In Good Conscience

Instinct and style the main attributes of sublime Aguero

Statistics are very often the poor man's way of viewing a good game. I've always believed that if you go to the stadium with anything approaching an abacus, never mind computers, you miss the quality, the beauty, while you are counting.

Pele was both the exception, and the proof of that.

He scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games in a career spanning 21 years between 1956 and 1977.

I had to look up the numbers. But I have only to close my eyes to "see" the majesty, the amalgam of athleticism with wondrous creativity, of him at play.

He thanks God for the gifts because he cannot otherwise explain why a man of average height and build should have blossomed into what most people regard as simply the best ever.

Pele, however, ended his career in America, where much of the obsession with stats springs. The phrase "Do the math" has replaced "seeing is believing".

And I'm about to break my own rule of stats avoidance. There is no other way to assess what Sergio Aguero has just done for Manchester City.

Pele thanks God for the gifts because he cannot otherwise explain why a man of average height and build should have blossomed into what most people regard as simply the best ever. Pele, however, ended his career in America, where much of the obsession with stats springs. The phrase "Do the math" has replaced "seeing is believing".

With a wonderful sprint into the Napoli penalty box on Wednesday night, finding space and sensing opportunity, Aguero changed the contest decisively in Manchester City's favour.

The score stood at 2-2 when Aguero glided forward and, seeing but eschewing the chance to pass the ball and the responsibility, he went against the odds and scored himself.

Instinct, flair, opportunism... call it anything you like.

This was an arch goalscorer choosing his moment to eclipse another one, Eric Brook, a legend of the 1930s, from the all-time record books as City's record striker of all time.

Brook, an Englishman, took 12 seasons to compile 177 goals in 494 games for Manchester City.

Aguero, an Argentinian, now has 178 goals in 264 games in all competitions as a City player. He is halfway through his seventh season at the club, and halfway through his 30th year.

He intends, one day, to finish his career with Independiente, back in Buenos Aires where it started for him.

This column is so deep into statistics now, I may as well observe that at 1.73m, Aguero is very similar in height and build to Pele, and somewhere between the heights of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who, week by week, season after season, push goalscoring into the realm of a statistical blitzkrieg.

See, I don't have an English word to define them.

No man is a team. Pele, again, emphasised that with the way that he blended his talents with the playmakers of the 1970 World Cup side, Gerson and Tostao. And with the power of Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho, also the cunning of Rivelino.

Another way in which we are made slaves to stats in the modern game is that when Pep Guardiola threatened, or appeared to threaten, to leave out Aguero last season, he could show him computer printouts that proved he ran less than everyone else in a City shirt.

Part of that is true because, for all the flair and the flow that Guardiola's football demands, the sports scientists can track the output, to the centimetre, of how much ground every player covers in a game.

Aguero's answer might be the old Brian Clough observation that it takes only a second to score a goal. But, when Guardiola shows him the charts, it's crystal clear that Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling are faster than him, younger than him, and prepared to run further than him.

Then there is Gabriel Jesus, who has youth on his side, and who comes from the same country where both Pele and Neymar emerged.

And if David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and Fernandinho all run more than 11km during each and every game to serve those front runners, what excuse is there for Aguero to do less?

Statistics, statistics, statistics.

I'm clearly no fan of turning art into science, but there is no escape in modern times. So when Guardiola said earlier this season "Sergio will die scoring goals, his mother and father gave him that,", was that some kind of softening of the coach's stern demands for Aguero to up his work rate?

Perhaps not. The men with the telemetry let it be known that Aguero this season is much more of a workaholic than he was last season. He is apparently up to 9.9km per 90 minutes now.

And even if some of us would far rather just sit back and gasp when great players do things in the blink of an eye that seem to border on genius, the ball is in Guardiola's court on this one.

In essence, he can make Aguero add running to instinct. Aguero, by response, can give the statistic that trumps all - the number of goals scored per minutes played.

His record in the EPL stands the test of all comers. Not counting the cups and the Champions League, Aguero currently has 129 goals from 188 appearances, and not all of those by any means represents the full 90 minutes of games.

That is where we cannot measure Brook against Aguero. There is a 78-year time lapse between their playing prime. And the Premier League is a different playground to the old English Division One.

It is populated now by players from the global market. And, more statistics for you, Englishmen Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney are the only two players, so far, to score more than 200 goals in the league since it was formed in 1992.

That said, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp for Arsenal, Didier Drogba at Chelsea, Eric Cantona and Ruud van Nistelrooy with Manchester United, all left indelible marks in terms not only of goals scored but of playing style too.

Statistically, Aguero is in that group. But there is one attribute that cannot be measured - a sixth sense to know when defenders take their eyes off the ball, and the ability to make that moment count.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2017, with the headline 'Instinct and style the main attributes of sublime Aguero'. Print Edition | Subscribe