Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Diego Costa, Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Romelu Lukaku. A truly star-studded list of Premier League strikers.
Who’s missing? One name sings out. Sergio Aguero, unlike those in that list, has never been named in the PFA Premier League team of the season since joining Manchester City in August 2011. That’s despite nobody having scored as many Premier League goals as the 143 he has notched in that time.
For the 2014-15 season, in which he finished as “Golden Boot” with 26 goals, he lost out to Kane and Costa.
In 2011-12, the campaign that ended with Aguero scoring the most famous last-minute winning goal in Premier League history, he was nominated for Young Player of the Year, and lost out to Tottenham’s Kyle Walker, a decent enough player but with nothing like the incendiary talent of City’s Argentine predator.
So why has Aguero not caught the eye of his fellow professionals?
Beyond the injury problems – mostly muscular – that have stopped Aguero putting together a barnstorming season from front to back, perhaps the omissions derive from the changing nature of what is now expected from a striker. He is a striker in the tradition of players like Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and Robbie Fowler: a poacher supreme.
Each of those who have beaten him into those teams of the year are maybe greater all-rounders, standard bearers for their club and inspirational to their colleagues. Aguero, quiet by nature, not one for bellowing out calls to arms, prefers to get on with his business of scoring goals, though at Arsenal on Thursday, in a strolling 3-0 win, he failed to reach 200 goals for City, leaving it instead to young guns Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva to do the damage.
That double century will keep until Chelsea on Sunday.
In any case, being shy of the landmark does little to lower his status as the greatest striker in the club’s history, with apologies to the likes of Francis Lee, Neil Young and Niall Quinn. His presence at City, though, tells something of the metamorphosis the club has been through in the last decade. Though repeated injuries might have stopped Europe’s big boys going all out for him, he plays for a club which has such great, almost limitless wealth that it does not have any requirement to sell him.
Once Abu Dhabi bought Manchester City lock, stock and barrel in September 2008, the aim was to add a world star to the ranks to confirm the seriousness of the “project”, as the club’s execs of the time referred to it. Robinho, an amusement arcade of a player rather than a figure to help drive the change from down-at-heel poorer relation to United, came and went. City even tried to buy Kaka from AC Milan in January 2009 for £91m, only for CEO of the time Garry Cook to accuse the Brazilian of having “bottled it”.
But Aguero, signed from Atletico Madrid for a then-whopping £38m ahead of interest from all of Europe’s big hitters, was a platinum-plated talent, a striker whose variety of penalty-box finishes reminded of Romario, the great Brazilian who helped his country to winning the 1994 World Cup. Squat of build, with searing pace over short distances, Aguero’s movement and awareness of space create the chances for his finishing skills, thunderous or delicate depending on the circumstances, to complete the job in hand.
His efficiency and economy of movement does not win unanimous admiration, and for a while it seemed as if Pep Guardiola was among the doubters. The arrival on the scene in January 2017 of Gabriel Jesus led to a wealth of speculation that Aguero’s time in Manchester was drawing to its end.
Jesus’ appetite for pressing opposing defenders in possession immediately drew comparisons to Aguero, whose stomach for defensive duties is not so ravenous. When “Kun” was relegated to the bench in a 4-1 win at West Ham last January, speculation was rife, but then Jesus broke a metatarsal at Bournemouth. Aguero scored 15 goals in his remaining 17 matches of the season, rendering him undroppable once his young Brazilian teammate returned.
Barring an unscheduled break after fracturing a rib in a taxi crash in Amsterdam in September, Guardiola stuck with Aguero, who has now developed a partnership with Jesus when they are paired together, and keen understandings with Raheem Sterling and Sane to the flanks. Head-down goalscorer has become team player rather than soloist, for the benefit of the collective.
That change in outlook has met his manager’s approval.
“We are so delighted with what he’s done in [the last] two years,” said Guardiola this week. “I’m so demanding because I think he can do better. Not for any other reason. He has to play good to be in the team.”
With 15 goals in 2018, nobody is scoring more goals in English football than Aguero. He does not require being named in a team of the year to confirm his genius, but such recognition is long overdue.