In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell advances the theory of ‘desirable difficulties’. In certain circumstances, the argument goes, adversity can fashion a mindset that proves integral to later success. At 29, Sergio Aguero offers definitive proof of the concept.
Like any pibe, Aguero was born dirt-poor in a neighbourhood of Los Eucaliptos that he later described as ‘screwed up’. For the young Argentine, football was a distraction from the grinding deprivation of life in Buenos Aires. But it was also a way of making money from the older kids against whom he would play against on the wasteland near his home.
When he was nine, he was precocious enough to be taken under the wing of local radio DJ Eduardo González who promoted his fledgling talent. It was at González’ insistence that Independiente offered Aguero schoolboy terms in 1997 and it was he again who convinced Oscar Ruggeri into giving the youngster a first-team debut just four years later. Aguero was barely fifteen but his talent was immediately obvious. On seeing him play, Diego Forlán said that “A boy stood out against men”.
For all his promise though, It would be another few years before Sergio Aguero built meaningfully on that early showing. By the time he scored a coast-to-coast goal against bitter rivals Racing in the 2005 Apertura, however, he was an Independiente legend.
The Reign in Spain
Diego Simeone played for the opponents that day, having recently left Atlético Madrid to return home. Sergio Aguero would soon make the switch in the opposite direction himself. Within a year, the Madrid club had signed the Argentinian superstar aged just eighteen. Performing in the shadow of Fernando Torres, though, a fresh-faced Aguero couldn’t inspire Los Colchoneros to a finish higher than seventh place.
Back then, Aguero was a player that many City fans would probably find unrecognisable. A fine support striker, he was also an elegant dribbler whose love of American Football imbued a talent of escaping tight spaces with immaculate close control. “It means there are more players getting in on goal regularly and getting involved” he admitted to TalkSPORT on his preference for a two-striker system. “That’s why I like it”.
With Torres’ departure to Liverpool, Aguero went on to form a devastating partnership with the incoming Diego Forlán. His 19 league goals helped Atleti qualify for the Champions League, but with the Uruguayan firing 35 times the following year, it was clear who remained king of the Calderón.
Sergio Aguero’s slow mutation into a centre-forward proper was initiated by Quique Sánchez Flores, at whose insistence he moved further up the pitch during his last season in Spain. The goals flowed, and a long-rumoured interest from Real Madrid seemed to solidify as he led his club to the Europa League title.
A Citizen of Manchester
Aguero waited for the call, but it never came: Real weren’t in the mood to be extorted by their rivals and so Manchester City swooped in to profit from their reluctance. As it turns out, £38 million was shrewd for a player who had blossomed into a lethal marksman during his short stay in the Spanish capital.
“I’d always wanted to play in the Premier League” the boyhood Liverpool fan admitted, coquettishly, at his unveiling in Manchester in 2011. The riotous pace of English football suited his explosive style of play.
The most crucial of his 30 goals, though, arrived during a historic 3-2 victory over QPR to seal the title. “In my career so far it’s the most important goal,” he said of his thunderous last-gap strike past Rob Green. Sky commentator Martin Tyler suggested it was the beginning of a “dynasty”.
But it proved to be a false dawn. Roberto Mancini was dumped out of the hot seat less than a year later, finishing well-behind Manchester United and struggling to inspire progress in the Champions League. Aguero would muster just 14 goals, a combination of poor form and injury denting his sides’ hopes considerably.
Over the English Channel, Manuel Pellegrini had worked wonders with a limited Málaga side. When the Chilean joined Manchester City in 2013, his first task was to reinvigorate an attack that had grown stale and stodgy. It worked at first, with City becoming the fastest team in history to reach a hundred goals in a Premier League season. But while the title was snatched at a canter, one trophy remained elusive.
When Sheikh Mansour completed the purchase of the club in 2008, the aim was clear: City were to become a genuine force in European football, no matter the cost. Yet despite the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been spent since, City have flattered to deceive on the continental stage. There is a case to be made that Aguero is partially to blame.
There have been moments of brilliance – the hat-trick against Bayern Munich in 2014 that secured a vital win group stages, for instance – but they are just that: moments. For a man who reached 50 goals in UEFA competitions this October, Aguero has remarkably little to show for it.
His international performances haven’t been immune from criticism either. A friendship with Lionel Messi, with whom he has been close since their days in the under-20 squad, has led commentators to grumble that his inclusion is not always based on ability alone. Like his friend, he has been accused of being a ‘pecho frio’, a man lacking the passion necessary to excel in the national shirt.
It’s a suggestion that weighs heavily, particularly for someone who has always been unsparing in his self-criticism. He admitted that he “wasn’t fit” for the World Cup final in 2014, and has spoken of the “debt” he feels to his compatriots for failing to win a trophy since the Copa America in 1993.
Getting Back in the Press
When Pep Guardiola arrived last season, a player who had been deemed irreplaceable under Pellegrini was suddenly under threat. At first, Aguero seemed stifled by Pep’s tactical manoeuvring. “The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches,” he admitted to Sky Sports early last year.
Some suggested that he wasn’t mobile enough; others that he lacked the application to thrive under Pep’s notoriously intense style. When Gabriel Jesus arrived last January, rumours of a summer departure gathered pace. Eventually, his frustration boiled over in a combative interview with Radio Ondo Cero in March, where he criticised the club for their lack of communication over his future.
But remember what we said about adversity? Sergio Aguero has known ‘desirable difficulty’ all his life and the competition seems to have awoken the best in him yet again. With seven goals in as many Premier League games, his team have won eleven matches on the bounce. Last weekend, he became City’s joint top scorer, a remarkable feat for a man who is only just approaching his prime. Even Guardiola, so unconvinced by Aguero on his arrival, has been fulsome in his praise.
In 2020, Aguero will likely return to the club who gave him his debut all those years ago. The Independiente flag adorned his shoulders on that title-winning afternoon back in 2012, and he has never forgotten the place where he grew into a professional. But there’s only one club where he has the potential to grow into a legend. If Manchester City ever go on to crack the continent, Sergio Aguero will have a serious part to play.
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