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Argentine miracle

Sergio Agüero, from Los Eucaliptus’ potreros to the dream of winning Copa América with Argentina: the history of a footballer without weakness.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 03: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City kisses the ball to celebrate a goal and his hat-trick during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Undici in partnership with Puma Eyewear presents #NoCage, a collection of 12 stories of past and contemporary athletes that have changed the history of sports, overcoming the barriers and obstacles in their path thanks to determination and willpower.

The first time, he beats you with his speed. The second time, he pretends to sprint off, then stalls and heads the other way, leaving you on the spot. The third time, he doesn’t even wait, its a goal. Every time he touches the ball, one has the impression that the field becomes larger, that time is crystallized, and the possibilities multiply. It is as if some crazy football demiurge had fun collecting, and then assembling, all of the qualities, both physical and technical, that the lineage of offensive players has created and perfected over the decades. The result is a futuristic experiment, a prototype super-footballer. A concentrate of lightness and power. Something that has been attributed the name of Sergio “El Kun” Agüero.

 

New world order

As a striker only 1.73 meters tall, Agüero should be more inclined to invent than to finalize, more at ease in a hybrid position, floating between midfield and forward, than at the heart of the penalty area, which is usually the realm of strikers with very different physical statures. And at the beginning of El Kun’s career, during his first years in Europe with Atlético Madrid, this was in fact the case, and the terms that one associated with him were those of imagination, creativity and inventiveness. However, over the years, his extraordinary pragmatism and eclecticism motivated a progressive approach towards the penalty area, which remarkably, would happen without a partner. This solution was adopted during his first year at Manchester, with Roberto Mancini, and became a stable arrangement during the last two years, when Agüero always played as the offensive end of Manuel Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1. The Result: 61 goals in two years, top scorer in the Premier League 2014/2015 and second in the following year. The words associated with him have not changed, but others have been added, many of which rhyme with ‘goal’.

Sergio Agüero is the player with the best goal average in the history of the Premier League: one every 107.1 minutes, followed by Henry (121.8) and van Nisterlooy (128.2). In the same competition, he is also the second fastest player to have reached 100 goals: he needed only 147 matches, and only Alan Shearer has done better, with 124. These are incredible numbers for a player who in Argentina was often compared to Maradona: a diez, more than a nueve. More than an adaptation, Agüero is the proof of a totally successful evolution. El Kun has accepted the classic rules of engagement in the penalty area: he is not a false nine (un falso nove), he does not play centrally in order to void the area in front of the goal and encourage the involvement of his peers, but uses the area just as a classic center-forward would, aided by his superior technical skill. He is a constant threat because he is able to score in any way, even with a header, which is exactly how he scored five times in the last Premier League, flaunting his elevation, strength, advance and perfect timing. Consequentially, his scope as a player has been revealed with time: as a player across the board, with a yet undefined role (is the case of Argentina-Germany at the 2010 World Cup): as a player who gravitates around and attacks the penalty area.

Manchester City's Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge in London on April 16, 2016. / AFP / Adrian DENNIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Aguero celebrates after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge in London on April 16, 2016 (Adrian Dennis/Afp/Getty Images)

Playing with the sun

Sergio Agüero was born on June 2nd, 1988, in the large urban sprawl of Buenos Aires, where his family had moved in search of fortune. Sergio has never forgotten the misery, the failures and economic difficulties of his childhood, rather he recalls them with pride: «trudging through mud, sleeping without a roof over your head, picking up enough money to feed your children. I know what this is like. For this [reason], I am proud of myself and my family». El Kun, the nickname he was given due to his resemblance to a cartoon character, grew up in the slums of Los Eucaliptus, a place of widespread poverty with a high crime rate, where, on certain evenings, dinner could consist of only stale bread and maté. «I always had a ball between my feet. We played at any time, under the sun or in the dark, I spent hours and hours playing. I came home from school, ate, and then they would knock on the door: “Kun, we’re playing”, they said. “Okay”, and I went. Sometimes I came home at night, my mother wanted to kill me. All for one peso, or a Coke, it was fun.»

Sergio passed through various junior teams in the south of Buenos Aires until his talent brought him to the attention of the Independiente, which took into their youth team when he was nine. There he found Ricardo Bochini, a living legend of the club, who years later still recalls Agüero’s impressive ball skills. The fact that he never misses a beat when it comes to ball control is something that takes El Kun back to his childhood: «I always played on an uneven, bumpy plot near the house. On a field like that, you had to learn how to stay on balance and hold the ball the best you can». For Agüero, the potrero, or field of beaten earth, was a training ground for life, both technical and behavioral. «Once, a guy slid up to me with both feet, leaving the imprint of his boots on my chest. It scared me a bit. Since then, I play fast and jump when they come from behind. I learned to play with the sun: if there is sun, there are shadows. Often playing with my back to the net, when I touch the ball the first thing to do is look for the shadow of my marker, so I can get around from the other side».

