Sergio Agüero’s brilliance has been taken for granted
Striker has chance to notch 200th City goal tonight but Salah and Kane hog the headlines
Sergio Agüero scores Manchester City’s first goal in the English League Cup final win over Arsenal at Wembley last Sunday. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
On Thursday night at the Emirates Sergio Agüero has the chance to reach a landmark 200th goal for Manchester City, and if the Arsenal defenders play like they did in the Carabao Cup final he probably will.
Despite being on the short side for a centre-forward – it always comes as a slight surprise to be reminded that the Argentina striker is only 5ft 8in – Agüero bullies defences like few others and Sunday’s showpiece at Wembley was as good an example as any.
Most clubs would be delighted to have such a bullish presence and metronomic goalscorer as the focus of their attack, though it is not completely unimaginable that Pep Guardiola might leave him out at some point in the near future to allow Gabriel Jesus to take up where he left off before injury. Guardiola made it clear last season that no one can rest on their laurels and expect a game every week at City, not even their most regular scorer, yet Agüero is never usually out for long because his statistics are so impressive.
“Agüero’s numbers speak for themselves,” Guardiola said towards the end of last year, just before the player became City’s all-time top scorer in his seventh season at the club. Indeed they do. City bought him because he also scored a century of goals in just five seasons at Atlético Madrid. He managed 101 in 234 games for the Spanish side, which means he presently stands on exactly 300 goals in 522 games for his two European clubs.
That is some going, and though there was never much risk in City parting with around £37 million (€42 million) for a 23-year-old in 2011, the investment was repaid with the last kick of the game against Queens Park Rangers at the end of his first season. The goals have never dried up since. Though Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah have been earning most of the goalscoring plaudits this season, Agüero is above both in the Premier League table, and while slightly inferior in terms of totals (Kane has 24 league goals, Salah 23 and Agüero 21), the City striker’s goals to minutes played ratio is the best of the lot.
Agüero has been averaging a Premier League goal every 85 minutes, which is marginally better than Salah (92) and Kane (97) and, for purposes of comparison, about twice as effective as Romelu Lukaku (180) or Jamie Vardy (181).
Agüero has scored goals wherever he has found himself, it is what brought him to prominence in Argentina at the age of 15, so naturally he ought to be filling his boots when playing for the strongest team in the country.
That is what City are now, though it has not necessarily been the case during all his years at the club, and Atlético were never out in front in Spain either, even when Agüero’s goalscoring partnership with Diego Forlán was at its peak. For much of his career, in fact, Agüero has found himself in similar situations to Kane and Salah at the moment, playing for emerging clubs with talented squads without any guarantee of league success at the end of the season.
That might seem an odd thing to say as Agüero closes in on a third title in City colours, but the first one famously went all the way to the wire, while the second was followed by a couple of seasons, some might even say three, of deflating ordinariness. It is only now, with Kevin De Bruyne running the show and Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling running the legs off most opponents, that City look genuinely capable of steamrollering anything in their way, even in Europe.
They hold a commanding lead over Basel from the away leg in the round of 16, though as José Mourinho remarked a couple of weeks ago, you are only really a Champions League contender once you demonstrate it in the last eight.
If so, Agüero’s greatest challenge in club football could still be ahead of him, and should City turn out to be the real deal in Europe this season, as many expect, it would be foolish to bet against goals from their leading scorer taking them where they want to go. At 29 – he turns 30 at the end of the season – Agüero has not only had a long and productive career he also appears to have got the timing just right. Unlike Fernando Torres, say, whose departure for Liverpool gave the young Agüero the chance to claim a regular starting place at Atlético, the Argentinian’s story has been one of consistent achievement each season rather than boom and bust.
Football is littered with strikers who have been great for a few years then average, prominent goalscorers seem more susceptible than most to hitting the headlines early then fading away, whether through injury, loss of form or a poor career move. Agüero has never been underrated, exactly, but critics have tended not to go overboard with praise either.
He has been seen as a component part of City’s success rather than the main attraction, which may have worked to his advantage. This component part has held his place while the team around him has improved beyond recognition; even the ultra-demanding Guardiola appears to have been won over. If recognition is what Agüero ends up with as a 30th birthday present, either in the Premier League, Champions League or World Cup, it would not strike anyone as before time.