Monday, 1 August 2011

Aguero's Argy Bargy

Just a few short days after it looked very much as though they were about to lose one Argentine striker, Manchester City have actually managed to double their quota of forwards from the South American nation (for now at least...) following last week's big-money transfer of Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid.

Unless you have been living under a rock with your eyes tightly shut and your fingers in your ears for the last three years, you would not have failed to notice The Blues’ ascension to the top of the metaphorical spending mountain. This frivolous flashing of cash was a result of the club’s purchase by the Abu Dhabi Group in the summer of 2008. The likes of Robinho, James Milner, Edin Dzeko (but also rather unfortunately Joleyon Lescott) among others have all come in for massive fees. Putting all those in the shade however is the 38 million English pounds spent on Aguero – a new club record.

But what are City actually getting for their money? Well, a tricky little player with great close control, a frightfully quick change of pace/direction and a decent finish to boot – a description not unlike many players from his country and no bad thing at all. A glance over ‘Kun’ Aguero’s career to date makes for impressive reading. At just 9 years old, an age where most of us where still playing with Tonka Trucks and picking our noses for leisure, Aguero was being signed by his boyhood club Independiente before going on to become the youngest player to play in the Argentine Primera Division when he made his debut at the tender age of 15. It took a couple of years for him to establish himself in the first team but once he did, there was no looking back. Two fruitful years with El Rojo generated enough interest from big European clubs to result in a €23m move to the Spanish capital in 2006.

Aguero truly established himself as a top class footballer during his 5 years at Vicente Calderon and was an integral part of the successful 2010 team that won the Europa League as he assisted both Diego Forlan goals in the final against Fulham. Atletico also reached the final of the Copa Del Rey that year where they were defeated by Sevilla and Kun was on the scoresheet as Los Rojiblancos beat Inter Milan in the European Super Cup at the start of the following season.

During this time, Aguero also established himself in the Argentine national side but not before securing the golden boot and winning player of the tournament in the 2007 under-20 World Cup. The accolades kept coming as he was voted 2007 FIFA young player of the year before and an Olympic gold medal followed in Beijing the next summer.

Typically, his ability has seen him, like many Argentinean players before him, compared to the great Diego Maradona who, unsurprisingly, is the benchmark for any talented young striker who dons the famous sky blue and white stripped shirt. Aguero is hardly alone in this regard and is seemingly another to roll down an endless conveyor belt of brilliant attacking players from the country.

It barely needs explaining why the abovementioned Maradona almost stands alone unchallenged at the top of this list. A marvellous month in Mexico (one dodgy handball aside) winning the World Cup in 1986 is almost eclipsed by Ed Diego's incredible impact in Naples shortly afterwards as he inspired little Napoli into their Golden era of the late 80s. Two league titles, an Italian Cup and a UEFA Cup were the sum total of 6 glorious years in Southern Italy.

Never has a number 10 shirt carried so much weight and I don't mean due to his stratospheric waistline after retiring. The controversies involving drug use in the twilight of his playing days may have tarnished him personally but there very little that could take the gloss off of a fine footballing career that still has much of the sporting world thinking of him as the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of boots to chase the leather sphere around a patch of grass.

Maradona was once considered peerless until a young upstart built like an anaemic stick insect burst onto the scene in the form of one Lionel Messi – a player who possesses the kind of skill and trickery only previously considered possible in computer games. Little Leo has nearly done enough already in his short career to establish himself alongside his famed predecessor. Messi has been the fulcrum of the current Barcelona team that has swept the board domestically and in Europe over the last few years breaking all kinds of records both individually and collectively along the way.

Naturally, the inevitable but ultimately futile ‘who’s better?’ question is already the staple of pub conversations, internet forums and radio phone ins. Maradona sympathisers will argue that was able to achieve “more with less” in terms of what he had to work with. It's all well and good shining in a team of stars but perhaps a truer measure of individual talent is when your ability is able to lift lesser players to dizzy heights mentioned above.

However, in Messi's favour is the fact that he is still, with frightening regularity, able to look head and shoulders above everyone else despite being surrounded by some of the finest players in the game right now. Any player that can make all of Xavi, Andreas Iniesta and David Villa ever look like somewhat lesser players deserves all the praise he gets.

Beyond the endless/pointless and debate as to who was/is the better player, Argentina has produced a number of strikers who would fall into that oft undefined category we all love to use as football fans; “World Class”.

Few of us of the Channel 4 Football Italia generation of the 1990s could ever forget the mercurial Gabriel Batistuta who made scoring goals in Serie A, firstly for Fiorentina then Roma, look like the easiest thing in the world. 'Batigol' seemed to find the perfect state of equilibrium in his shooting as power and accuracy worked together in perfect sync. Also a fine header of the ball, he was easily one of the most complete finishers of all time. Batistuta has more goal scoring awards and records than one has space to mention here including, quite ludicrously, the rare achievement of scoring more goals than games played while in Qutar at the end of his career. Currently the national team's all-time top scorer with 56, it looks unlikely anyone is likely to take that crown from atop his flowing mane in the foreseeable future.