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«Another time, I was 15 or 16 years old, I was the youngest. There were 40 year olds out… I had already played a few games in the Primera, somebody knew me. From outside they shouted: “Cortalo, cortalo” (meaning “hurt him” Ed.). One hit me hard, and I reacted. If you shut up, they take you for a boludo. Then I realized that I had to get out and fast». Sergio Agüero made his début in the Argentinian Primera División on July 7th, 2003. El Kun was only 15 years and 35 days old, making him the youngest débutant ever, breaking the record held by Diego Armando Maradona. The match saw Independiente against San Lorenzo, and coach Oscar Ruggeri remembers the moment when he told the little guy in number 34 to get onto the field: «I wanted him to have fun, and it went well. On the field, he was inalcanzable». A few months later, Agüero had become a permanent element on the first team. By 2004, his career had taken off: after his debut in the Copa Libertadores (setting another record for his young age), he took part in the South American Under-16 Championships with Argentina (scoring three goals in five games) and on November 26th, he scored his first professional goal against Estudiantes: receiving the ball at the edge of the penalty area, he stuns the defenders with a couple of body feints and lets loose a powerful right kick. «I could never have imagined all of this. I would have liked to have been a regular guy, hanging out with my friends. If I had made my début at eighteen, I would have enjoyed those years more».

Playing against his local rivals from Racing, on the 11th of September 2005 El Kun scored a goal that would leave an indelible mark on the history of Argentinian football: receiving the ball 50 meters from the goal posts, he tamed a long ball. From there, he held the ball, only letting it go to thrust it into the net after a delicate, sinuous, unstoppable run up. The defenders did not stop him, and neither did a piece of paper stuck to the sole of his boot. When he reaches the edge of the penalty area, he disorients the defender with a series of leg tricks: hinting at moving to the right, then turning quickly to the left, then right and left again, confusing the marker until he loses all of his spatial references. Once he had made space for his kick, he crosses over with the left: the stadium bubbles over with excitement and wonder as his teammates hoist him on his shoulders, like a trophy to put on display in celebration. Agüero stayed with Independiente until the next summer, when he moved to Atlético Madrid, but it would not be a final farewell: El Kun elected Rojo as his home, and it is to Rojo that he will return at the close of his career.


Agüero scores in the match between Independiente and Racing

«I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again»

Agüero stayed with Atlético for five seasons, winning the first trophies of his career at club level: the Europa League and European Super Cup, both in 2010. These were the years in which the Argentinian established himself as the world’s hottest player, as much for the quality of his play, with which he delighted fans, as for his ability to lead the team. Moreover, thanks to Agüero and other team members like Forlán, Maxi Rodríguez and Luis García, Atlético started to reclaim its big club status, passing from mid-table placements to two consecutive fourth places in the league between 2007 and 2009. At Calderón, Agüero was an instant star, but he would only make his quantum leap in the second year: following six goals in his first season, in his second year he scored 19 goals, or 27 if one considers all of the competitions. His first two goals in the Liga were scored in a gala match against Barcelona, who lost 4-2.

It was his night, as was clear from the fact that he did not miss a single shot, the stakes were calibrated to the millimeter, as if drawn by a giant compass: just look at the 2-1 assists for Maxi Rodríguez, an external touch that came from a seemingly innocuous area of the field. The first goal is due to a body feint that appeared to split his silhouette in two, to the detriment of Gabi Milito, an idol from Independiente when he was still a kid. The second goal concluded in a form that El Kun would repeat several times during his career, so much so that it is defined an “Agüero goal”: a special way of kicking with the inside of the foot towards the far post, keeping the ball just above the grass, so that it acquires greater speed when it touches the ground. And after this clean, precise kick requiring extraordinary sensitivity, came another example in the game against Liverpool last November: a combination of power and effect that starts from the foot as if it had been shot from an arch.


