‘Death, taxes and Sergio scoring’: Manchester City bid a legend farewell

Before Sergio Agüero waves goodbye to the Etihad, former teammates assess his legacy and what makes him so special

Swansea were the first Premier League club to find out about Sergio Agüero’s ruthless and clinical nature on a summer’s night in 2011. The Argentinian came on only for the final 31 minutes to make his debut after a £35m move from Atlético Madrid but in that time he scored twice, starting a journey at the Etihad which will end on Sunday.

Ten years and at least 258 goals later, Agüero is departing Manchester City on a free, having broken Eric Brook’s club goalscoring record and won five Premier League titles, an FA Cup and six League Cups. The Champions League could follow next Saturday. He arrived, aged 22, at a club that had just won the FA Cup, laying the foundations for what was to come. He will for ever be remembered for that goal against Queens Park Rangers in 2012 but Agüero’s impact was far greater than a single moment.

“I arrived that summer and you quickly realise that this machine that is City is starting to do something that will eventually be – within five years – unstoppable,” the former City defender Gaël Clichy says. “When you see City sign someone like Agüero, you know they mean business.”

Agüero instantly raised the levels in training, others knowing they needed to improve to avoid being embarrassed by him as well as by players such as David Silva and Yaya Touré. Belief was instilled that the team could finally achieve their owner’s dream of winning the Premier League under the demanding Roberto Mancini, even if the circumstances in which that was realised were extraordinary.

“I’ve learned a lot because Agüero is one of those guys who is happy every day; he enjoys football and just wants to make his team win,” Clichy says. “Even if he is on the bench he wants to help the team. I remember against United, he came on and the first ball he touched he went past four players and smashed the ball into the back of the net, and you just think that is what it is to be a team player. He helped his team, not just to win games but to rise to a different level.”

Sergio Agüero scores on his Manchester City debut against Swansea in August 2011.
Sergio Agüero scores on his Manchester City debut against Swansea in August 2011. Photograph: Nigel Roddis/Reuters

Agüero settled quickly on and off the pitch in Manchester, regularly enjoying barbecues with one of his closest friends, the United goalkeeper David de Gea. In recent years he has moved from leafy Cheshire into the city centre.

Many defenders have been tormented by Agüero. His movement and ability to score from all positions mean centre-backs will be happy to wave the striker off, and he is unlikely to sign for another English club. He has been aided by some of the great playmakers of the Premier League era in Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, but those players also know that if there is one man who understands where the pass will be played, it’s Agüero.

“Your goal is to try and make it as hard as possible for him but what made it worse is that he had so much talent around him who could feed him in any which way,” the former City and QPR defender Nedum Onuoha explains. “You are trying to do everything you can to stop him but it’s death, taxes and Sergio scoring goals.

“He could nick a goal, let one go from 25 yards, sneak a header in at the near post, pull off the back so you don’t know where he is, so he presented a different type of threat to strikers we’ve had in the past. I am not saying those that have gone before are one-dimensional, they just didn’t have the extra dimension he has to score any particular goal.”

While defenders suffered torment, teammates knew only joy of what Agüero provided. “He is the complete player,” Clichy says. “You just need to look up and try to find him because the run is perfect, the first touch is going to be perfect and the finish is going to be perfect, so you have a player if you put him in the right condition he does not have an equal. You want to challenge yourself with the best and I’ve been blessed in all my career in England, and you look at him every day and wonder: ‘How can he be that good?’ Every time you think he’s reached his best form, he has another gear and you just think: ‘Where can he go?’”

Despite 182 Premier League goals in 274 appearances, Agüero has won the Golden Boot only once, in 2014-15 when he struck 26 times. He sits fourth on the all-time Premier League scoring list, behind Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney and Andy Cole. IBut for injuries he would surely have leapfrogged Cole and challenged Rooney’s tally of 208.

“He is one of the best ever,” Clichy says. “We are talking at the same level of Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer – that in itself means his impact within the club is phenomenal.”

Gaël Clichy (left) trains with Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta in February 2015.
Gaël Clichy (left) trains with Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta in February 2015. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Onuoha and Agüero had six months together at City but the former could not predict what the latter would go on to achieve. Agüero is one of the pillars City’s success has been built on, and he sits alongside Vincent Kompany, Touré, Silva and Pablo Zabaleta in the club’s pantheon of greats. A farewell ceremony is being held on Sunday to honour his achievements.

“This is a guy who is 5ft 7in, not known for being incredibly fast or incredibly strong or great in the air, but take a look at where he is and all the goals he’s scored,” Onuoha says. “On paper, he looks like he shouldn’t have done so well but he is on the verge of being one of the best in history. He breaks the model; he is the exception that proves the rule.”

The final day of the season has special resonance for City and Agüero. Against QPR in 2012, with a first Premier League title slipping from City’s grasp and the team needing a winner to stop United pipping them to top spot, Mario Balotelli slipped the ball into Agüero’s path inside the box.

Sergio Agüero scores his famous title-winning goal against QPR in 2012.
Sergio Agüero scores his famous title-winning goal against QPR in 2012. Photograph: Dan Rowley/Shutterstock

“I didn’t know who had scored the goal,” Onouha, who was playing for QPR, says. “When I look back and you see the nature of the goal, you know the only person who could finish that was Sergio; to take that extra touch to put the defender on the floor, finding half a yard when there shouldn’t be half a yard, and send the ball home like it’s an everyday thing. That’s Sergio in a nutshell.”

Everton will be Agüero’s final Premier League opponents, allowing the fans he gave their greatest moment a chance to say goodbye, provided Pep Guardiola and fitness allow. The Champions League final awaits against Chelsea in Portugal next week, and a fairytale ending in Porto would be the perfect way to depart. “I would like for him to win the Champions League,” says Clichy, “because that would close the circle, move on and never look back.”


Will Unwin

The GuardianTramp

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