Sergio Agüero arrived at Man City for the princely sum of £35m in July of 2011. It was a mighty large fee for Manchester City to pay - free-spending era or not - for what some thought to a player who may struggle to adapt to the pace and bruising physicality of the Premier League.
Agüero's La Liga goal scoring record of 68 goals in 148 games was impressive; he moved well, he had that low South American center of gravity and he had pace to burn. They were impressive physical traits and when we factored in that Agüero was just 23 at the time of his transfer to Man City some were rightly excited about the second most expensive signing in the history of English football.
Then this happened on his 31 minute league debut:
5 shots, 3 shots on target, 2 goals and a 1 assist in 31 minutes of play. It was a devastating debut full of pace and thrust. Agüero also displayed enough strength and balance to tell us that although he may have been small he was not to be easily muscled by the defensive behemoths populating the Premier League.
Agüero went on to score 8 goals in his first 5 league games (330 minutes) of 11/12. That season Agüero scored 23 league goals; the 23rd being the most famous goal the Premier League is ever likely to see. It was a punishing, brutal near-posting of the 'keeper:
(That's Boz with his hands over his face!)
Agüero's legacy as one of the great cult heroes was fully cemented after that strike but it was likely that the title winning goal was just the beginning of that legacy. Conventional wisdom tells us that Agüero, at age 26, is now likely to be fully in his prime.
Below are Agüero's league numbers to date in per90 form.
|Goals p90||Assists p90||Shots p90||SoT p90||Minutes||Sh%||Scoring%|
Agüero's goals per90 numbers are insane, save for the 12/13 season. Those tremendous goal numbers are driven by his extremely high shots and shots on target volume. If a striker is shooting over 4 times per90 and over 1.5 shots on target per 90 it is fair to talk about that player as an upper tier striker. Over 5 shots per 90 is more or less elite, as is anything over 2 shots on target per 90.
Agüero ticks many of these "elite" boxes: the shot volume is fantastic and his shooting percentages (goals/shots) are way above for 3 of his 4 seasons to date.
Agüero is an elite striker in the Premier League. Hell, he may even be the best pure striker in the world at this time. Agüero's former manager, Roberto Mancini, once said that the Argentine is a "photocopy of Romario" and that statement looks more prophetic with every passing month. Agüero has the break neck acceleration , the stocky center of gravity and the poachers instinct. And Agüero is still improving.
If we look at some of Agüero's stats on a rolling per90 basis we can trace any improvement or decline in his output.
(method: bucket 1= games 1 - 38 that Agüero could have played in - games missed to injury are included in this data fro reasons that will become clear. Bucket 2 = games 2 - 39. Bucket 3 = games 3 -40. etc. etc.)
Agüero's shots and shots on target output is increasing as his time at City wears on as is the players goals per90 output.
The last 38 games that Agüero was eligible for have seen the Argentine, on average, take 5.8 shots per90 mins, 3.1 shots on target per 90 and score 1.2 goals per90. These are simply extraordinary numbers. He is a genuinely elite talent and we may be witnessing the true peak of the best pure striker in the world right now at this moment.
Agüero's shooting% (goals/shots) has risen steadily, the scoring% (goals/SoT) has bounced around a little and the SoT% (percentage of shots that end up on target) has constantly risen over the last 4 seasons.
There is simply no real bad news in the two graphs featured above. Agüero's shot generation is the most important factor of his play, as it is for all strikers, and we can clearly see that he has gradually improved his numbers in that regard. The conversion percentages are also on the increase. It looks very much like the perfect storm for a striker: increased shot volume and improving accuracy. It's a deadly combination.
But there's just one problem with Agüero and it the most important aspect of his game: fitness.
Time On Pitch Percentage
This is Agüero 38 game rolling Time On Pitch % (Time on pitch = minutes played/ total minutes available). If a player is subbed or comes on as a substitute it will lower his time on pitch %. If a player is injured for a significant period of time it will severely damage his Time On Pitch%.
This is Agüero's Premier League career to date. It's not pretty:
That, my friends, is a line trending in a sad, oft-injured direction. Agüero's best spell of health at Man City was his first 38 league games with the club. Since that time, the Argentine has been plagued with muscle problems which stem from a myriad factors which include general lack muscle strength, overwork, lack of proper recovery time, rushed back from injury, bad luck.
Agüero's injury record and susceptibility to those pesky muscle injuries is the only black mark on an otherwise fantastic career so far at Manchester City. Agüero should have played more minutes and scored far more goals in the Premier League than he has so far.
The big question going forward for Manchester City and Agüero is can he and Manchester City initiate a training and recovery program which ensures sustained availability and fitness. Can the damn boy stay healthy and off the treatment table?
Agüero has had a stellar start to the 14/15 season and one of the most pleasing aspects of that start is the ability to stay healthy. It is an incredibly positive sign after witnessing his myriad of injury problems over the past 2 seasons. Have Agüero and the club finally fixed his injury issues? It looks promising so far, but it is mighty early to pronounce his injury issues a thing of the past.
If Agüero can stay healthy and play 70% of the minutes in the Premier League then just how far can rise up this chart below?
If he can't stay fit are we looking at another Michael Owen or Fernando Torres style career trajectory where the late 20's are a wasteland of frustrated talent trapped inside a body that can no longer respond to the sharpness of the mind?