When Robinho signed for Manchester City on September 1st, 2008, it was supposed to be the dawning of a new, all conquering era. Their takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group made them rich in the blink of an eye and, with comparatively little financial competition at the time, there was a feeling that their ascension to the summit of both English and European football would be rapid after the hastily agreed deal for the Brazilian was completed under Chelsea’s nose.
So quickly was said transfer rubber-stamped, just hours after the new owners made themselves known, that Robinho himself was left confused by events. On international duty, he told reporters how happy he was to swap Real Madrid for Stamford Bridge, only to correct himself when prompted by the floor. That set the tone for his entire stay at City; Robinho was a statement signing, the equivalent to a party political broadcast, there to show what was possible.
Beyond his talent, there had been very little thought into why signing him was a good idea, with regards his adaptation to England and the Premier League, and whether he could step up and lead from the front. Robinho’s own perception of things couldn’t develop either; everything happened so quickly, there was no time for any substance. His performances were flaky at best; he was brilliant in home games but often drifted and went missing away. It soon became clear that he wasn’t the man to kickstart the journey to a dynasty; City had to put the hard yards in.
Over the next few years, there was a more considered approach to signings. ‘Proven’ Premier League imports like Craig Bellamy and Shay Given were added to by the cream of the available crop; Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor catapulted City into Champions League before some key additions from the continent, namely David Silva and Yaya Toure, completed the job. With Roberto Mancini, who replaced the man who inherited the new ownership and welcomed Robinho to the club, Mark Hughes, at the helm, there was a feeling that something was brewing.
Key to the Italian’s early impact at Eastlands — the most common name for the Etihad Stadium prior to the change for sponsorship reasons — was quickly discarding of Robinho. City were no longer show-ponies simply flashing their riches. As talented as their squad had become by the summer, none of the additions came with the fanfare the very first received, mostly likely by design.
City still needed to reach the next level, and the time had come to make a statement again. They took their time, thought it through, and eventually returned to Madrid to poach one of the Spanish capital’s key players again. Only this time, they diverted to the Vicente Calderón instead of the Santiago Bernabéu and captured Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid for £35million. Like Robinho, the Argentine had his admirers, particularly in West London but his impact in Manchester would signal the Abu Dhabi project reaching the next stage.
It was instant. Off the bench against newly-promoted Swansea City, Aguero scored twice in a 4-0 victory on the opening night of the 2011/12 campaign. He would end that year with his 23rd league goal; the most important in his career and Manchester City’s history. Having trailed neighbours Manchester United by eight points just weeks earlier, City found themselves needing to beat Queens Park Rangers to win their first Premier League title. In stoppage time, they were 2-1 down until Edin Dzeko levelled but that wouldn’t be enough with United having secured victory at Sunderland. It was fitting that Aguero stepped up, kept his nerve as QPR defenders desperately tried to stop him in the area and finished to commence an explosion of joy never seen again since.
Aguero has not only become the poster boy for the current era at City, the role originally earmarked for Robinho, but he has staked his claim for their greatest ever player. Due a testimonial, he is their all time top goalscorer, while also cementing himself as the most prolific foreign striker in Premier League history. There is very little he hasn’t done — other than win the Champions League — and he deserves recognition of the highest order.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that he will get that. Injuries have plagued his season — more so than any other, despite causing him problems throughout his career — and Pep Guardiola has been unable to rely on him as a result.
Their relationship appeared rocky when Guardiola first arrived five years ago. However, the situation is now dictated more by Aguero’s fitness than anything else, with his contract running out this summer and City suggesting he must prove himself in order to win a renewal. Despite his current availability, Guardiola is utilising a system which doesn’t require a focal point so, as judgement day approaches, it feels like the most intense of club/player relationships is ending with a whimper.
It stands to reason that City need Aguero to demonstrate he can still perform at the required level before maintaining his services. Guardiola has resisted making a big splash in the transfer market on a striker, primarily because he has one of the best on his books already but, at 32 years of age with the current injury issues adding to those that have gone before, there is no guarantee that he can retain that form. With Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland heavily linked, City may need to make a tough call.
That would allow a number of clubs to pounce. Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain have been heavily linked with Aguero, and he certainly wouldn’t be short of offers. It isn’t that he could leave City which feels uneasy per se, but rather the fact that he has been very much on the periphery for quite some time. Romanticism is a myth, especially in football; things don’t end perfectly, but it would be a huge shame if Aguero leaves City through the back door.
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