Gonzalo Higuain's advice for Lautaro Martinez, his heir apparent

With 25 goals from 65 games, Lautaro Martinez has already proved a sound investment for Inter Milan, who stand to make a substantial profit on the Argentine striker if they chose to sell him on, with Barcelona very keen on bringing him across the Pyrenees.

Whether he moves or not, the 22-year-old striker seems set for a brilliant future. He is a footballing hammerhead shark, a cold-eyed predator with menace in his every move. And if his immediate club future is in doubt, there seems little question he will be Argentina's long-term centre-forward.

More than a decade ago, when Hernan Crespo stopped playing international football, he appointed Gonzalo Higuain as his long-term successor. And now Higuain, having retired from Argentina duty, has done the same with Martinez.

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"There is no doubt that Lautaro has all the qualities to be the No. 9 of the Argentina team," said Higuain on local TV station TyC. "It depends on him. It depends on being sure of himself -- because at Lautaro's age I had received very little criticism."

Here, Higuain is making a detour into his own international career. Between 2009 and 2018, Higuain played 75 times for his country, finding the net on 32 occasions. Only five players have scored more for La Albiceleste but, as he is well aware, the goals he scored are overshadowed by the ones that got away.

Higuain is part of that "nearly" generation, the team that reached three finals in consecutive years -- the 2014 World Cup, followed by the Copa America and Copa Centenario -- and lost them all. In all three games, the big chance fell to Higuain - and all three times, it went begging.

This made him an easy target for criticism, as he recognized when he announced his retirement from international football just over a year ago.

"To the happiness of many, and others not so much, my cycle in the national team is over," he said. "People can stop worrying about whether or not I'm picked. I believe it will do me good. I'll be watching from the outside.

"They call us failures, but that is something else. Failure is not qualifying for a World Cup -- it's not reaching three finals, even though we lost them. Everyone feels hurt when you are criticized with malice, and it's been worse for my family than for me."

It is a powerful insight into the human side of a high-profile footballer, of how much the vital missed chances weighed on his mind. The cruel irony is that Higuain put the ball in the back of the German net in 2014 and went away to roar his triumph to the crown in the Maracana stadium. He seemed the only one unaware that it had been ruled out for offside. He then wasted another good chance -- and it seems a fair deduction from his words that the criticism he received was an intimidating factor in the subsequent two finals. Against Chile in 2015, he could not quite direct a stretching shot the right side of the post, and then blasted over in the shootout; and against the same opponents a year later, he may even have had too much thinking time when the best chance of the game fell his way and he once more shot wide.

It was with this in mind that he told TyC that "Lautaro has a long career ahead of him, and there will be times when he comes in for criticism -- there surely will be, because a career is not a bed of roses -- and it's in those moments that he will have to be strong."

Higuain's is a profound, deeply personal take on the old truth in sport that learning to cope with failure is a vital part of success. In truth, Martinez should already have assimilated some of the lesson. In 2017, his goals enabled Argentina to qualify for the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea. But in the opening game against England, he was sent off for throwing an elbow. In what had started as an even match, it cost his team the points, and he was suspended from the next match, watching helplessly as Argentina lost to the hosts. A couple of goals against Guinea were too little, too late. Argentina were eliminated, while England went on to win the trophy.

All youth football, of course, is primarily a learning experience, and that incident has not left any permanent stain on his career. But the warning from Higuain is clear. A rash red card or a glaring miss at senior level will not be forgotten so easily.

Martinez already has nine goals in 17 games for his country. He might be thinking international football is easy. But Higuain wants to see how Martinez reacts after his first major mistake on the big stage.