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FOOTBALL

Higuain goes from hero to zero after big-money Juve deal

On 36 occasions last season, Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain boosted Napoli dreams of ending a 26-year title drought as he inspired with goalscoring feats in the Scudetto race with Juventus.

Higuain goes from hero to zero after big-money Juve deal
The striker moved to Juventus on Monday for €90 million.Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

On Tuesday, Higuain went from hero to zero after completing the world's third most expensive transfer to join Napoli's rivals in a move that has underlined his quest for succcess, yet prompted swift criticism.
   
Higuain was feted as the King of Napoli only two months ago when he broke Gunnar Nordahl's 66-year-old record of 35 goals in a single Serie A season as the Azzurri battled Juve for a title they last won in 1990.
   
But less than a month before Juve begin their bid for a record sixth consecutive title, the 28-year-old Argentine's name in Naples might as well be mud.
   
As Juve fans largely rejoiced when they smashed the Italian transfer record by paying €90 million to capture Higuain, their Napoli counterparts reacted by posting photos of their former idol's shirt in the toilet.
   
Higuain will undergo a medical on Wednesday ahead of signing a five-year deal that would leave him behind only Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo in the list of most expensive transfers.
   
But as Juventus, who have also signed exciting Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic from Roma and central defender Medhi Benatia from Bayern Munich, continue to reinforce Massimiliano Allegri's squad for a fresh assault on the Champions League, they may also have unleashed the biggest controversy of the summer.

 A mixed reaction

From top footballers to television celebrities and even Napoli's kit man, Higuain's move to the most potent, revered and perhaps hated club in Italy was met with mixed reaction.
   
For one-club man Francesco Totti, who is set to play his final season with Roma, it is a disaster that smacks more of “business than passion”.
   
“People come to the stadium to have fun and to see a player that's always with the same team. Maybe they hope for a player that won't betray them,” he told Gazzetta World.
   
“Look at what's happened now with Gonzalo Higuain leaving Napoli for Juventus. It's a disaster.
   
“But, it's completely normal now that when a foreigner comes to Italy he has the possibility of going to another team to make more money.”
   
Others, such as Salvatore Esposito – who plays gangster Genny Savastano in the hit Italian TV series 'Gomorra' – says Higuain has become “poorer” for trading in the unconditional love of Napoli's fans for a richer existence in chillier Turin.
   
“As a people, when we grow to love someone that love is unconditional,” said Esposito, sporting a Napoli top and cap in a video posted on La Gazzetta dello Sport's website.
   
“The way Gonzalo left was… pathetic, if you ask me. But in the end, it's business. I just hope the (club) president uses the money well to invest in a decent replacement.”
   
For Napoli's veteran kit man Tommy it was even written in the sky on Tuesday evening when he posted a picture of smoke pouring out of nearby volcano Mount Vesuvius.
   
“The mountain has seen this coming,” he wrote on Twitter.
   
But as Totti admits, few players in the modern game remain loyal to clubs for lengthy spells, and Higuain is no exception.
 
 After a breakthrough season with River Plate in Argentina, Higuain spent six and a half years at Real Madrid where he helped the Spanish giants to three La Liga titles and boosted his international status.
   
But continued disappointment at a lack of first-team starts put Higuain on the market, and he moved in 2013 in a deal worth €40 million.
   
Despite three positive seasons that notably saw him thrill fans throughout their last campaign as he chased Nordahl's landmark, Napoli's failed bid for the title left Higuain wanting more again.
   
He leaves Napoli with an Italian Cup winner's medal from 2014, for a team that are favourites to defend their league and Cup double, and launch a renewed bid for Champions League glory having come close in 2015 with a 3-1 final defeat to Barcelona.

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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