By Neil Chappell
Some people remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot; when the World Trade Centre in New York was attacked or when Princess Diana died. I remember exactly where I was the day Sergio Agüero signed for Manchester City.
It was the 28th of July 2011 and I was in Tesco Express on Market Street in Manchester city centre. As the TV screens in the store flashed up with the news that City had confirmed his signing I forgot where I was for a moment and stood there smiling – we have our Romario – I thought to myself.
It had been three years since the Abu Dhabi takeover at City in which I (and thousands of others) had unwittingly won the football supporters lottery. In those three years City had gone from making up the numbers in the Premier League to challenging for Champions League places and winning our first trophy in thirty-five years.
Before that day City had signed some genuinely world class players such as Yaya Toure, David Silva and Carlos Tevez. As well as assembling a squad containing Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Mario Balotelli, when he was still regarded as the best young striker in Europe.
Furthermore, Roberto Mancini had installed a winning mentality into the team, giving the players and supporters a genuine belief that City could challenge the old ‘Sky four’ at the top end of the table. Now it seemed that signing Agüero would take us to the next level and we could start dreaming of a first league title since 1968.
As a City fan it’s difficult to describe what Agüero means to me and what he represents to the club. Legend and World Class are used a lot when describing players, but in my opinion, both apply to our Serge. It’s been a genuine pleasure to watch him play in sky blue week after week, season after season.
When Agüero’s not on the team sheet I have a feeling of sadness that I don’t get with any other player (except David Silva), knowing I may not get to see him play that weekend. When his name is on the team sheet it feels reassuring, that everything is good with the world and there’s a belief we have a chance to beat anyone. As Agüero picks the ball up and runs with it, defenders bouncing off him, there’s a sense of anticipation in the stadium which has fans literally on the edge of their seats.
I know I will always view Agüero through sky blue tinted glasses and that football is a game of opinions, for me he has been the best number nine in world football for the past six or seven years, by that I mean an out and out striker, a goal scoring machine.
When Agüero first appeared on the scene in Argentina there was the inevitable comparisons to Maradona, however I’ve always viewed him as the modern equivalent of Romario. Perhaps it’s because Romario was one of my favourite players in the nineties (plus only left footed players should ever be considered as the new Maradona), but their style of play is so similar, the close control, the quick bursts of speed, the low centre of gravity and the beautiful eyes of a killer when in front of goal.
Standing there that day, with my shopping basket in hand, blocking the aisle as people tried to get past me it still didn’t quite seem real. City had signed a truly special player, wanted by Europe’s top clubs and genuinely regarded as world class, a player with pace and skill who can score and create goals.
I remembered reading about Agüero in 2003 when he made his debut for Independiente aged fifteen, breaking Maradona’s previous record as the youngest player to play in Argentina’s top flight; seeing his goal for Independiente against Racing in 2005 and him signing for Atletico de Madrid in 2006 for twenty million euros, which at the time seemed a staggering amount for a seventeen-year-old that had never played in Europe.
I also remembered pre-takeover signing him on Pro Evolution Soccer while playing Master League as City, in those days it seemed like the only way Agüero would ever play for the team I loved, but now we had him. The season was just over a week away and I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas, despite Charlie Nicholas stating that he was the worst signing of the season I knew we had a great player.
I had to wait slightly longer than I’d expected to see Agüero in the flesh, he didn’t play in the Community Shield defeat to United and he was on the bench for the opening game of the season, a Monday night game on the 15th of August. As he warmed up the crowd rose to their feet to applaud him, then finally with half an hour left to play and City 1-0 up against a spirited Swansea making their Premier League debut he got the call from the bench.
As he jogged back down the touchline to get ready to go on a sense of anticipation spread across the stadium. I haven’t witnessed excitement like that for any player about to come on before or after that game, it felt as if we were about to see something special for the first time. Nobody there that day knew quite what an impact Agüero would have in that first season or the following years, but as he stepped onto pitch it felt like the moment City announced themselves as a genuine power in English football.
Agüero’s thirty-minute cameo is one of the best debuts by any City player, it’s certainly the best I’ve seen, although in my then thirty-one years as a City fan I’d seen a lot of poor players make their debut.
Ten minutes after coming on he scored his first goal for the club, a simple tap in; two minutes later he provided an assist for David Silva, sprinting on to a through ball, flicking the ball over the onrushing Swansea goalkeeper and then hooking it back over his head allowing Silva to score into an empty net. Then in injury time, at 3-0, with half the crowd already on their way home he scored a beautiful thirty-yard long range shot.
