Agüero: From slum to City hero

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

MANCH­ESTER — As Manch­ester City cel­e­brated win­ning the league ti­tle in 2012, a num­ber of their play­ers fes­tooned them­selves in flags. Edin Dzeko wore the blue and yel­low of Bos­nia, Mario Balotelli the red, white and green of Italy and Alek­san­dar Ko­larov the red, white and blue of Ser­bia.

Ser­gio Agüero, the player whose goal deep into in­jury time had sealed the ti­tle, also draped a flag across his shoul­ders, but it wasn’t the blue and white of Ar­gentina: his cape was red, the colours of his first club, In­de­pen­di­ente. “That’s where I was born,” he said. “And that’s where I’ll end my ca­reer.”

Coach Manuel Pel­le­grini on Satur­day brack­eted Ser­gio Aguero along­side Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Li­onel Messi af­ter the striker made Pre­mier League his­tory by scor­ing five goals in just 20 min­utes.

The Ar­gen­tine recorded the quick­est five-goal haul ever in the divi­sion as his side beat New­cas­tle 6-1 on Satur­day. It prompted Pel­le­grini to again de­clare that the 27-year-old is the third best player on the planet.

“Af­ter what we have seen, of course Kun is at that level,” Pel­le­grini told re­porters. “I have al­ready said that af­ter Ron­aldo and Messi, he is the best player in the world.”

Agüero grew up in Los Eu­calip­tos, a villa mis­e­ria in the south of Buenos Aires. His fam­ily was poor.

There were days when din­ner was maté, a herbal tea, and stale bread. Most of his friends from those days, he has said, are now in jail. In that re­gard he fits per­fectly the model drawn by Boro­coto, the editor of EL GRAFICO, in 1928. If a statue was erected to the spirit of Ar­gen­tinian foot­ball he said, it would be a “pibe” (kid) with a “mane of hair”, “in­tel­li­gent, rov­ing, trick­ster and per­sua­sive eyes” and “teeth worn down by eat­ing yes­ter­day’s bread”.

The 27-year-old can­not re­mem­ber a time when foot­ball was not part of his life. “Foot­ball sur­rounds you in Ar­gentina,” he said. “I al­ways had the ball at my feet.

At any mo­ment of the day we’d be play­ing, in the sun or af­ter dark. I’d spend hours and hours out there, some­times even com­ing home late. Time was never a fac­tor.”

When he was nine, he joined In­de­pen­di­ente. “At that age he was still very small, but when we took him to play in­door foot­ball on a smaller pitch you could see just what great nat­u­ral abil­ity and tech­nique he had,” said Ri­cardo Bo­chini, the leg­end of In­de­pen­di­ente who be­came a youth coach at the club.

“He had great con­fi­dence on the ball and was an ex­cel­lent fin­isher.”

His fin­ish­ing has never left him: Agüero’s statis­tics are as­ton­ish­ing. Af­ter 23 goals in 54 league games for In­de­pen­di­ente, he scored 75 in 175 for Atlético Madrid and 61 in 96 for Manch­ester City by the end of last year. In terms of min­utes per goal, he is com­fort­ably the top striker in Pre­mier League his­tory.

Mario Balotelli only reg­is­tered one as­sist in his two years at City, the pass to Agüero at the end of that de­ci­sive game against QPR. It was as though he had waited for the per­fect re­cip­i­ent; no­body was less likely to miss.

But it is more than just fin­ish­ing, of course. Agüero’s goals re­sult also from his ex­plo­sive pace and his game in­tel­li­gence, that vi­tal ca­pac­ity to find space he de­vel­oped on the crowded dirt pitch in Los Eu­calip­tos. It was Ar­gentina’s 1978 World Cup-win­ning man­ager, César Luis Menotti, when coach at In­de­pen­di­ente, who first made the com­par­i­son be­tween Agüero and the great Brazil­ian striker Romário. Once the sim­i­lar­i­ties have been pointed out, they are hard to ig­nore.

They have a sim­i­lar build, a sim­i­larly bow-legged gait, a sim­i­lar habit of strik­ing with the toe across the ball as they shoot, so even rel­a­tively close-range fin­ishes — like the one against QPR, swerve and dip.

Roberto Mancini de­scribed Agüero as “a pho­to­copy of Romário” while Ana­toly Byshovets, af­ter see­ing his Loko­mo­tiv Moscow side con­cede twice to Agüero in 2007, said he did every­thing Romário did but was more in­volved in team-play.

