Sergio Aguero: In Pursuit of Greatness

Sergio Aguero

Sergio Aguero

Sergio Aguero

It was one of the most explosive 30-minute cameos in Manchester City history.

The first game of the 2011-12 season. Swansea were the visitors to the Etihad Stadium and after an hour, the score was 1-0 to City who had dominated the game but failed to score the goals to prove it.

On the bench was Sergio Aguero, a 23-year-old Argentine striker who had signed a fortnight earlier from Atletico Madrid having finished the 2010-11 season as their top scorer with 27 goals in all competitions.

He was widely considered to be one of the most promising young attacking talents in Europe but with no experience of English football, there were no guarantees he would adapt to his new surroundings. He was small and technical, but so often that type of player has struggled to transition to the rigours of the Premier League. His signing was, in some respects, a gamble.

But Aguero was a much more well-rounded prospect than many of his predecessors, and any lingering question marks over his ability to transition from La Liga to the Premier League evaporated after 30 minutes of brilliance. He scored two – one of which was a 30-yard screamer – and set up another with a quite brilliant, impudent flick on the byline that gave David Silva a simple finish. This was a player ready to make a serious impact in English football.

"He is not 100% yet but he is going to be fantastic for us,” said then City boss Roberto Mancini after the game.

How right he would prove to be.

CHAPTER 1 – Kun’s arrival

CHAPTER 1 – Kun’s arrival

Since his debut, his pursuit of greatness has been relentless. The goals have flowed incessantly, with Aguero now known as one of the most potent strikers English football has ever seen. He has the best minutes-to-goal ratio in Premier League history - better, even, than the great Thierry Henry - and now has nine Premier League hattricks after his recent treble against Huddersfield. In November, he became City’s all-time leading goalscorer when he notched his 178th in the win at Napoli, surpassing the great Eric Brook who had held the record for 78 years.

In total, he has scored 204 goals in 299 games for City - a remarkable record that underlines his consistency in front of goal.

City have never had a player score so reliably and he is perhaps a one-man manifestation of the Club’s rapid rise since 2008. The record books are being re-written, and not just in terms of the silverware being won.

CHAPTER 2 – An unblemished record

CHAPTER 2 – An unblemished record

Having hit the ground running on his debut, he continued his blistering start. He scored eight in his first six Premier League games, including a devastating hat-trick against Wigan. He ended his first season with 30 goals in all competitions, the last of which is the most iconic goal in the history of the Premier League; his place in the pantheon of historic English players secured with one emphatic swing of hisright foot against Queens Park Rangers. City had waited 44 years to win the title, our last coming in 1968 when Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee reigned. Aguero’s goal, delivered so calmly under pressure, sealed it. Mario Balotelli, strewn on the turf, produced his solitary assist for the Club, and Aguero took one touch to steady himself before firing unerringly into the bottom corner. Cue delirium as we snatched the title from our cross-town rivals who had dominated the English game for 20 years. It’s a script that would have been rejected by Hollywood executives for being too fanciful, with Aguero casting himself as the main protagonist.

Up stepped an Argentine to score a goal in Fergie time, Sergio Aguero – City champions!

“The best foreign player to ever play in the Premier League,” Alan Shearer, the competition’s all-time leading scorer, said recently. “A great centre-forward with no weaknesses.”

Aguero’s rich and varied highlights reel adds weight to Shearer’s claim. In amongst his 204 City goals are some absolute gems, including one in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool in 2013 that defied geometry. He rounded Pepe Reina and, seemingly without looking, turned and scored from the tightest of angles. A moment of pure genius and a rejection of the idea he is simply a penalty-box striker, it was one of the most remarkable goals scored that season.

Two months later, he notched the winner in an FA Cup semi-final, a brilliant header against Chelsea that sent us into a final against Wigan. City blew the chance to end a disappointing season with silverware with defeat to Roberto Martinez’s side, but there was plenty more to come for the Club and its main striker.

The 2013-14 season, under the guidance of new manager Manuel Pellegrini, saw City secure the Club’s first-ever league-and-cup double. A 4-1 win over Manchester United - one of the most one-sided Manchester derby performances of all-time - set the tone, with Aguero’s thumping volley early in the game the catalyst. He added another soon after and United, the reigning champions, were humiliated.

It was the start of the best run of goalscoring form of his career - 25 goals in 21 games as his partnership with Alvaro Negredo, a fine hold-up player, flourished. He looked faster and sharper than ever and defenders couldn’t live with him, as he demonstrated in the first 45 minutes of the game away at Tottenham at the end of January. He ran the Spurs back four ragged that night, scoring superbly, before injury curtailed his evening. He was out for two months, returning for the final weeks of the season as City won the title for the second time in three seasons, his pinpoint goal at Everton in the penultimate match vital in securing the trophy.

Twenty-eight goals in 34 games was a fine return, but it was hard to shake the feeling it could have been so much more had that ill-timed injury not struck.

The following season, he upped his goalscoring form again. He scored all four in a 4-1 win over Tottenham, before a brilliant double away at QPR in a 2-2.

But it was his hat-trick against Bayern Munich that is perhaps the most memorable moment of that campaign. It remains his finest hour in Europe’s elite competition, both for the quality of his finishes and the importance of the result he single-handedly made possible. City, 2-0 down and on the brink of a group-stage exit in the Champions League, needed a miracle. Aguero duly obliged, scoring two in the final five minutes to add to his first-half penalty. It was a virtuoso performance that turned the game completely on its head.

