Football Features

Sergio Aguero: One of English football’s greatest and most under-appreciated goalscorers

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:06, 16 December 2021

With a tragic inevitability, Sergio Aguero has retired from professional football at the age of just 33.

Aguero left the pitch 41 minutes into Barcelona’s 1-1 draw with Alavés at the end of October after complaining of chest pains. Medical tests confirmed that he had suffered a cardiac arrhythmia and would be out for a few months.

Now, six weeks later, after various rumours had been swirling for a couple of weeks, Aguero confirmed the sad truth that he would be stepping away from the game, saying: “The decision I have made, I have taken it for my health.”

It is a sad end to the career of a great player, made perhaps all the more tragic by the fact that he still had so much more to give. In his brief cameos playing for Barcelona he had looked bright, scoring his first (and now only) goal for the club in El Clásico, and is exactly what the current team needs under Xavi’s leadership.

Aguero exists to put the ball in the back of the net, which is Barcelona’s major struggle. The Blaugrana have 28.25 Expected Goals so far this season, enough for second in La Liga. However, their actual return is 25 goals, which is the sixth-highest in the division. That’s a problem Aguero was born to fix but, alas, fate has decreed otherwise.

It’s easy to understate how big of a miss Aguero has been and now will be for Barcelona because of the way his signing was originally perceived. When Barcelona picked him up on a free transfer, it was deemed that they had simply signed him to hang out with Lionel Messi (his close friend and compatriot) rather than a club picking up a modern goalscoring great.

Aguero made his league debut for Independiente aged just 15 years and 35 days. He scored a respectable 23 times in 56 games for them before joining Atlético Madrid where he bagged 101 goals in 234 games including a Europa League and UEFA Super Cup. But it was after his move to Manchester in 2011 that things really got wild.

All told, Sergio Aguero scored 260 times in 390 games for Manchester City. He is City’s all-time goalscorer by a margin of 83. He has scored more hat-tricks than anyone else in the Premier League (12) as well as more goals for one Premier League club than anyone else (184), a record he secured in his final game for City, mirroring his debut by scoring twice.

In total, his 184 goals places him fourth on the all-time list of Premier League goalscorers, behind only Andy Cole, Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer. Having played just 275 times in the English top flight, his goals per-game ratio of 0.67 is better than all three men above him.

Even more impressive is his minutes per-goal ratio, which stands at a barely believable 108 minutes per-goal. The second best in that list of players to score at least 20 goals in the Premier League, is Thierry Henry and even a forward as majestic as the Frenchman is nowhere near Aguero, scoring on average every 122 minutes. Aguero could have played almost an entire season (2,520 minutes, to be exact) without scoring and would still hold this record. That’s how far ahead he is.

But you know, hey, goalscorers are stat-padders, right? They bag most of their goals against weaker sides and then eke out a few goals against the big boys, yeah? Well, not Sergio Aguero.

Of Aguero’s 184 goals, a massive 44 came against the other five members of England’s “Big Six” (Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Liverpool). That’s 24%, almost a full quarter, of his Premier League goals coming against not just five teams, but the five best teams he will have faced every year. That is utterly ridiculous. Spurs and Chelsea were his second- and third-favourite opponents (11 and 10 goals against, respectively) behind only Newcastle United (15). Aguero was a man who turned up on the big occasions.

And he was not just a goalscorer for goalscoring’s sake, Aguero shifted the balance of power in England multiple times, driving it away from established names and towards City. He leaves English football with five Premier League titles to his name, and there isn’t a non-Manchester United player with more Premier League winner’s medals in history and no one has won more than him during his decade at City.

Aguero has even helped do that rare miracle in English football and retained a championship, scoring 21 goals to help City win the title in 2017/18 and then 21 again as they retained it in 2018/19. Only one other non-Manchester United side has retained the Premier League and that was José Mourinho’s Chelsea, a side built on defence. Pep Guardiola’s City were built on attack and Aguero was the deadliest member of that attack, the killer that gave Pep’s bark the bite it needed.

Sure, Aguero didn’t play all that much in his final campaign at City as injuries and Covid-19 took their toll on his body, but he had found fitness and fine form by season’s end and was raring to go in Catalunya only for injury and then tragedy to strike.

In many ways, injuries are as almost as defining for Aguero’s City career as goals were. Part of the reason his minutes per-goal ratio was so impressive was down to him not playing as many minutes as other elite goalscorers due to injury.

Consider that in his 10 seasons in England, Aguero only twice played over 2,500 minutes in a single campaign (never going over 2,600) while Alan Shearer only dipped below 2,500 minutes on four occasions, playing over 3,000 minutes on seven occasions.

We can only speculate how Aguero would have performed with less injury trouble, of course. But given how prolific he was, one suspects he would have won more than the solitary Golden Boot he did (in 2014/15) and certainly he would have already broken Alan Shearer’s Premier League goalscoring record of 260 and would perhaps even be eyeing up Jimmy Greaves’ all-time English top-flight total of 357.

This is sadly all we are left with when it comes to Sergio Aguero: hypotheticals, “what-if’s” and theories. Could he have surpassed Shearer? Could City have won more titles were he more fit? What about Argentina and their many near-misses over the last decade? Could a razor sharp Aguero have made the difference in those traumatic final losses in 2014, 2015 and 2016? And finally, how different would Barcelona’s fortunes be had he been available for selection all season and going forward under Xavi?

Aguero’s injury problems, as well as Manchester City’s relatively low media profile, have led to his incredible records going relatively under-appreciated (yes he’s been lauded but nowhere near enough). Much like Andy Cole, there is a real reticence to give Aguero the recognition he is due, lavishing garlands on strikers with fewer goals and fewer titles. At least Cole was part of a star-studded United side, which is why he was often outshone, Aguero has been the man up-top for Man City and is so often forgotten.

What’s more, Aguero also delivered the most indelibly magical moment in Premier League history when sealing City’s first title in 2011/12 with a stoppage time strike in the last game of the season. A moment of mythic proportions, the kind of fictional fever dream conjured by the rampant imaginations of small children dreaming of one day making it big, it was Roy of the Rovers in real life, and the young man who delivered it went on to be bafflingly brilliant for an entire decade of Premier League action.

So now, as he retires in tragedy, let us all remember how magnificent he was in his playing days. Let us laud his achievements, feat his phenomenal moments and let the world know that Sergio Aguero was one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of English football. He’s top five all-time. A true and unqualified legend of the game.

We salute you, Sergio.

Thank you for the memories.

✕︎

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