Punching the Glass Ceiling – Sergio Aguero, the Contender

Born into hardship, Sergio Aguero has been punching above his weight all his life. As Manchester City gain momentum, the Argentine is ready to go another round.

Sergio Aguero - King of the Ring

The year is 1976. Rocky, a two-hour sports drama film has just hit the theatres. Starring Sylvester Stallone, no one quite predicted that the film made on such a low budget would become one of the greatest movies of all time. The ultimate rags to riches story, the story of a man who pushes through the ceiling that had been set for him. The story of someone who through sheer hard work and dedication, provides a showcase to the world that had never been seen before in history.

“Ladies and gentlemen. You’ve had the privilege of watching the greatest exhibition of guts and stamina in the history of the ring.”

Fast forward to 2012.

The scene is set at the Etihad, the newly renamed ground of Manchester City Football Club. It is the final day of the Premier League season, and the stadium is full to its capacity with supporters who have waited for this moment for 44 years.

So far, it is eluding them. All the team needed was to win against Queens Park Rangers; but they are 1-2 down. Then, it is 2-2 in stoppage time. The news comes in that rivals Manchester United have managed to win their game, which means anything but one more goal from City would mean that United win the title. But there was one man who had not given up. There was one player who kept on pushing forward.

“AGUERRRRROOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”

“I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again. So watch it, drink it in… two goals in added time from Manchester City to snatch the title away from Manchester United.”

And there it was – one of the greatest moments in footballing history. The boy from Buenos Aires, Argentina who never dreamed of playing outside his country now had his name recorded in the history books. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City’s saviour. Just like Rocky Balboa gave the crowd something to remember by going toe to toe with Apollo Creed, Aguero ended the dominating run of his neighbouring rivals in an evening that will never be forgotten by anyone.

It all almost never came to be

Like the famous boxer that Stallone portrayed, Aguero’s beginnings were humble as he came from a poor family. What is interesting to note here though, is that how the future Premier League legend might not even have been born.

This time, the year is 1988.

Aguero’s parents and his elder sister had to evacuate their house (which was later looted) due to a string of floods that had riddled their neighbourhood.  Aguero’s mother, Adriana, was already pregnant with him at the time. ]
Her water broke when she was only six and a half months due – and she was 17 at the time. The young family had to make a painful trip to Buenos Aires, where Adriana had to wait for almost two months on constant bed rest. She even celebrated her 18th birthday in the hospital. When she finally went into labour, doctors informed her that her baby was stuck and immediate action would need to be taken otherwise he would not be born. The two routes presented to her were to use forceps –  which she rejected for she felt the results would be disastrous or a painful episiotomy on her which would damage the child’s collarbone, but the effect would not be permanent. She gave the doctors the nod, and Sergio Leonel Aguero was born. Aguero’s birth thus, in itself was a modern day miracle, assisted by science and his mother being on bed rest in a maternity ward for over two months. Perhaps the will to never give up was ingrained in him since that very day, for he has kept on fighting since then.

Football is life

Mickey: “You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!”

 

Born to a father who was a talented footballer himself, Sergio Aguero was a prodigy from a young age. His own efforts, alongside his down to earth attitude and his father’s support, made sure that his early dream of playing in Argentina’s top flight would be realised weeks after his 15th birthday.

Aguero holds the record for being the youngest player to play in Argentina’s first division when he made his senior team debut at the age of 15 years and 35 days. The player to hold the record before Aguero broke it was a certain Diego Maradona. It was fitting that the career of the youngster would begin by bettering a record made by one of his country’s greatest ever players.

In the 2005/06 season, Aguero scored an impressive 18 goals for his club. His meteoric rise did not go unnoticed by the press who praised him, as he was selected for the Argentina U20 team. Along with a certain future star named Lionel Messi, Aguero and Co. won the FIFA U20 World Cups in both 2005 and 2007. His career was off to a rocket of a start.

Adrian: “Rocky, why do you fight?”
Rocky Balboa: “Because I can’t sing and dance.

 

Aguero was truly alive when he was on the pitch. Living with six siblings in a cramped house, the pitch to Aguero was what the ring was to Rocky. A space to express himself and let loose.

