It is one of the most iconic images of the Premier League era. Sergio Aguero, shirtless and overcome by unbridled joy, wheeling away in celebration after scoring against Queens Park Rangers on the final day of the 2011/12 season.
His dramatic injury-time goal had stolen the title from the grasp of arch-rivals Manchester United. That historic moment ensured he would be forever revered as a folk hero at the Etihad Stadium.
Five years later, Aguero has become Manchester City’s all-time record scorer and he surpassed the 1oo-goal barrier on home turf with a double in the 4-0 thrashing of lowly Bournemouth.
It was another reminder of his predatory instinct. Regardless of the quality of the opposition, Aguero’s ability to find the back of the net on a consistent basis remains unquestionable.
But the appointment of Pep Guardiola as manager in the summer of 2016 changed the dynamic for the Argentinian. For the first time in his City career, he has had to fight for his place in the starting line-up.
The arrival of Gabriel Jesus in the subsequent January transfer window provided extra competition. Jesus was Guardiola’s man and, despite suffering a metatarsal injury, he became first choice. That theme has continued this season, with the Brazilian being preferred for the crunch games.
On occasion, Aguero has been unable to hide his feelings. He threw his gloves to the ground after being substituted against Tottenham Hotspur in a demonstrable show of frustration. Nonetheless, he remains a team player and, when called upon, has contributed to City’s remarkable success.
Despite his limited game-time, Aguero has 12 Premier League goals to his name this season, which makes him the joint leading scorer at City alongside the rejuvenated Raheem Sterling.
Those dozen strikes have come from only 14 appearances, at one every 92 minutes. That ratio sets him apart from any other striker in England’s top-flight and, incidentally, is considerably better than Jesus, his main rival for the striking berth at City.
Publicly, Guardiola has been effusive in his praise of Aguero and sympathetic to his current role. This was the case after the thrashing of Bournemouth, where he described him as a ‘legend’. But there remains a strong suspicion that, should the club’s valuation be met, the former Atletico Madrid hitman will be allowed to leave the Etihad.
Many would consider Guardiola mad to countenance such a decision. After all, this is a Golden Boot winner of the highest pedigree. However, the City manager is famously single-minded. His ruthless axing of fans’ favourite and England keeper Joe Hart proved no player is safe from being jettisoned.
And this is Aguero’s biggest problem. For all his prowess in front of goal, he is not a typical Guardiola striker. He is a predator in the box and performs that role with distinction.
But the Catalan demands more than just goals. He demands his main striker to pull defenders out of position with clever runs, creating space for the attacking midfielders to swamp.
At most clubs in Europe, Aguero would be the first name on the team-sheet. However, at City, he is having to play second fiddle to Jesus. Despite his deep affinity to Manchester City, it appears increasingly likely the 29-year-old will leave the club in the summer.
In Guardiola’s insatiable pursuit of perfection, there is no room for sentiment. Although Aguero remains a goalscoring machine, he may become the Catalan’s next victim.