"He makes things achievable that otherwise wouldn't be,” Vincent Kompany said afterwards, almost unable to process what he’d seen. “He's our special player. If you want to succeed at anything, you need a special player in special form, otherwise you just don't win anything."

Pellegrini simply labelled him "one of the best players in the world" and he ended the 2014/15 season with a remarkable 33 goals in 45 games, including another hattrick – this time against QPR - in the final weeks of the campaign.

The 6-1 win over Newcastle early in the 2015-16 season saw him score five in one match for the first time, and he bagged another hattrick in April as we beat Chelsea 3-0 away. “After what we have seen here [the Newcastle game], of course Kun is at the highest level. I have already said that after Ronaldo and Messi he is the best player in the world. He always makes important contributions.”

City ended the season with another League Cup and a run to the Champions League semi-finals, still our best performance in the competition. Aguero scored 29 in 44 games, his consistency becoming scary.

Then came the arrival of Pep Guardiola, an appointment that breathed new life into City and gave Aguero a new edge. Guardiola, a most demanding coach with exacting standards, wanted more from his striker.

He started Guardiola’s first season with 11 in his first six games. Still Guardiola wanted more outside the final third. The result has been a better, more well-rounded striker. For the remainder of the season he was running further, creating more chances and he scored more than in any other season - 33 in 45 games – evidence Guardiola was having a significant impact.

And the rewards have been tangible. 2017-18 saw Aguero enjoy his most successful season at City. We won the Carabao Cup, with Aguero scoring the opener in the final against Arsenal, before becoming the first team to win the Premier League with 100 points. Aguero’s highlights included an outstanding hattrick at Watford, yet another treble against Newcastle, four against Leicester and his strike at Napoli that saw him become City’s all-time leading goalscorer.

“He is one of the very best strikers I have worked with and one of the best in the world,” Pep Guardiola said after the Carabao Cup final. “I think that not only English football has a recognition of what Sergio has done - because he has scored goals season after season – it applies to Europe and world football, who all recognise what he has done.”

The stats are incredible. He has managed at least 30 goals in four of his seven seasons at the Club, despite a long injury list that has, at times, hampered his progress. He is currently 10th on the list of all-time leading scorers in the Premier League, scoring 146 in England's top flight at an average of a goal every 108 minutes – better than Henry’s record of 121.8 minutes per goal.

In short, he practically guarantees goals when he’s fit and firing.

But yet he’s been voted into the PFA team of the season on only one occasion, 2017-18, and has never been named Footballer of the Year, either by the PFA or the Football Writers Association. While fans of almost every hue have been virtually unanimous in their praise for Aguero, often labelling him the most feared forward in the English game, the authorities have lagged behind in their appreciation. It’s strange and almost unexplainable.

"I don't vote, so it's difficult for me to know why in the last four years he's never been among the best players," Pellegrini said in 2016, when Aguero had scored 21 goals in 26 league games. "Really, I don't know. I don't know who chooses the best players, what the different reasons might be. In other seasons, maybe people didn't vote for him because of the injuries. But he's demonstrated in every game that he deserves to be there."

His being overlooked for at glitzy end-of-season award ceremonies has done little to deter him; his performance level has been consistently high.

But what makes him such a phenomenon?

There’s an insatiable appetite for getting into goalscoring positions that can’t necessarily be measured but has been a constant theme of his time at the Etihad. Quick movements that wrong-foot defenders; an ability to play on the shoulder of centre-halves and hurt them with his pace in behind. He is a nightmare to mark.

“He’s a natural finisher who attracts the ball in the penalty area,” Francis Lee, sixth on City’s list of all-time leading scorers, says. “There used to be a centre-forward who played for Germany called Gerd Muller who wasn’t the best of players outside the penalty area – but inside the penalty area he was lethal, and the ball would just fall for him. He attracted it.”

If comparisons with Muller are flattering, how about Brazilian striker Romario, a player who won the World Cup, two Copa Americas and a Confederations Cup. It is perhaps he, more than any other player, Aguero is most similar. Both have a low centre of gravity that affords them great balance and the ability to beat players. Both are strong and unstoppable in free-flow. Both thrive on scoring goals.

"Sergio is a photocopy of Romario, they are the same player," Mancini said in 2011.

"Aguero is like Romario,” former teammate Diego Forlan explained to Radio Marca in 2011. “His style bears a striking resemblance to the Brazilian. He is fast, can beat players and is very skilful.”

Aguero has freakishly powerful legs, great pace over the first 10 yards and an unerringly accurate finishing ability. Short, stocky and strong, it’s like he been designed to score goals.

“He’s quick from a standing start,” Lee explains. “The secret of most footballers who are quick is that over the first two or three yards they’re like lightening, and then they’re into their stride and they’re away. That’s one of his great attributes. His close control is excellent and he’s very quick into his stride. His ability frightens defenders.”

It’s been a magnificent seven years for Sergio Aguero – and a pleasure for City fans being able to watch him. Much has changed since his debut against Swansea and Aguero’s contribution should never be underestimated. City have been English football’s dominant force for a decade and Aguero's goals have been a major factor.

He's the best striker the Club as ever had, and now we can enjoy him until at least 2021.