Throughout the film, Rocky is seen boxing the air often. His obsession with the sport was so absolute, that he came up with an unconventional way of training where he used pigs in a slaughterhouse as punching bags. The ring did not leave him, and the fight was his life. One can imagine a young Sergio Aguero, smacking the ball back and forth against a shoddily built wall in the streets of Argentina under a flickering night lamp, or using rusty old bottles as target practice as the sun went down in the Argentine capital.

By all accounts, Aguero’s game was as good as his heart. It was never his desire to move out of his country, but his talent did not go unnoticed. Much like Rocky, more than anything else, Sergio Aguero had the heart.

His rapid rise at Independente saw him attract the attention of Atletico Madrid, who broke the then club record transfer fee to take the forward to the Spanish capital. So far, this was the biggest challenge of Aguero’s career – and as would become a habit for him later on, he thrived and succeeded under pressure.

A bullet right foot about to deliver the knockout blow – that’s Sergio Aguero for you

Following a quiet first season, Aguero started showing the world as to why the club had spent so much on him when he came into his own in the second season. Linking up with the likes of Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero’s goalscoring exploits with the Madrid outfit saw him become a fan favourite. During his five year stint with Atletico, Aguero helped the club win the UEFA Europa League, threatening defences across Spain, and the world knew that the youngster was special. His game thrived in La Liga, and he scored a century of goals for Los Rojiblancos over five seasons. To put it simply, the Argentine’s time in Spain was phenomenal.

 

And then, came the move that would change Aguero’s life. Just as Rocky got the news that the world heavyweight champion wanted to fight him which changed his life overnight, the free-spending and newly revamped Manchester City came calling for Aguero as they wanted him to be their talisman. A deal was agreed, and the forward departed for England with the eyes of the footballing community on him. He fit right in at a club like Atletico Madrid punching above its weight, but at the nouveau riche Manchester City, he was expected to deliver from the first minute.

 

Enough has already been said about the Argentine’s first season at the Etihad. Two goals and an assist on his debut and a title-winning goal in his last game of the season – Sergio Aguero’s entry into English football and subsequently Manchester City’s folklore was like an uppercut to the jaw. An impact few have felt and even fewer can repeat.

 

“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show, he thinks it’s a damn fight!”

Seven years later, Aguero is now the all-time top scorer for Manchester City and has a better goal per minutes ratio than anyone else in Premier League history. Whenever Aguero plays, there are no fancy tricks involved. The no-look passes, and unnecessary dribbles and fancy haircuts are missing. Sergio Aguero plays because he loves the game, he does not play to be remembered in YouTube highlights. A thunderous right foot combined with a stocky build and acceleration and finishing that some players can only dream of, he is in the mould of the perfect center forward.

For a man who has faced challenges right from being born to being the talisman of one of the world’s richest clubs for nearly a decade, it is indeed criminal how Aguero’s achievements go under appreciated. The job of the forward is not really a thankless one, but it seems that no one has said thank you to Sergio Aguero enough.

When Manchester City won the title in 2011-12, it was Aguero’s picture plastered all over the front pages, but it was the money from the Middle East that was the talking point. The league winning season in 2013-14 was more about how Steven Gerrard slipped and handed the title to the Citizens. The title that is heading back to the Etihad this season has been credited to the genius of Pep Guardiola and the magic that Kevin De Bruyne weaves, although Aguero has been the top scorer yet again.

For Rocky, the trials and tribulations were different. His manager blamed him for slacking off. His friend was being a fool, and the fighter himself thought that he was not good enough to face someone so out of his league.

 

“I was a nobody. And so I’ve been thinking…it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head either. I just wanna go the distance…”

For the boxer, the test was to show everyone that he was not just another bum from the neighbourhood who amounted to nothing. For Aguero, the challenge was to show the world that he was good enough. A record buy for Atletico, the main acquisition for the revamped Manchester City. Different motivation, and yet the kid from Argentina who was born under unusual circumstances had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Not an underdog, but a man who has something to prove to watchful eyes with pressure from all corner. And oh boy, did he let his feet do the talking!

Yes, Aguero has faced many trials by fire in his career. Yet, he has maintained his composure and honed his abilities to be at the top of his game for so long and he is at the verge of breaking his own personal bests as he nears his 30th birthday. At the age of 30, Rocky Balboa conquered the world as he went the distance against Apollo Creed with the whole world watching. It was his own hard work and the dedication to prove something that turned him from Contender to Champion.