Those thirty minutes gave fans a glimpse of the full range of Agüero’s abilities and since then he has continued to score goal after goal. Thirty that first season, twenty-three in the league including the infamous “Agüeroooooo” moment that won City the league title and gave me the happiest day of my life.
Agüero’s statistics speak for themselves, 179 goals in 265 games, 130 in 189 premier league games. He has scored twenty or more league goals in four of his six seasons in England including the last three seasons in a row, an achievement that is even more impressive considering the most league matches he has played in any season is thirty-four and that was in his first 2011/12.
It seems that in England he is almost taken for granted, a lot of City fans feel that his achievements and talent have been overlooked, he has never made the Premier League team of the season and has never won the PFA or Football Writers Player of the Year awards.
I recently attended an OPTA event at Manchester Football Writing Festival this summer and a very well-respected journalist said Agüero would probably not be considered a Premier League great as he has only won two Premier League titles. I reminded him that Shearer only won one and Henry has also only won two. Even some City fans seemed quite happy with the idea of swapping Agüero with Sánchez in the Summer. Personally, I think this was partly due to some fans buying into the media narrative that Agüero has been unhappy since the arrival of Gabriel Jesus and partly due to the spoilt nature of other City fans post takeover, wanting the latest shiny new toy when they already have the Millennium Falcon.
Perhaps expectations are just too high with Agüero, I’ve found myself biting my lip at times on the tram after a match when I hear fellow supporters complaining about the chances he has missed or his performance. It’s easy to get into an argument at times as I listen in disbelief, no player is perfect, all players have bad games and off days, but the ease in which some fans discard Agüero and almost seem happy at the thought of him potentially leaving is alarming.
I can watch his goals again and again, on occasions sat with my dad watching compilations on YouTube, showing him early clips from Argentina and Atlético as well as his City goals, still not quite believing we are watching a City player. They are all beautiful to us; the tap ins; the one on ones; the long rangers; the mazy runs beating two, three, four players; the scrappy ones and surprisingly for a player of his size the headers.
Alongside the “Agüeroooo” moment, which brings a tear to my eye every time I watch it, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him score numerous times against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
I’ve seen him score again and again against United, the way he celebrates when he scores derby goals are almost as good as the goals themselves, possibly another reason he is loved so much by the fans.
I’ve seen him score a hat trick against Bayern Munich and four in one game against Spurs. I was also there when he scored five in one game against Newcastle. He was substituted that day on sixty-three minutes and if he’d have stayed on the pitch I’m certain he would have become the first player to score a double hat trick in the Premier league.
I was also privileged enough to see him equal Eric Brook’s record as City’s highest goal scorer an unremarkable penalty against Burnley. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Naples last Wednesday when he scored his 178th goal for City. However, it felt fitting that he did it in a Champions league game against a team regarded as one of the best in Europe; inside the cauldron-like atmosphere of the San Paulo; a stadium where his former father in law scored so many goals and probably the European Stadium with the most South American feel.
There’s no other player I’d want the ball to land to like it did in that game, as soon as he picked the ball up on the edge of the area with only the keeper to beat I knew he was going to score, just as I knew on the 13th May 2012, just like everyone in the stadium then and last Wednesday knew.
I know there will be people that disagree with me, quoting Kane, Aubameyang, Suárez, Higuaín, Ibrahimovich or Lewandowski as better strikers. That’s fine, football is all about opinions and everyone is entitled to theirs. I’m happy to discuss with them all day why Agüero is the best. Furthermore, none of those players, apart from the possible exception of Kane if he stays at Spurs, will be loved by the fans the way Agüero is loved at City.
I also know Agüero won’t be at City forever, I just hope that he returns to Independiente after a few more years at City as the thought of seeing him play for another European team is just too heart-breaking. His last game at the Etihad will be an emotional day as we say goodbye to another Argentine hero who has given us so much happiness in sky blue. But, while we’re still lucky enough to have him at City I’ll continue to enjoy watching him play and score goal after goal after goal.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the way City fans feel about Sergio is in one of the songs we sing about him.
“This is how it feels to be City!
This is how it feels to be small!
You sign Phil Jones! we sign Kun Agüero! Kun Agüero!”
Neil is a Manchester City season ticket holder and has been obsessed with South American football since watching the Primera division with his dad on Screen Sport in the early days of Sky as a kid.
Having visited all the top grounds in Europe, Neil made his first pilgrimage to South America last year – Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, taking in five games across the three countries and leaving him a hunger to return. Keen to move out at some stage, Neil looks set to be setting up home in Madrid for now and while he isn’t on Twitter at the moment, feel free to leave a comment with your feedback or favourite Kun moments.