Sergio Aguero announced his departure with a reflection on his longevity. “A whole ten seasons – unusual for a professional player in this day and age,” he wrote as he considered his forthcoming exit from Manchester City.
And indeed it is rare, though more so outside the dressing rooms of the Etihad Stadium. Consider the team that kicked off Manuel Pellegrini’s reign with a 4-0 win over Newcastle. Vincent Kompany went on spend 11 years at City, David Silva and Aguero 10, Pablo Zabaleta nine. Yaya Toure and Fernandinho have served for eight seasons apiece, though the Brazilian may yet draw level with Zabaleta.
Joe Hart was there for 12 years; nine, if you exclude the three for which he was loaned out. They could be considered City’s magnificent seven, the spine of what became the finest side in their history. Their greatest generation were just that: each spent a generation at City. Toure joined at 27 and Fernandinho at 28, but each nonetheless gave the best years of his career to City.
With the notable exception of Hart, each came from overseas and, though Aguero did not say it explicitly, it is still more unusual for foreigners to last as long and still more so for so many to do so. If they changed the culture of a club who had gone 35 years without a trophy until the 2011 FA Cup, which predated Aguero’s arrival by two months, they also altered the career paths for a suddenly rich club.
The first influx of expensive imports brought less permanence and a greater sense of tumult. Kompany and Zabaleta signed before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover. Some of their newer team-mates came and went swiftly: others arrived at a cost, City had buyer’s remorse and spent years trying to offload them.
Suffice to say that, for different reasons, Robinho, Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz, Jerome Boateng and Mario Balotelli never got to celebrate a decade in Manchester. But with a backbone of regulars, City went from being revolutionaries to something of a continuity club.
There are reasons, some connected to wealth. When players gravitate to elite level, there are fewer possible destinations and City have had certain advantages when it has come to keeping them. There has never been the financial need to sell. Their players have had Champions League football and realistic prospects of silverware every season, giving them fewer footballing reasons to go.
Other clubs presumably rationalised that it would take large budgets to match their pay packet at City and sizeable offers to get them. Kompany attracted Barcelona’s interest and Aguero Real Madrid’s, but there might not have been many bids.
A moment of magic from Sergio Aguero...#PLMoments pic.twitter.com/66hf6XEFbXOctober 20, 2016
And astute recruitment made financial sense. Aguero was one of the costliest signings in Premier League history in 2011 and City will not recoup a penny of his £38 million transfer fee, but now it only equates to £3.8 million a season. Toure and Fernandinho cost around £3 million a season, Silva £2.5 million, Kompany about £550,000.
In the process, they allowed City to devote their often considerable resources to others. Keep a core and City went from the club who were seemingly trying to sign everyone to one who rarely needed that many major signings in a summer.
And they may be role models. Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling will not come in at a similar price per year but each is in his sixth season at the Etihad Stadium and is young enough to complete a decade, which would render his initial sizeable price a bargain. In players like them, John Stones, Ederson and Bernardo Silva – not to mention Phil Foden and Ruben Dias – there could be another group who last as or almost as long. Identify the right talents and buy them at the right stage – Aguero joined at 23 – and it can be a potent formula, even if it is easier said than done.
Aguero also offered a case for continuity with his consistency. Until this season, he delivered 30, 17, 28, 32, 29, 33, 30, 32 and 23 goals in his respective campaigns. And like his staying power, that was unusual for a player in any day or age.
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