If you’re reading this, it means that Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero has turned 32. I look at what has been been a whirlwind year for him and what’s in store for one of the Premier League’s best-ever strikers, whose admirable quest for continental club success is fast reaching its eventual conclusion.
Twelve months is a long time in football.
A year ago today, around the time the clock struck midnight on June 2, Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero was presumably watching somewhere as Premier League rivals Liverpool beat Tottenham in Madrid to claim their sixth Champions League trophy.
Maybe he chose not to watch it, understandable but nonetheless an avoidable event and moment etched in history forever.
If he did, he’d have seen a South American trio celebrate winning Europe’s elite club competition, the one club trophy that has eluded him during an illustrious career to date.
Over the past decade, the list of notable South American UCL winners largely originate from Brazil. Argentina have Barcelona captain Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano (now at Estudiantes) and PSG’s Angel di Maria as winners, but not much more than that.
Brazil blow them out of the water in that regard, with Real duo Marcelo and Casemiro serving as just two examples of regular winners over the past few years.
With that being said, Spain’s continental dominance meant joining one of the big two seemed like an easy way out if you wanted to achieve Champions League success.
Aguero’s Champions League pledge to City, despite transfer interest
In November 2014, the Argentine said he wouldn’t leave City until they won the UCL, precisely the type of admission players are urged against by agents and their entourage.
An excerpt from the Telegraph’s article at the time read:
Talk turns from Agüero’s memory to his legacy. There is no doubt that he has the talent to become a true great of the game, but while the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have Champions League titles and Ballons d’Or to their name, Agüero has neither. And as far as he is concerned, Messi and Ronaldo – both older than him, of course – remain clear of the field.
And yet the question remains: with City still yet to make an impression on the European stage, does Agüero still feel he can fulfil his potential at City? In August he extended his contract at the club until 2019, but now he goes further. Until City win the Champions League with Agüero at the forefront, his work will not be done.
“Not only will I stay the four years to make it eight here in total, I’ll stay beyond that. Until we win it.” And there is a fierceness to his eyes as he says it.
To his credit, Aguero has stayed true to his word and rejected multiple tempting advances since in a transfer market where world-class strikers are in short supply.
Even now, he has a year left on his existing deal and other European sides remain intrigued by his situation – which is far from certain.
Inter Milan and Real were among those linked, prompting his agent Hernan Reguera to confirm speculation surrounding his future is purely just that, for now.
Aguero is the club’s record goalscorer on 254 goals (all competitions). This summer marks nine years since his £36m move to England from Atletico Madrid. Since then?
City have signed 13 players for higher transfer fees and perhaps fittingly, two Brazilians for the same price – Fernandinho (13/14) and Ederson (17/18).
Barring the exception of Fernandinho, none of those players have yet come close to matching his legendary status in the blue half of Manchester.
Kevin de Bruyne, who cost almost double that fee (£68m) and has proven himself to be one of the world’s best players in recent years, isn’t too far off – though longevity and sustained success are key factors to determine a player’s long-lasting impact at a club.
The persistent injuries continue to pile up
Anyone who knows Aguero and the world-class brilliance he possesses, is also aware of the one thing which so cruelly hold him back every season: persistent injuries.
Before the coronavirus-enforced shutdown in March, he sustained yet another muscle injury – sidelining him for a month between mid-November and December, which saw him miss seven City games across all competitions.
Injuries are an inevitability in sport, especially one as physically demanding as football, but Sergio’s injury problems have continued from his early years at Eastlands and not improved much as he’s aged.
According to transfermarkt, the Argentine has missed 385 days of competitive action and a total of 70 games since suffering a knee injury in August 2012. Naturally, that doesn’t take into account fixtures where he’s ‘eased back’ into the team, or rested as a precaution, so on and so forth. It’s probably closer to 100 matches, if not more.
But Aguero’s lack of injury luck is not the main talking point for this feature. He turns 32 today, at the start of a month where the UK’s Project Restart plans will play out globally as Premier League stars return to the beautiful game after a three-month hiatus.
Jesus embracing new role after years in Aguero’s shadow
Thing is, he wasn’t exactly in the best of form before play was suspended indefinitely and Gabriel Jesus – always touted to be his long-term successor – has shown he’s capable of taking the mantle sooner rather than later.
Case in point being his Champions League display against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Feb. 26, as City came from behind to earn a memorable first-leg last-16 victory.
Plenty of eyebrows were raised by Pep Guardiola’s team and formation selection, though he was ultimately proven justified and lauded for pulling off a tactical masterclass that many have come to expect from one of the world’s best managers.
He couldn’t have done it without his players, particularly Jesus – displaying grit, guile and creativity from an unorthodox role at left midfield – as well as captain de Bruyne, who relished the challenge of orchestrating across the park and capped his performance with an ice-cool penalty to complete their second-half comeback.
Where was Aguero, amidst all of this? An unused substitute. The last time he was fully fit and didn’t feature in a UCL knockout game was during their 2-1 home defeat by Basel in March 2018 – already 4-0 on aggregate, Pep rotated his squad accordingly.
The following month, they drew Liverpool in the quarter-finals and, having missed their first leg defeat with a knee injury, Aguero played just 24 minutes in the return fixture as they limped to a 5-1 agg. defeat.
This though, felt different. Almost like a changing of the guard, a transformative moment in Jesus’ City career. He wasn’t perfect by any means against Real, but showed the type of bullish attitude and self-belief you need to have, when you’re behind a legend like Aguero in the pecking order and trying to stake your claim for a starting berth.
Rewind to last season’s UCL quarter-finals and Aguero started both legs against Tottenham. He scored one and created an assist in their 4-3 second-leg win, though Spurs progressed into the semis by virtue of the away goal rule.
As for the first leg? Had a penalty saved by Hugo Lloris, was generally off-the-pace and looked flustered as Tottenham stunned them 1-0 at their new north London home.
What if he hadn’t missed from twelve yards? Would he have finally achieved his ultimate goal at City? Judging by the manner of Ajax’s second-leg collapse against Spurs, he and his teammates would have had a golden opportunity to right their wrongs against Liverpool this time last year. We’ll never know.
What we know now though, is this: Jesus is embracing his role a lot more and gradually taking on more responsibility under Pep, while Aguero’s stock is declining and he hasn’t been shy in the press about wanting a return to Argentina before retiring. It means there’s not much time left for him to achieve the UCL-winning aspiration, especially if City’s ban from European competition is upheld ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.
de Bruyne said as much last month and there’s a real sense of urgency for them to win now while they still boast a strong core of players under contract – either in their prime or having already peaked – just like Real Madrid exhausted over recent years. Will Aguero get an opportunity to fufill that dream, once and for all? Time is of the essence.
With all of that in mind, it’s a pleasure watching Aguero and he’s definitely the type of player who will only be truly appreciated by rivalas once he leaves England, such is everyone’s fascination with numbers and new young stars as opposed to anything else.
He eclipsed Thierry Henry as the division’s top foreign goalscorer against Aston Villa in January and if he stayed fit, would have surpassed Alan Shearer’s 260-goal record haul by now too. That’s no exaggeration, he’s simply that good.
I hope he remains in England long enough to do that without blocking Jesus’ pathway, though twelve months is a long time and this time next year, City’s core could easily be scattered across Europe – even with concerns over low fees in a post-pandemic market.
For one of the key components in a Manchester City side who – love them or hate them – have established their standing among Europe’s top table over the past decade, breaking multiple records and winning trophies galore along the way, that last paragraph seemed unapologetically grim. Perhaps now’s not the time for that… so happy birthday, Sergio.
Pictures’ source: Getty and UEFA