Argentine star and new Manchester City signing Sergio 'Kun' Aguero speaks to FourFourTwo back in January 2010 about his ambitions...
"What would I be if I wasn't a footballer?" Sergio Aguero bites his lip and pauses. Then a huge grin spreads across his face. "A footballer's wife."
There is a burst of laughter from the packed room on Madrid's Gran Via, the Spanish capital's equivalent of Oxford Street. Time to pull on a Versace number, slip into some Jimmy Choos and whack on the make-up? To hook a Gucci handbag over one arm and take a professional footballer on the other? "Well," says Aguero as the giggles die down, "footballers' wives do have a good life, don't they?"
It is the last question FourFourTwo puts to Sergio 'Kun' Aguero and it is the first really clear glimpse of the mischief that characterises him, as if a mask has slipped. Until now, he has been softly spoken, quiet, almost imperceptible in his whispering Argentinian accent. Yet it is fitting too and not totally unexpected. There is something appropriate about Aguero's nickname coming from Kum Kum, the naughty Japanese cartoon caveman.
There's little doubt that Aguero enjoys playing to the crowd, both on and off the pitch. He's not fond of interviews, true, but look at his cameo with Argentinian band Los Leales; witness the mischievous smile, the glow, before and after the interview.
Although his responses are cautious, there's a sparkle in Aguero's eye. There is also a grain of truth in the response Ã¢ÂÂ about the way that football has engulfed his life. For the man whose father-in-law is Diego Maradona, football has always been his calling. The youngest of seven brothers, he recalls Saturdays spent playing five matches with five different neighbourhood teams. "At the age of 12, I would spend the day crossing Buenos Aires. At noon, I'd play the first game, the next one would be at 3.30, and then there'd be a game at five, another at 6.15 and the last one at eight."
"I couldn't live without a ball," he told El Pais. "I played for the love of the game. I was born to gambetear, to dribble. It's dribbling that gives me life." So perhaps it's not surprising he should stick to what he knows. Can't be a footballer? Be a footballer's wife. Can't be a footballer's wife? Be an agent.
As the tape is switched off and the microphone unhooked, Aguero is released. He stretches, flashes a smile at his agent and jokes that, actually, that wouldn't be bad either. Getting paid to watch football, letting others do the work and taking 20 percent? Job's a good 'un.
Surely not as good as actually playing the game, though. Definitely not as good as playing it like Aguero does.
At 21, he is, as he repeatedly insists, just a "chico", a kid. It is a pertinent reminder Ã¢ÂÂ one that makes his rise even more remarkable and is driven home when he names Carlos Tevez as a boyhood hero. Because Aguero is some kid: a kid with a kid of his own. A kid with six years' professional experience, having broken Maradona's Argentinian record by making his league debut at 15 years and 35 days of age, who has already racked up more than 120 league games for Atletico Madrid and scored nearly 50 goals. One with the potential to become the world's best player.
Aguero's son, Maradona's grandson...he could be useful
The question now is whether he will have to leave his current club to reach that summit. Or rather, when. It may hurt Atletico Madrid fans but Aguero is too big for them. If, as he admits, he wants to be recognised as the best in the world... well, he'll surely have to go elsewhere.
Just ask Didier Drogba, who after Atletico's 2-2 Champions League draw with Chelsea Ã¢ÂÂ a game in which Aguero came from the bench to score both goals, remarked: "The only word I can use to describe Aguero is spectacular. I don't want to disrespect Atletico but great players end up at great clubs."
Better still, ask Fernando Torres, the last great player to leave the Calderon and never look back. Those who insist that Aguero's form has dipped Ã¢ÂÂ and in the opening weeks it had Ã¢ÂÂ would be well advised to recall Torres. The rut he found himself in had a name: Atletico Madrid. Analyse Aguero's symptoms and the diagnosis is the same: a team that has had nine coaches in six years, a club with no stability and no continuity, frustration, a lack of fitness. At Anfield, Torres has become arguably the planet's best striker; move on and, he believes, Aguero could too.
"Aguero is growing quicker than Atletico Madrid," Torres said in March, "and there will come a time when he realises he has to leave." With Atletico out of Europe and lurching from crisis to crisis, that time may have already arrived.
According to Atletico's owner Miguel Angel Gil Marin, Chelsea offered ÃÂ£42m for Aguero in the summer and although Stamford Bridge sources insist there was no formal bid, there is no denying their interest. Alex Ferguson admitted that he looked at Aguero but decided that at Ã¢ÂÂ¬60m Ã¢ÂÂ the value of his buy-out clause Ã¢ÂÂ he was too expensive. As Carlo Ancelotti acknowledges. "Every big club has looked at him."
