Sergio Aguero’s final league goal of 2019 came on December 29. His last of 2018 was even later, on December 30. In 2017, it came a week earlier, on December 23. And in 2020? He delivered a winner at Sheffield United on January 21.
And, though few could have guessed it then, his 180th Premier League goal would remain his most recent, almost a year later. The fourth highest scorer in the division’s history has still not overhauled Andy Cole, let alone second-placed Wayne Rooney.
Aguero has since found the net in three other competitions but for him, as for many others, 2020 has to go down as a wasted year. Admittedly, many would settle for the kind of wasted year that included scoring in a Cup final victory and replacing Alan Shearer as the scorer of the most Premier League hat-tricks, but they are not Aguero.
In all competitions, he struck seven goals in the year’s first 21 days – the sort of ratio that could suggest he would end it with 122 – and mustered a mere four thereafter. Strange as it sounds, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ended 2020 with more Premier League goals at the Etihad Stadium for City than Aguero.
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The numbers are anomalies, reflecting injuries in a stop-start campaign, Pep Guardiola’s caution about bringing him back and very different circumstances. After all, Aguero was fit and in form when football was halted in March. He rarely has been since then.
But the subsequent spell has hastened the end-of-era feel. Aguero’s contract expires next summer. There has long been the sense that Argentina beckons, that his first club, Independiente, has a siren call. Perhaps 2020, with the difficulties in travelling, will make him keener to live in the same city as his son, Benjamin. Or maybe the prospect of finally teaming up with his close friend Lionel Messi at club level will tempt him to extend his stay in Manchester.
But perhaps Aguero’s body leaves him a fading force. He is a player whose injuries feel an annual occurrence to the extent that he has been sidelined at least one in each of the last nine seasons but his summer knee problem brought the lengthiest absence. One of the most remarkable elements is, despite those spells on the sidelines, how consistent he has proved.
He had six consecutive seasons where he scored between 28 and 33 goals; had last season finished as planned, perhaps it would have been seven. Those have been great, good and indifferent years for Manchester City, times when his status was unquestioned and periods when Pep Guardiola preferred Gabriel Jesus.
Yet come the end of the campaign, Aguero always had 28-33 goals, usually with at least 20 in the Premier League. Thus far in 2020-21, he has two, both in Europe; that they came in 257 minutes shows he still has a goal-per-minute ratio many would envy. But maybe, 17 years after his Independiente debut and 765 games into his career, he is not as robust as he was.
The regularity of his goals and the clinical nature of his finishing made it easy to take him for granted; that was just Aguero, doing what he did for expensively-compiled City teams. But he has been a phenomenon; no one else has averaged a goal every 107 minutes in the Premier League for a decade.
In a different time, Manuel Pellegrini used to describe him as the third-best player in the game. Guardiola has tended to steer clear of such suggestions. Prolific finishing finally brought a reward for a striker born in 1988 when he was widely recognised as the world’s outstanding player in 2020, but that was Robert Lewandowski, not Aguero.
For City’s greatest goalscorer and the scorer of their greatest goal, the hope must be that 2021 is better. Their diminishing goal return has offered a reminder of how invaluable Aguero’s predatory streak has been and a warning that he borders on the irreplaceable. If it is to be farewell, he deserves a more fitting one than a continuation of 2020’s problems.
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