Can Sergio Aguero still perform at an elite level post-Manchester City?

Sergio Aguero
(Image credit: PA Images)

Sergio Aguero’s first season at Manchester City concluded with him scoring the goal that made them champions of England. “It’s not something that can be repeated,” he rationalised last week, though it would be fitting in a way if his decade ended with City’s greatest goalscorer delivering the finish that makes them Champions League winners on Saturday, possibly in similarly late and dramatic fashion. 

But the probability is that Aguero’s City career finished with his two-goal cameo against Everton on Sunday. He will not be their Bobby Charlton, the man whose goals won a Manchester club its first European Cup, but their Denis Law, the hero of previous years who sat out the final. And then the discarded legend could have the most glamorous of consolation prizes: a berth alongside Lionel Messi in the Barcelona attack. 

Man City Pep Guardiola confirms Sergio Aguero is close to joining Barcelona

“Maybe I reveal a secret,” said Pep Guardiola on Sunday. “Maybe he is close to agreeing a deal for the club of my heart, for Barcelona.” There is something irresistible about the thought of Aguero and Messi in tandem; they are such close friends that the Barcelona captain is Benjamin Aguero’s godfather. It was long suggested that Aguero could help sell Manchester City to Messi: when Argentina played at the Etihad Stadium in 2018, the striker gave him a guided tour of the deluxe training ground. 

It could give Barcelona a strike partnership of men with 1,180 goals to their names.

Perhaps Barcelona would be learning a lesson from their recent past. There are parallels with Luis Suarez, the thirty-something striker Barcelona deemed surplus to requirements and who promptly inspired his new club to win La Liga. Aguero, like Suarez, should have a point to prove after being slighted.

Or perhaps Aguero is history. Barcelona have ignored the evidence of the last 14 months in signing Aguero; perhaps their financial plight means they have go for players who will not command a transfer fee. But since March 2020, there have only been a handful of illustrations that the old Aguero is still around: a predatory finish against Marseille, a magnificent one at Crystal Palace, the throwback brace versus Everton.

Otherwise, it has been a frustrating period, of knee surgery and setbacks and Covid and self-isolating, a stop-start period where he has lacked sharpness and where Guardiola’s reluctance to use him has deprived him of the opportunity to regain it. Sometimes Aguero has been so far off the pace that he has cut a sad sight; February’s home game against West Ham felt particularly cruel. 

At others, he was on a different wavelength from a team who evolved to favour a false nine; he allegedly bemoaned his team-mates’ reluctance to pass to him against Borussia Monchengladbach

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Some of the obstacles in a stop-start spell have been caused by unique times; if he is not a bit-part player at Barcelona, they will prioritise him, and it may be easier to return to his physical and footballing peak. It is the question if he is the player who scored 254 goals in nine years and seven months after joining City, or the one who only got six after, if he is spiralling into decline or, after a quiet year, can pick up where he left off in a pre-Covid world.

After all, Aguero is younger than Suarez and Edinson Cavani, will be moving to a league with a slower style of play and probably playing for a manager who places less emphasis on pressing. The finishing skills that have not deserted him could be the most pertinent part.

But the alternative interpretation – and perhaps Guardiola’s – is that there has been too much in the last 14 months to suggest Aguero is not the force of old. The body may be breaking down with increasing regularity; little wonder, perhaps, given that his senior debut came at 15 and that he has featured in 776 games for clubs and country, more than most play in their entire careers, before his 33rd birthday. His defining quality has been sharpness but if the injuries are more frequent, the comebacks of a semi-fit striker more regular illustrations of a man trying to get up to speed, then Aguero may be seen at his quicksilver best less often.

Maybe that is enough. Messi got 38 goals this season, Antoine Griezmann 20 and no one else more than 11. Perhaps Aguero can settle into the role of the second or third scorer, rather than being charged with being City’s leading marksman. But part of the fascination will stem from the sight of the old gunslinger trying to turn back time with Barcelona, in his retro partnership with Messi as the old friends seek to recreate past heroics, but together.

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