Sergio Aguero has forged a historic career -- why isn't he more celebrated?
Sergio Aguero, it seems, isn't particularly appreciated in his home country of Argentina. When the striker missed a crucial penalty against Paraguay this week in an eventual 1-0 loss, some commentators took it particularly badly.
"Enough, enough, enough, enough!" shouted the commentator on Argentina's Radio Mitre. "Enough, Aguero, leave! Just leave, Aguero, for the love of God, leave!"
While South American commentators are known for passionate outbursts, particularly compared to the placid style prevalent in Britain, there is a growing feeling that Aguero simply isn't doing it for the national side. He hasn't scored in his past six internationals, he has often underperformed on the big occasion. Thirty-three goals in 79 games is hardly a disastrous return -- and he hit 10 in 10 matches in 2015 -- but Aguero has admitted his shortcomings at the international level.
"I sometimes feel that I'm a bad player," said Aguero when asked why he couldn't transfer his Manchester City form to the international stage. "That doesn't happen there [in England]." Few would question his goal-scoring record at Manchester City, but does Aguero get enough praise in England?
Consider this: Aguero currently has the best scoring rate in Premier League history. He has bagged 107 goals in 154 games, at a sensational return of 0.69 goals per game. That's slightly ahead of Thierry Henry's 0.68, a decent margin clear of Ruud van Nistelrooy's 0.63 and Alan Shearer's 0.59.
There are some caveats here: Aguero has only played in the Premier League during his peak years, which gives him an advantage; it's harder to sustain over a longer period, which makes Henry's tally so impressive. But Aguero, with 107 goals in just over five seasons, deserves to be in the conversation about the Premier League's best-ever striker.
Instead, he's never even made a single PFA Team of the Season.
That's a staggering fact when you consider Aguero's impact upon English football, his astonishing goals return over his five seasons so far (23, 12, 17, 26, 24) and the fact he's scored the single most important goal in Premier League football. Why has Aguero never been honoured at the end of a season?
There are probably four reasons.
Aguero tends to score in bursts. That's underlined by the fact he's won four Premier League player of the month awards, a very fine total beaten only by Steven Gerrard (six), Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie (five). It's notable that those three were also quite "streaky" players. But it is consistency over a campaign, rather than short, sharp spells of brilliance, that tends to earn recognition, particularly in English football where the attritional, long-term aspect of a league campaign is regularly emphasised. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
Last season, for example, Aguero netted only once in his first seven Premier League appearances, then smashed in five in one game against Newcastle. Incidentally, he subsequently missed City's next four league games through injury, which brings us to ...
Aguero is frustratingly injury-prone. In his first Premier League campaign, he missed only three matches through injury (and was nominated for PFA Player of the Year, but Rooney and Van Persie squeezed into the team of the year ahead of him). Since then, he's missed eight, fifteen, five and eight games each season through injury.
He particularly suffers from hamstring problems, and it's notable that Aguero also takes a long time to return to full speed after a period out. He seems restricted by a concern about breaking down again, which is a huge problem for a player who relies on such explosive pace.
For the first three campaigns of Aguero's City career, he was generally fielded in a strike partnership. This is his favoured formation; he's stated a preference for playing just behind a tall, central striker who can hold up the ball. He combined particularly well with Edin Dzeko, who started higher up the pitch but moved toward play, creating space for Aguero to dart into.
But despite playing slightly off the front, and despite switching to the No. 10 shirt when it became available, Aguero isn't overwhelmingly creative. He's netted 107 Premier League goals but managed 26 assists. That's fine, you might think -- he's a goalscorer. But in an era where comparable forwards like Luis Suarez and Alexis Sanchez boast creativity in addition to finishing power, Aguero seems somehow one-dimensional.
Perhaps here's the main problem: we don't really know Aguero. Over his five years in English football he's only given occasional interviews in broken English. Many foreign players learn English quickly, communicate with their teammates perfectly well, but are reluctant to agree to interviews for fear their words will be twisted and misconstrued.
The general public therefore knows relatively little about him, aside from the fact he was previously married to Gianinna Maradona, daughter of Diego, which means their son Benjamin has quite fantastic footballing genes.
Even in terms of Aguero's on-pitch demeanor, there's little of interest: he doesn't have the physical presence of Eric Cantona, the coolness of Henry, the sheer aggression of Suarez or the arrogance of Cristiano Ronaldo. There's the odd flash of his temper, as we witnessed recently when he was banned for three matches after elbowing West Ham's Winston Reid, but nothing much more.
And English football places great emphasis -- perhaps too much emphasis -- on character. We like a foreigner's peculiarities, preferably if they initially seem to struggle with Premier League before gradually adapting, like Henry and Ronaldo, or even if they encounter serious disciplinary problems, like Cantona and Suarez.
Aguero, for all his brilliance, doesn't offer that. There's no real narrative to Aguero's journey: he adapted immediately, banging in two goals in half an hour on his debut in 2011, and has remained essentially the same player ever since. A shift in position to become a lone striker has made him more prolific, but that's about it.
Therefore, English football has never truly fallen in love with Aguero, which is a something of a shame. The statistics show Aguero is the Premier League's most clinical striker, but this is one of those occasions when the figures don't quite tell the whole story.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.