Chelsea could do a lot worse than look at him again right now. Ban looming, this winter window is a last chance. Aguero could be the perfect foil for Drogba, scorer of two goals against Atletico in the Champions League. After the game, Ancelotti was asked if he would like to see the game's outstanding players together. As Chelsea's press officer buried his head in his hands, Ancelotti smiled. "Yes," he said. "Very much. I think Aguero could play with Drogba very well, for sure." Drogba agreed.
Aguero evades Chelsea, not for the last time
If Chelsea must move swiftly, other Premier League clubs can wait. They may find Atletico receptive, too. President Enrique Cerezo has expressed his pride at resisting bids but chief exec Gil Marin claims that, Ã¢ÂÂ¬300m in debt, the club are "paying" for not selling Aguero before. The player too would welcome an approach. More importantly, Aguero is a phenomenal player. Like every Argentinian kid, he has been dubbed the New Maradona. But with an arse the size of the Calderon, bulging thighs and low balance, with the ability to roll challenges and accelerate away in tight spaces, there is actually more of Brazilian striker Romario about him. Except that Aguero's game is more energetic, more powerful, more athletic. This is a man who can jump Ã¢ÂÂ 60cm from stationary; who scores headers as well as volleys.
Aguero is targetman and playmaker rolled into one. In the hole? He has played much of the last two years as Atletico's most advanced player, ahead of Diego Forlan, providing an outlet for the long ball Ã¢ÂÂ scampering into space to collect or withstanding challenges to bring the ball down and others into play. Or, indeed, going it alone as he did on the occasion when he single-handedly destroyed Barcelona 4-2 in March 2008, with two stunning solo goals and two assists.
It was the perfect illustration of a talent he says is "natural". It was as if his whole game had been wrapped into one 90-minute package. "His cut-backs, dribbling and chips are works of art," lauded one newspaper, "Kun is a virtuososo who's worth the entrance fee. He destroys his opponents with pace and strength, spilling creativity, ingenuity and pure talent all over the pitch."
In 2007-08 he was Spain's Player of the Year, scoring 20 and dragging Atletico into the Champions League for the first time in over a decade. That 2008-09 Ã¢ÂÂ when he scored 17 and played a key role in Forlan winning the European Golden Boot Ã¢ÂÂ was seen as a disappointment merely illustrated how high the bar had been raised.
In short, Aguero is the kind of forward who, given the right conditions and the right support, can do everything with anyone. Drogba says he could play with Aguero. Torres already has. And so could Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen or Dimitar Berbatov; Robin van Persie, Eduardo or Andrey Arshavin; Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy and his friend Carlos Tevez.
The question is, could he Ã¢ÂÂ would he Ã¢ÂÂ do it in the Premier League? Although he admits he watches games, he's reluctant to be drawn. In fact, FFT is warned to avoid the subject. There's interest from Italy too, with Maradona reportedly advising his son-in-law to head for Inter Milan.
But Aguero sees no reason why he shouldn't succeed. The doubts have been dispatched before: going to England should prove no greater than the leap from Argentina to Spain days after his 18th birthday. Has he got the talent, the temperament, the consistency, and the strength to grace the Premier League? Listening to him, it's clear Aguero believes the answers are yes, yes, yes, and yes. As for the pressure, what pressure? The day he arrived in Madrid it took him 15 minutes to walk the 100 metres to his car, having a son with Maradona's daughter has seen the paparazzi follow his every move and the sports pages crank up the expectations, yet he remains unmoved. "Besides, you should see the way fans react in Argentina!" he laughs.
As for his age, that is, he says, an advantage. "Clubs prefer a young player than someone who's 26 or 27. They know that someone who's 19, 20, 21 comes with a better state of mind and in better shape. A 27-year-old turns up thinking, 'Well, I played there, and there'; he's done it. Young players are learning all the time and progressing Ã¢ÂÂ they're more adaptable."
Coming to Europe, alone and unprepared, Aguero certainly adapted. "It was hard. It's a new life, a new league, a new country, without your family," he says, "but you get used to it and you grow stronger." Physically and mentally. He admits that Atletico obliged him to fight and defend, whereas in Argentina he just jogged back. He has become a more competitive player.
"Players in England are bigger," he admits "In Argentina, you dribbled and you got away; in Europe, the defenders are beasts. You beat one and there's another on top of you. Against Madrid in my first season, Fabio Cannavaro booted me about but that's life. And if I get hit, what am I going to say? If they hit you, you take it." He might be short but he is a tough little bastard. "If I score goals in the air," he says, "it's because I've got a hard head and I don't mind getting in there."
This is a man Ã¢ÂÂ a kid Ã¢ÂÂ who could adapt to everything that English football has to throw at him. And if there's one aspect of English football you know he can take in his stride as he grins and disappears onto Madrid's busiest shopping street, it's the WAG culture. Whether his wife can is another matter entirely.
Interview: Simon Talbot. From the January 2010 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!