FOX Soccer Exclusive
Two stages, two stars, one story
Family time is different for the Higuaíns. They share the same love, but they don't gather around the camp-fire or the dinner table as frequently as most families would. They spend most of their lives separated by oceans and weekend work commitments.
One man is Gonzalo Higuaín, a star striker with Real Madrid. He’s one of the most famous names in world soccer playing for what is arguably the biggest team in the world. The other man is his brother, Federico, a striker in the unlikely, offbeat locale of Columbus, Ohio. He is not a world-famous star, and no one is going to confuse the gritty Columbus Crew with Los Merengues.
And yet, in six short months, Federico has blazed into the spotlight. He was MLS’ newcomer of the year -- and he is FOX Soccer’s MLS Player of the Year.
The days of wearing identical kits passed long ago for the two footballing brothers. Federico and Gonzalo featured in the same River Plate side when Gonzalo made his first-team debut back in May 2005, but Federico – three years older, a few inches shorter and a player cultivated to link the lines instead of lead them – soon departed to find his own way. They reunited as adversaries the next year after Federico left River on loan (Federico scored in Nueva Chicago's 2-1 victory at the Monumental) and watched as their paths ultimately diverged for good.
Gonzalo climbed to the lofty heights of the Champions League after he moved to Real Madrid as a 19-year-old in 2007 and inspired a tug of war between Argentina and France for his international services with his instincts in front of goal. Federico followed the road more frequently traveled and stopped briefly at Besiktas and Club América in 2007 and 2008 before returning to his native land to play for three clubs in the span of four years.
During that period and in the years since, Federico and Gonzalo remained close. Their visits weren't as frequent with the demands placed upon them by their careers, but they chatted about their experiences in distant corners of the world and caught up as often as their schedules would permit.
It’s a conundrum this family understands well. Jorge, the father, played for River Plate and Boca Juniors and enjoyed a brief spell in France during his lengthy career as an uncompromising defender. He and his wife, Nancy, welcomed four boys – Nicolas, Federico, Gonzalo and Lautaro – along the way. Two of them persisted in the family business knowing the demands it would inevitably exert on their relationships.
“We have a really close family,” said Federico Higuaín said through a translator during a phone interview from the latest stop in his career. “We try to keep close as much as we can. Over the last six years, we've probably seen each other two or three times a year. It's something that we want, but it's tough with where our careers have taken us.
“One of the tough things about being a professional is being away from your family, away from your brothers, away from your parents,” Federico added. “In our case, Gonzalo has had the chance to stay in Spain and play in only one place. I have had to go to many other places in the world. We try to stay connected as much as we can. We have made as much time as we can for everybody.”
Federico's decision to join Columbus during the summer made that particular task more difficult. He finished up a productive spell at Colón at the behest of Crew technical director Brian Bliss and coach Robert Warzycha. The duo believed Federico could supply the ingenuity missing since the club cut ties with Guillermo Barros Schelotto after the 2010 season. His exploits after his arrival – five goals, seven assists and a Newcomer of the Year award after just 13 appearances – validated their faith.
The right career move required Federico to leave his extended family behind in Argentina and take his wife and his children to another unfamiliar land. He took the decision with care for himself and care for the people he knew he would leave once again.
“When I gave them the news that I was coming to the States, everybody was really excited,” Federico Higuaín said. “I'm very comfortable here in the city and so are my wife and my children. I have joined the team and I'm comfortable here with the club. I'm trying to see as much of the city as I can.”
And Federico continues to share those experiences with his family members located elsewhere. They aren't in Columbus, but it probably feels like it sometimes. They monitor his career closely and track his performances through highlights on the MLS website. Federico and Gonzalo discuss their lives, exchange positive messages on Twitter and talk on the phone before and after matches. Federico, his family in Columbus, and every Higuaín in Argentina, watch Gonzalo score goals for Madrid.
Those measures don't replace gathering together on a regular basis. Such cherished moments occur more infrequently than the Higuaíns would prefer. In their stead, they find other ways to share their experiences until they can swap stories in person. It isn't a sign that they love each other any less. Far from it -- it is just an indication that their world requires a little bit more work to ensure their family time matters just as much.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.