At the age of 30, Aguero’s biggest challenge now lies in front of him. For whatever he has been in his career – not as good as Lionel Messi, not as complete as Luis Suarez, not as highly rated as Harry Kane; Aguero has been a constant. Under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, it was Aguero leading the charge, and even though he did not get enough credit, it was him finding the back of the net and always first on the team sheet. In the new era at Manchester City however, he faces a new challenge. The boss all bosses – Pep Guardiola.

To go the distance

Pep is a known perfectionist, having won the treble at FC Barcelona in his first season as a manager and his famous tiki-taka style of play requiring amazing precision and technique to pull off. His arrival created a lot of hype in England for obvious reasons. He shipped off Joe Hart (who had been with the club since before 2011), spent a record defender fee on John Stones, and reinforced the squad with solid buys. Most importantly for Aguero though, Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus was brought in during the January window.

Each and every player in the locker room knew that nothing was set in stone and given on reputation – you have to earn, and then fight for your place under this manager. No one can attest to this statement more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who famously said of his time at Barcelona (directed towards Pep) – “You bought a Ferrari, but you drive it like a Fiat.”

Zlatan is one of the best strikers of this era, and yet under Pep, things were different for the man who was used to being treated as the best. Sergio Aguero had a mountain to climb in front of him.

Aguero played with Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, and there were the likes of Stephan Jovetic, but no one who could quite threaten his place as the main striker. Jesus is different. The youngster from Brazil started off with a bang, just like Aguero himself, and it was he who was starting ahead of the Argentine for the first few games of the season as Guardiola’s demands from his striker were different to the game Aguero played. Only De Bruyne now seems a guaranteed outfield starter in a star studded team that has no set place for even its all time record goalscorer.

Rocky took hits from one of the best champions of all time throughout the fifteen rounds. At the end of the 14th round, Mickey had to cut his eyelid open so that he could see, as he was incapable of opening it on his own. Mickey begged him to stay down, but Rocky threatened him not to call the match off. The fight continued.

 

“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life.”

After all the underappreciation and the challenges despite being so good at what he did, Aguero was ready for another opportunity to punch above his weight. When you score 33 goals in a season, you expect plaudits – you do not think to worry about your place in the team. Yet under Pep, that is where Sergio Aguero stands. But giving up has never been in the nature of the stocky forward. Critics thought his time was done, fans were warming up to Jesus. And yet just like Rocky, Aguero stood up after taking the hits. He was not done.

Aguero went one more round when he had the chance. With Jesus’ injury during the end of 2017, Aguero jumped on the chance to be the talisman again as he netted goal after goal in the absence of his colleague. Being involved in more than 13 goals in as many games, Kun announced that he was not giving up fighting for the place he had kept for years.

Despite being injured for a few games, and having been benched for a few this season, Sergio Aguero is still City’s top goalscorer this campaign. Even though his 20s are ending, there are no signs of him slowing down; if anything, it seems that the arrival of Jesus and the challenge to impress a master like Pep has only motivated the Argentine more and more – and therein lies the difference between a winner and a quitter.

Rocky Balboa said:

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.”

 

One of the greatest motivational quotes of all time, and it is perhaps most appropriate in the case of Kun Aguero. It is tough to prove a point when the world thinks you cannot, but it is even tougher when you keep doing everything right and still have to do more and more. A lesser man would give up. Sergio Leonel Aguero will not. Every time he steps out onto the pitch, and every time his right foot connects with the ball so sweetly that the opposition keeper can only watch in dismay, it is a message to the critics that he’s not done. Most importantly, it is a message to his manager that Sergio Aguero, the man who scored THAT goal all those years ago, is still not done.

This City team will only keep getting better. More players will be brought in, and anyone not deemed good enough will say goodbye. Jesus is nine years younger than his strike partner, but if I were a betting man, I have to say that Sergio Aguero is going nowhere. For he is a fighter, and fighters do not quit, even after the 14th round – they go the distance.

Taha Memon

20 year old who likes everything black and white - especially football. Liverpool fan, aspiring journalist, comic enthusiast, and a TV show buff.