsuitable for a tender-aged prospect in need of playing time.
“They really were complicated [the negotiations],” he told the press in July while confirming Monaco’s deal for Golovin in July.
“Honestly, until the last moment I was not sure that I would be able to coordinate this transfer.
“In addition to Chelsea, there was Juventus for Golovin. In early May this year I heard from one the leaders of the Turin club that Aleksandr’s transfer to their team was a done deal.
“However, our main competitor was Chelsea. I believe Monaco offered more favourable conditions for the club and a more understandable sports project for Golovin.
“Chelsea – this is a top club, which I treat with great respect. However, the midfield in the English team is overloaded.
“In my opinion, Golovin will definitely play in any of the leading clubs in the world. But it will him some time, a transition stage.”
Chelsea under Sarri have made a near-perfect start to the season, winning all but one of their opening eight games fixtures in all competitions. Does this however mean they have enough in their tank to compete against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City?
A true fan would love to say yes but will have reservations. And, should the season take a turn for the worse later on, it will be almost impossible not to look back and wonder if Golovin and Higuain could’ve upgraded a good side into a great one.