I assess the true value of Sergio Aguero, and look back at a fascinating international break…
The Premier League has undoubtedly lost a little of its stardust over the last two seasons. The departures of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez to La Liga have shorn the country’s greatest export of its two most globally acclaimed star players.
The summer arrivals of Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Alexis Sanchez were welcome steps in the right direction for a league which prides itself on being The Best In The World™. But perhaps the league’s shining light was already staring us in the face?
Is it time to recognise that Sergio Aguero is the best footballer in the Premier League? This is not just in response to the four goal burst on Saturday that blew away Tottenham Hotspur away from home yet again. The regularity of injuries that curse the Argentine striker mean it is very easy to overlook his outstanding ability.
But he has the productivity to back it up as well. Despite managing only 95 Premier League games in three years, he has scored 61 goals. He arrived with a bang in August 2011, two goals and an assist as a substitute in a 4-0 win over Swansea; one of the great Premier League debuts. Earlier this year Aguero became the fifth-fastest footballer to a half-century of Premier League goals, leaving him alongside such illustrious company as Andy Cole, Alan Shearer, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Fernando Torres.
Quite where he’ll lie come the end of his career in England isn’t quite so easy to foresee; hopefully he will be remembered for more than his dramatic title-winning goal in 2012. He’s a prolific goalscorer, whose all-round game often transforms that of those around him, and the team itself. Injuries have caused him to be under-appreciated so that when Manchester City’s most influential players are cited, the Argentine is often overlooked for the more regularly visible talents of Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and David Silva.
City last played Tottenham in January, where Aguero marmalised the Spurs defence in a rampant 45 minute display before pulling his hamstring. His strike to open the scoring was his 15th league goal of the season – he only scored twice more, against West Brom and Everton in the last few weeks of the campaign.
It was the ninth successive game in which Kun had scored, and underlined City’s charge to the top of the table that night. Had Aguero stayed fit to the season’s end, would it be that Aguero was not so susceptible to injury, they surely would have wrapped the league up earlier than the final day of the season.
He’s a footballer who not only picks up injuries easily, but who struggles to shake off the rustiness when he returns. After the White Hart Lane injury, he returned for the Capital One Cup final against Sunderland, where he was ineffective before being replaced before the hour mark.
After picking up another injury against Barcelona in the Champions League, he returned for City’s trip to Anfield in April as a second-half substitute. Manuel Pellegrini’s side had the run of Liverpool, David Silva had hauled City level at 2-2 and the away side looked far the likelier to come away with three points.
Sensing the turning tide, Pellegrini went for the jugular, substituting Edin Dzeko for Kun. The switch should have been an inspired one, but instead it stifled the visitors. Aguero was off the pace, didn’t get a shot on goal and cut off City’s second-half momentum. Liverpool forced their way back in the game, with Aguero providing little of the attacking zest that Dzeko had, and triumphed 3-2.
This is not to say that Aguero is a charlatan or a fraud. He is deservedly among the greats of the Premier League right now. But we will probably never know how great he could be on a consistent basis. There is far more to injuries than missing game time. It’s the psychological effect and the conditional effect, and Aguero suffers from it more than most.
Some can pick up straight away, but Aguero showed last season that injury could easily disrupt his rhythm. In 2013-14 the Argentine completed only five 90-minute league matches, but already four this season. Keeping him fresh and injury free remains ever important for Pellegrini; and with only three strikers to choose from the need has never been greater. The longer he stays injury free, the more his form builds, and the more chance City have of catching Chelsea at the top of the table; like the task at hand, it is a big ‘if’ for a player with such an unfortunately questionable injury record.
Nine goals in eight Premier League games so far this season are testament to his importance to Manchester City, and this should be the year he finally rises ahead of the other greats.
Iceland. Wales. Slovakia. Poland. England. Northern Ireland. Austria. Croatia. Denmark.
Three games into qualification for EURO 2016 and these are the nine leading nations in European football. It’s staggering, really. And it’s no coincidence whatsoever that it comes at the time when UEFA have increased the number of participants in that summer’s tournament from 16 to 24. The incentive to qualify is there. The worry that the quality of competition in 2016 may be diluted remains, but if the fierce competition for places between previous also-rans is anything to go by, then it could ultimately prove inspired.
UEFA’s “Week of Football” brainchild has been equally inspired. Football everyday for a six-day period. It seems so obvious, but why did it take so long to happen? The charm of international tournaments lies as much in the relentless everyday nature of the entertainment as the football itself. Spreading the games across a week has allowed the football to reach the audience it deserves, rather than cramming it into two nights and diluting the choice.
The Home Nations now get their moment in the sun; there’s more interest because they have more of a chance of qualifying, and more of a chance they’re not playing on the same night as England. Now the audience is drawn in to Scotland’s tussle in Warsaw, to the drama of the Republic of Ireland in Gelsenkirchen in a way that just wasn’t possible in years gone by.
The international break is back. The competition has been spiced up, and maybe, just maybe, UEFA have got something right for once. I can’t wait for this Club Break to be over and we can get back to the real nitty-gritty of European Championship qualification.