Atletico with Agüero and Forlán win 4 – 2 against Barcellona

In 2011, Agüero moved to Manchester City, which like Atlético, was another team set on reclaiming its lost nobility. The team’s fans had been waiting for a championship victory for 44 years: third place the previous season was a good start, but it was not enough. It needed a driver, and the people of the blue half of Manchester would find that driver on the afternoon of August 15th. City was playing against Swansea, and Agüero started out on the bench. Coming on half an hour from the end of play, this was the player’s first official thirty minutes with his new team: the impact was terrific. Not even ten minutes passed and he had already scored, redirecting a pass from Richards into the net. Then the level of difficulty rose exponentially. Three minutes later, he invented a crazy assist for David Silva: with a far kick, Agüero went over the goalkeeper’s head with a lob, and then, as planned, passed the ball to a fast approaching Silva. A superlative touch and peripheral vision that goes far beyond the ordinary. To conclude, he scores the 4-0 mark with a powerful distance kick. Maitaining this frenetic pace all the season, Agüero would conclude his first English season with 23 goals in the Premier League.

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There remained, however, a mission to accomplish: that of reclaiming the glory of a team that had been subject to the superiority of its hated city rivals at United for too long. Ironically, the two Manchester teams would arrive paired in the standings on the last day: to win, all City needed to do was beat Queens Park Rangers on home turf. Things, however, did not start out well: after a first goal by Zabaleta, City went under 2-1, while United is winning its match. The fans tears were already beginning to flow when, at 92', Dzeko scored the equalizer. But another was still needed for City to celebrate a title it had not held for over four decades, and as Agüero would later state: «In those frantic minutes, I thought I would be killed if we did not win. It may sound exaggerated, but I would not have had the strength to move forward had we failed». Time flew. In the end, barely two minutes remained. While Nasri tried in vain to quickly take a line out assigned to QPR, the cameras panned the faces of fans in the stands. Their mouths agape and postures limp, they looked on confused, disbelieving, paralyzed by the bitter taste of an insult. Some ran their hands through their hair, others covered their faces. One woman turned her back to the field, and holding her scarf in her hands, thrashed it violently against the seat as she vented her frustration.

Sometime later, explaining his attachment to City, Agüero would say: «When the fans sing “We'll fight to the end”, it’s not just a song. It is the symbol of a club that never gives up, [a club] that never gives in». At that moment, El Kun was on the brink of despair, but he had not given up yet. While everyone flocked into the penalty area, trying to catch a ball with an ineluctable force rather than logic, Agüero moved back, calling for the ball. He wanted to make the deciding move, like some basketball players do only moments from the final siren when the scores are even. He receives ball, looks forward, passes it to Balotelli and then throws himself forward, going beyond his adversaries at double-speed, moving with a different, totalizing sense of awareness. «I hit the ball as hard as possible. I remember the sound of the ball on the back of the net, a deafening roar and the sound of myself going crazy». Martin Tyler, the voice of Sky Sports, erupted with a celebratory roar that would soon echo throughout England: «… AGÜEROOOOOOOO. I swear you'll never see anything like this ever again».

 

The goal that delivers the Premier League title in Manchester City's hands

What many had failed to do in 44 years, Agüero had succeeded in doing on his first try. Since then, he has continued to win with City: in 2014 came another Premier, and then two English League Cups, the last one this year. El Kun continued to score repeatedly, proving, at the height of his career, to be a complete, substantial and decisive player with all the cardinal virtues of a football player: effectiveness at the net, speed, control, imagination and dribbling, and knows no weaknesses. When he seems to have run out of ways to surprise us, he seeks out new ones. On October 3, in the Premier match against Newcastle, he scored five goals in the space of just twenty minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGQNfGNWSks. Proving his versatility on the defense: if the first and fifth goals were those of a pure striker able to sniff out the goal before the ball arrives and guess the defenders’ movements, the fourth came from a departure far back, once again demonstrating Agüero’s particular approach and impressive speed of execution. The third goal is a synthesis between his ability to split the defense in two with a decisive move and his equally soft touch, a lob that teases the opposing goalkeeper.

At just 28, he can only bring joy to his country. As has happened in the past, he will awaken a “sleeping giant”: it will be up to him to drag Argentina, which has not won a major trophy for twenty-three years, to the Copa América del Centenario. He has already triumphed in the Argentinian youth teams, with the victory of two Under-20’s World Cups, first in the Netherlands (2005) and then in Canada (2007), where he was the leading scorer with six goals (including one in the final) and was elected best player of the tournament. The following year he won gold at the Beijing Olympics for his decisive role in the semifinals, with two goals against Brazil. Now is his time to succeed with the senior team. History is made to be changed.

 

Top 10 Sergio Aguero Premier League Goals

 

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Sergio Aguero of Manchester City kisses the ball to celebrate a goal and his hat-trick during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)


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