Five goals, a record-equaling performance, and a million people bragging that he was their Fantasy Football captain. That was Sergio Aguero’s Saturday and, as remarkable as it was, it all felt very ordinary.
That’s a compliment, too. It’s not very often that anything other than superlatives can be used to describe a player scoring five times within the same game, but Aguero makes the process of changing the score looks so easy and so routine that to smother him with overstatement is almost to miss the point.
To him, excellence is just part of the job and there’s a matter-of-fact quality which radiates from his goal-scoring.
“Was that a big deal? Because it didn’t look like it to him.”
Watching a compilation of Sergio Aguero’s goals during his time at Manchester City, you quickly realise just how many of them you’ve forgotten. Like any great forward, the Argentine’s production is so reliable and so continuous, that over time his best moments almost become indistinguishable from one another. There are the more famous goals, of course, but what’s striking is just how many times he’s converted an apparent half-chance with dismissive ease and how, through regularity, that sort of goal is now barely worth mentioning.
Aguero is one of the most gifted footballers in the Premier League, but he’s also a remarkably efficient one. Dated stereotypes imply that South American footballers must always play with flair and extravagance and should, at every opportunity, demonstrate their technical superiority. That’s even how the Argentinian introduced himself to English football, with that swerving, dipping drive against Swansea on his Manchester City debut.
But Aguero doesn’t play like that, he is not someone whose reputation has been inflated by startling high-points or who, like the rest of the game’s rare-air talent, makes a living out of doing things that others can’t. Instead, he excels in the seemingly mundane and his value, rather than being derived from roulettes and drag-backs, is really the product of an incredibly well-honed set of basics.
At The Etihad Stadium yesterday, nobody saw anything that they hadn’t seen before. His goals were all smart and well-taken, but there was nothing extraordinary to any of them.
It was him at his cerebral best. There were no otherworldly tricks, just a lethal cocktail of movement, anticipation and efficiency. He exploited his pace and his skill, but – as ever – his goals were really the result of knowing what was around him, keeping his markers continuously off-balance, and his ability to identify scoring angles before either the Newcastle defenders or Tim Krul could cover them.
It was Sergio Aguero being Sergio Aguero, it was him doing what he does. He doesn’t really inspire disbelief or any sort of emotional giddiness, just a steady, sincere round of applause.
Manchester City supporters adore him – of course – but there’s a general benevolence towards him from the community as a whole. That’s very rare, especially for an apex predator – after all, those are the players who have coldly plunged the knife into most of our sides game-after-game. They shine a light on our teams’ shortcomings and humiliate our favourite players; how can you ever like that?
But, because Aguero balances an obvious gift with more everyman qualities – practiced ability, hard-work – he perhaps doesn’t inspire the same resentment. While players like Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo perform as if they’ve been touched by God, Aguero has a more relatable set of attributes – ones which are probably encompassed within the 10,000 hours theory. It’s not true, of course, but the perception is that – with a ball, a lot of free time, and unwavering dedication – anyone could become Sergio Aguero in their back garden.
He has that kind of ability.
Maybe that’s why he doesn’t provoke the same levels of resentment. If watching Ronaldo or Messi score against your side feels curiously unfair, conceding to Aguero rarely spawns anything other than a shrugging of the shoulders and a sulky acceptance.
He earns the goals he scores and in 2015 that probably sets him apart. The very best players make the game look so effortless and easy and the cost of that is their ethereal quality; they’re too good – Messis and Ronaldos aren’t trained or built, they fall from the stars.
Aguero, then, is a novelty. He has challenged that perception by reaching a comparable level while retaining his more tangible qualities. He’s the blue-collared star, the icon who you can reach out and touch.