Is he a fox or a grasshopper? Before Sergio Aguero turned into a silver fox, he was called the grasshopper in his younger days. The dyed hair may have triggered a decisive shift to his new name but Aguero has been a fox in the box for years. Yet, the Argentine striker still retains the slow-moving menace of a grasshopper. His game is arguably incomplete without either characterisation – Aguero remains the most accomplished finisher in the Premier League because he gradually positions himself in the right place and pounces on opportunities in a flash.
This gift was exhibited once again on Sunday as he put Arsenal to the sword, reminding us why he is one of the very few fixture-proof footballers. In fact, the bigger the game, the more decisive Aguero seems to be. This season alone, the 30-year-old has scored against Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal in the league (not to mention, a brace against Chelsea in the Community Shield). By the time this enthralling campaign rolls to its end, Aguero may score a goal or two against the rest of the ‘Big Six’ as City host Chelsea and Tottenham in the coming weeks.
Such confidence in his abilities is inspired by Aguero’s enviable record against City’s major opponents. Over the eight seasons spent at the club, the striker has an exceptional record in league encounters against the behemoths – Arsenal (eight goals in twelve appearances), Chelsea (seven in twelve), Liverpool (seven in twelve), Manchester United (eight in nine), and Tottenham (ten in thirteen). These impressive numbers ensure that Pep Guardiola inevitably picks him as the leading striker in ostensibly tough encounters.
The prevailing situation certainly represents a sea change in mindsets as only two years ago, Aguero had lost his elevated status at Manchester City. The arrival of Gabriel Jesus in January 2017 relegated the Argentine striker to the bench. The scurrying forward who tormented defences with precision was reduced to a brooding figure. However, soon one man’s misery turned into another’s fortune boon. After a brisk start, Jesus broke his metatarsal and Aguero returned to the team. Since then, his inestimable value to City has never been in doubt.
Aguero’s struggles coincided with a difficult season for the club. Not only did an irritable Guardiola face questions about his ability, but the future of his leading striker was also discussed ad nauseam too. The scrutiny on the Argentine, though, seemed like a misguided concern as he finished top of the club’s goal-scoring charts head and shoulders above everyone else that season. So it proved when Aguero went on to repeat the feat in 2017-18; it seems he will retain that honour this time around as well. Aguero’s remarkable numbers mean that only once has he not touched 20 goals in a campaign at City. His 219 goals for the club have arrived in games big and small.
Funnily enough, Aguero’s best friends in Manchester are a goalkeeper (David de Gea) and a defender (Nicolas Otamendi). He certainly does not extend his generosity to those categories of footballers, though, when facing them on the pitch. In the previous two games, the striker has scored in the very first minute. When City won the league in 2012, Aguero produced the Premier League’s most iconic moment with a last-minute winner to seal the title.
He’s early, he’s late. But, almost always, he is on target.
Aguero is also not bound to score a similar goal. He can race past the last defender, head the ball home (as witnessed against Arsenal), power the ball in from a tight angle (ask de Gea and Liverpool’s Allison), or suddenly lash the ball into the net. Under Mauricio Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola, Aguero has consistently managed to score three goals in every four matches. His goals-per-game ratio in England is unmatched. It would be classified exceptional anywhere.
And yet, the striker’s name hardly ever features among football’s biggest stars. His private lifestyle and continued discomfort with English may have driven some of the attention away. Aguero’s problems with injury have also undervalued his contribution; he is not perceived to be the model of dedicated professionalism either. Former Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart once called him “useless” in training while Aguero himself admitted that he initially made Guardiola angry.
The Catalan coach’s dissatisfaction with the Argentine could be traced to the lack of adequate work-rate. Guardiola demanded that Aguero play as his team’s ‘first defender’. Pressing the opposition to win the ball, though, was not an aspect readily associated with the striker’s game. But to his credit, Aguero won Guardiola over by taking the criticism on board.
He’s certainly an improved player now, although his assists have dropped considerably under the current manager. But Aguero is in sync with the team’s plans and no less effective. He is the first defender and the ultimate finisher. Both roles are performed adroitly by Aguero these days.
As the striker’s relevance to City’s cause keeps growing, it is worth making the argument that Aguero has left behind his compatriots as the best Argentine footballer ever to feature for an English club. His personal accomplishments have outstripped those of Osvaldo Ardiles, Carlos Tevez, and Ricardo Villa.
With Aguero’s status as an all-time great sealed, the conversations surrounding his future have faded away too. In fact, it is the number 10’s absence that is more jarring for City. When his team laboured to a 0-2 defeat at Chelsea earlier this season, the silver fox’s absence was noted with pain. Jesus, Aguero’s anointed replacement, is yet to show that he can rise to the occasion like City’s beloved goal scorer. Aguero’s animal spirit is still irreplaceable in Manchester.
Priyansh is an independent writer in New Delhi. He tweets @Privaricate
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Updated Date: Feb 04, 2019 17:11:35 IST