The closest player to Batistuta on that list with 35 is Hernan Crespo whose ability to find the net at Parma caused Lazio to fork a then world record £35 million for him. A career blighted by injuries didn't prevent him from being regarded as one of the most prolific strikers of a generation. It's fair to say that Chelsea fans never saw the best of him but his 25 goals for The Blues in two seasons was hardly a shabby return considering how much the likes of Andrei Shevchenko and more recently, Fernando Torres have struggled at the Bridge.

An Argentine who hasn't struggled in England is Carlos Tevez. Like Maradona before him, Carlitos seems to make as many headlines off the pitch as he does on it – although it much be pointed that the respective controversies of two players differ vastly. Stroppiness and questionable third party involvement aside, Tevez has managed to establish himself as one of the finest strikers to grace the Premier League in recent years. A rare beast who has found a way to balance flair and creativity with something we here in Britain seem to love; tenacity and hard work. As West Ham, Manchester United and City can attest, he is an integral part of any team he represents.

Further afield, the frightfully consistent Gonzalo Higuian has been gobbling up goals like Pac Man for Real Madrid over the last three years meanwhile over in Italy, Diego Milito's goalscoring feats made him a hero at Genoa over two spells at the club. Having been rewarded with a move to Inter Milan, Milito blitzed through his first season culminating with both goals in a 2-0 win for the Nerrezurri in the 2010 Champions League final.

Producing great front men is hardly a new trend either. The highly rated national team of the 1960s considered themselves as good as any in the world. However, their shock failure to qualify for the for Mexico 1970 meant that the legendary Luis Artime was never really able to showcase his talent on the world stage while at his peak and build on his three goals during the 1996 tournament. Nicknamed “La Fiera” (the beast), Artime did finish top scorer in the 1967 South American championship and ended his international career with an incredible 24 goals from a mere 25 games. At club level, he won a number of titles and was seemingly hell bent on collecting top scorer awards – 4 in Argentina, 3 in Uruguay, 1 in the Copa Liberatadores – like they were Pokemon cards.

Fewer things endear a player to an entire nation more than scoring in a World Cup final on home soil – apparently having a stadium named after you is a pretty big deal – but even by the time Mario Kempes scored a brace to win Argentina the trophy for the first time in 1978, he was already revered in Spain having won consecutive golden boot awards in La Liga for Valencia.

The South Americans have also had a great tradition of producing fantastic playmaker forwards particularly over the last two decades. The likes of Claudio Lopez, Pablo Aimar, Juan Roman Riquelme and Ariel Ortega to name a few have all achieved some measure of success in Europe.

With such an an embarrassment of riches, I struggle to think of another nation that has produced so many quality forward players down the years with perhaps the exception of their neighbours Brazil and maybe the Dutch.

However, this constant stream of attacking talent cannot seem to arrest the constant and often inexplicable failure at major tournaments. Despite being in good shape on both occasions, Argentina have fallen to Germany in quarter finals of the last two World Cups including last year’s humiliating 4-0 thumping in Cape Town.

The last time they won the Copa America was in 1993. At the time it was a record breaking 14th title but Uruguay’s comprehensive victory over Paraguay in Argentina last week secured them a 15th crown thus surpassing their rivals.

Given the fact this most recent tournament was on home soil, expectation would obviously have been through the roof so failure against the eventual winners on penalties in the quarter final was nothing short of an embarrassment. City's new man was a part of this shambles but was one of the few to come out with any credit as he was the team's top scorer with three goals.

However, at the risk of resorting to cliché, the Premier League is an entirely different ball game. Our friends from South America haven't always had the best of times here in Blighty. An Argentine omitted from the above list is Juan Sebastian Veron. Once considered one of the most intelligent footballers in the world, 'Seba' was known for his sublime touch, fantastic range of passing and vision that would put Specsavers out of business. Yet, having failed to find a suitable role in a Manchester United midfield that already featured Paul Scholes and Roy Keane coupled with numerous injury problems after moving to Chelsea, Veron is sadly labelled as a flop whenever someone over here mentions his name - despite his achievements elsewhere.

Even for all he has done on the pitch, Carlos Tevez' is unlikely to get the job as minister for tourism in Manchester when retires from the game. His desire to leave is due to the fact he has never really settled in the city or to the English lifestyle. An affliction that also saw Javier Mascherano high tail it to Barcelona from Liverpool at the first given opportunity. Don't even get me started on Wigan's uberflop Mauro Boselli...

At 23, Aguero is still in the relative infancy of his career. Of course, there is no way of predicting whether the stocky little lad from Quilmes will sink or swim in England but City fans will be praying that he can settle and continue to develop at the same rate he has over the last decade or so. The expectation will be that Aguero could and should be a key component for any imminent Blues success. Given his talent and all he has achieved to date, there is little reason to doubt that this will be the case. If he does indeed help the club usurp their crosstown rivals not just for the Premier League but for all other top honours as well, then you imagine that he will be justifiably spoken of in the same breath as the greats of Argentine football.

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1 comment:

Michael Harrison said...

Don't forget Aguero is also married to Maradona's daughter, and father of his grandson. Start of a dynasty if he lives up to the promise of his success so far?