In at No.9 in this year FFT100 list, it's Manchester City's talismanic Argentine striker who's long established himself as the Premier League's finest marksman...
We may have respected their ability with the ball at their feet, but when it comes to the Premier League’s best and most iconic players, we haven’t always been as affectionate as we might, and perhaps should have been.
Alan Shearer was seen as an elbow-happy dullard who relished kicking Neil Lennon’s head off. David Beckham was an air-headed buffoon who looked like he got dressed in the dark.
Thierry Henry was deemed as a self-satisfied smarmster who cheated to deny lovely, plucky Ireland a place at the 2010 World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo - what’s with the hair? Steven Gerrard - too many ‘Hollywood passes’. Gareth Bale - awful celebration. Luis Suarez - well, how long have you got?
All round happiness
There’s always something fans will use to avoid admitting respect for their rivals’ superstars. Or at least there was until Sergio Aguero came along, smiling as he politely strolled around your club’s centre-back before respectfully guiding the ball past your goalkeeper. Again.
That’s probably because Aguero is fun - and fun without the needle. In fact, when FFT’s Andrew Murray asked him to describe himself in three words back in 2014, he replied: “Fun, calm and a happy father of a spectacular son.” As you will have noticed, that was actually 10 words, but he’s so nice we’ll let him off.
Aguero not only plays with joy etched across his face, but also with the joy in his heart. He has the enthusiasm of a young child still very much in love with the game, and it’s typically infectious. He may win his team points on his own, but you get the impression victory isn’t the be-all and end-all for the 27-year-old - he just wants to have fun, and for those around him to enjoy themselves, too.
“That’s just always been me,” the loveable scamp told us last year. “When I was at school, my teachers used to say: ‘OK, OK, Sergio. That’s enough now, let’s be serious for a minute,’ but I’d keep on laughing and enjoying myself just the same. I don’t know, I just like f***ing around a bit and being a joker. On the pitch, I’m not smiling in every minute, but I like enjoying myself because that brings out the best in me.”
“I do stuff in any game to have a laugh. I remember once against Newcastle I was stood next to Jonas Gutierrez. [David] Silva was walking over to take the corner and went like this [motions international football sign language for ‘come short’] to me. I turned around to Jonas, a team-mate for years with Argentina, and said: ‘Hey, mate. How’s it going?’ He goes: ‘Oh, yeah, Kun, you know me. The same as ever. How’s the injury?’ ‘Yeah, not bad, thanks. Oh, someone’s calling you over there.’
As he turned to look, I sped over to David to take the short corner! Nothing came of it, so I went back into the box. ‘You f***ing son of a bitch!’ he screamed at me. ‘I’ll bloody kill you if you try that again.’ We had a good laugh about it at the end of the game. I think that’s the most important thing. Have fun, always.”
A lack of trophies in 2015 may have tested that sunny disposition, but that doesn’t mean Aguero doesn’t have anything to show for his year. In April, he scored his 100th goal for Manchester City during an entertaining 4-2 defeat at Old Trafford, and the following month he fired home his 26th goal of the Premier League season, securing the Golden Boot ahead of the likes of Diego Costa, Harry Kane and Alexis Sanchez. A run of nine goals in the final seven Premier League matches of the season certainly gave him the edge.
From there it was off to Chile for the Copa America. Aguero took on as big a role as he ever has for the Argentine national team, scoring against Paraguay and Uruguay in the group stages, before netting again against the Paraguayans in the semi-finals. He was substituted long before the penalty shootout that ultimately brought final glory for the host nation.
He started the 2015/16 season with a superb opening goal in a 3-0 victory against Chelsea, using his famed upper-body strength to hold off Nemanja Matic, and nimble footwork to bamboozle Gary Cahill, before tucking the ball past Asmir Begovic.
Battle against injuries
With Aguero seemingly carrying a knock or strain, it was a month before he scored his next Premier League goal, but when he did - in the 42nd minute of October’s home fixture against Newcastle - another four quickly followed. Within 20 minutes. It was almost inhumane - so much so that Manuel Pellegrini showed mercy and substituted his star man. Newcastle’s beleaguered defence was eviscerated, but even their fans would still probably sooner have ruffled Aguero’s hair than wrung his neck.
The Argentine finally did succumb to injury a week later, having been stretched off with a grade-two hamstring tear in his country’s World Cup qualifying defeat to Ecuador. He was sidelined for six weeks. City battled on without him, although they looked near toothless in the goalless draws at Old Trafford and Villa Park.
His return to action may have coincided with Manchester City’s 4-1 defeat to Liverpool, but even on a hugely frustrating evening for Pellegrini’s side at the Etihad Stadium, Aguero was able to score the goal of the night, cutting inside and bending an unstoppable drive past Simon Mignolet. He’ll be aiming for team success to match his individual magic in 2016, and could anybody with a heart say he doesn’t deserve it?
PERFORMANCE Sergio Aguero: Shake off your marker