Heart Of Football

Aguero the silent hitman on the brink of history

Maybe on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning, Singapore time) in the Champions League against Shakhtar Donetsk, Sergio Aguero will make history.

His hat-trick against Watford last week - the product of instinct, guile, subtlety and greed - plus last night's goal against Crystal Palace, put him just one goal behind a man you have probably never heard of, Eric Brook. Players today come and go on the international whirligig of global transfers, and a goalscorer like Aguero literally has the world at his feet.

But way back in the 1920s and 1930s, Brook netted 177 goals in 450 games for Sky Blue City until the outbreak of World War ll scuttled his career.

After yesterday's game at the Etihad against Crystal Palace, Sergio "Kun" Aguero was on 176 goals, from 260 appearances for City.

There has been a transformation the likes of which Brook, who died in 1965, could never have imagined. The game is the same. The aim is to stick the ball in "the onion bag" as it used to be called.

Brook was a left winger with a ferocious shot. Aguero is a modern striker, darting between the lines of defenders, timing his runs when they least expect it, caressing rather than always powering the ball into the net.

And in these mobile times, when coaches and managers of the calibre of Pep Guardiola choose their clubs for often short durations, it is remarkable that a coveted goalscorer gets to stay with one team long enough to accumulate anything like the old-time records.

City chairman Khaldoon has never forgotten the Aguero goal that won the Premier League title in the final moments of the 2012 season.

"Sergio will die scoring goals," Guardiola said on Friday. "His mother and father gave him that. He likes the ball, and when he can score a goal his eyes open."

One has to blink at Guardiola singing this praise of Aguero. There was a time, just one season ago, when Guardiola left Aguero on the bench even when his team were firing blanks and going out of the Champions League.

There were certainly vibes when City signed Gabriel Jesus, the new wunderkind from Brazil, that the coach made it plain that he preferred the Brazilian to the Argentinian as his central striker.

There was body language. Jesus' youth, his eagerness, his willingness to run and run, and hunt goals fearlessly, fitted the Guardiola template.

Aguero's more laid-back style, amounting almost to disinterest at training on a cold, wet Mancunian morning, did not enamour him to a trainer who, for all his Barcelona love of embroidering the game with beauty, puts work ethic high on his priorities.

Then, during the summer window when City were spending hundreds of millions buying up players to make the Guardiola revolution work, there were the bids for Kylian Mbappe and Alexis Sanchez. Had either or both been sold to City, where would that have left Aguero?

The grapevine suggested that Chelsea would have taken him before turning to Alvaro Morata (though Chelsea's real target had been Romelu Lukaku, who chose Man United instead).

All the while, the whispers were not great for Aguero. He hasn't mastered English the way that his goals master English fields, and one of the things City fans love about him anyway is the stealth with which he moves and the quiet way that he remains almost self-effacing off the pitch.

The fans of Aguero happen to include Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the sheikh's emissary who has been in charge of building Project City at the Etihad since 2008. Chairman Khaldoon has never forgotten the Aguero goal that won the Premier League title in the final moments of the 2012 season.

The owners have given Guardiola everything and everyone that money could buy to rebuild Barca in Manchester. If, in another window, Sanchez or anyone else comes onto the market, then either City or Paris Saint-Germain will move financial mountains to get him.

And Uefa,with all the talk of Financial Fair Play and spending limits, will be elbowed aside.

Meanwhile, a friendship grows between Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. The Argentinian on the verge of eclipsing City's 78-year-old scoring record, and the Brazilian youth whose start has been irresistible, have possibly surprised even Guardiola by their ability to dovetail in attack.

The coach acknowledges that his front line has changed this season. Last season it was often a case of one or the other. Now they both play. "It's different a little bit," Guardiola says. "The defenders can't focus on Sergio. If you focus on one, the other one is there to score goals."

The coach can see that now, and say that. But, despite Aguero's 33 goals for City last season and his continuing predatory form, the Argentinian did not make the Fifa/Fifpro list of 55 names on the shortlist for their World XI.

(Only one Englishman, incidentally, made that list, the Tottenham striker Harry Kane.)

"Recognition from the media and the prizes is okay for 10 minutes," observed Guardiola. "After that, it disappears. I encourage my players to fight to be here, and for recognition from their team-mates."

One of City's new buys, the French left-back Benjamin Mendy, has quickly seen where Aguero stands in the eyes of his team.

"Kun Aguero," says Mendy, "is a hero within the team. There's respect for everyone, but he is truly respected by all the players."

He was speaking after City hammered Watford 6-0 last week. "We won a penalty, and everyone knows Sergio takes our penalties," he observed.

"But he let Raheem (Sterling) take it. Kun doesn't just want to be the star, he wants everyone to shine."

Aguero could afford to be generous. The penalty came in the 89th minute. Aguero's hat-trick was already in the bag. His mate Jesus had been substituted by then. And Sterling, often the provider, was short of a goal in that game.

They are, as Guardiola preaches, team players.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'Aguero the silent hitman on the brink of history'. Print Edition | Subscribe