It is the last point that is per­haps most sig­nif­i­cant. The clas­sic pibe would be­come a No10, as Omar Sívori, Pablo Ai­mar or Juan Román Riquelme did. As, most bril­liantly, Diego Maradona did.

Agüero was mar­ried for a time to Maradona’s daugh­ter; that they have a son, Ben­jamín, feels like an ex­per­i­ment in se­lec­tive breed­ing. None of them would ever have been com­pared with Romário, how­ever: they played too deep, cre­ated play rather than be­ing fo­cused on fin­ish­ing moves off.

Agüero, a lit­tle like Car­los Tevez, is a striker me­di­ated through the ideal of the pibe: com­pact, ca­pa­ble of sud­den ac­cel­er­a­tion but also com­fort­able play­ing deeper or wider than a tra­di­tional poacher.

“He can lead the line or play as a sec­ond striker, hov­er­ing be­hind an out-and-out for­ward and cre­at­ing chances,” said Abel Resino, who coached Agüero at Atlético. “He’s a menace in the box be­cause his close con­trol is im­pec­ca­ble.”

Agüero was 15 years, one month and three days old when, in July 2003, on the fi­nal day of the Clausura, he made his de­but for In­de­pen­di­ente against San Lorenzo, sup­plant­ing Maradona as the youngest player to play in the Ar­gen­tinian topflight. Bo­chini, grouch­ily can­did as ever, is scep­ti­cal as to whether he was ready.

“To be hon­est,” he said, “I think (the coach, Os­car) Rug­geri wanted to be re­mem­bered as the one who gave him his de­but be­cause af­ter that Ser­gio didn’t play for some time.” Never again, in fact, un­der Rug­geri.

He started two league games the fol­low­ing sea­son and eight the sea­son af­ter that, only be­com­ing a reg­u­lar in 2005-06. In 2005, he was part of the Ar­gentina squad who won the un­der-20 World Cup.

He tended to be used as a sub­sti­tute, but he be­came firm friends with Messi, shar­ing a room and play­ing a lot of Plays­ta­tion. He also won a squad draw­ing com­pe­ti­tion for his pic­ture of Ronald­inho pray­ing.

Such are the eco­nom­ics of Ar­gen­tinian foot­ball, it was in­evitable that the fol­low­ing year Agüero was sold, join­ing Atlético for €23m. One full sea­son at In­de­pen­di­ente, though, was enough to ce­ment his po­si­tion as the great­est hero of the club since Bo­chini and Daniel Ber­toni led them to four suc­ces­sive Lib­er­ta­dores ti­tles in the 70s.

“What we are see­ing,” said Menotti, “is one of the great ar­rivals in Ar­gen­tinian foot­ball.” Did Agüero feel the pres­sure? “Pres­sure,” he said shortly af­ter join­ing Atlético, “is grow­ing up a villa.”

Nonethe­less, it took him time to set­tle in Spain, with Atlético’s med­i­cal staff con­cerned he con­sumed too much meat and in­suf­fi­cient wa­ter.

In that first sea­son, he played just off Fer­nando Tor­res and, like the Spain strik- er, had his name tat­tooed on his fore­arm in “Teng­war”, one of the elvish lan­guages in­vented by JRR Tolkien, al­though he ad­mits that at the time he had not seen the LORD OF the Rings film.

“The tat­too artist told me it looked good, so I got it done,” he said.

Tor­res’s de­par­ture for Liver­pool and the ar­rival of Diego For­lán — an­other who had be­gun his ca­reer at In­de­pen­di­ente — al­lowed Agüero to play high up the pitch, and it was then he re­ally be­gan to blos­som.

The only doubt is the state of his ham­strings. Agüero said be­fore com­ing to the Pre­mier League he had loved watch­ing Michael Owen and, like the former Liver­pool for­ward, his ham­strings have proven frag­ile, a fa­mil­iar prob­lem for the light­ning fast striker. They ham­pered him at the end of last sea­son and they ham­pered his World Cup.

At 27, he is just at the age when that sort of in­jury can be­come a ma­jor prob­lem. If it can be man­aged, though, he should have an­other six or seven sea­sons of drap­ing him­self tri­umphantly in the flag of In­de­pen­di­ente be­fore go­ing home to wear their shirt for a farewell sea­son or two.

— Guardian.

Manch­ester city for­ward ser­gio aguero

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