Commentary

Pep snubs Kun -- modern soccer at its worst

By Paul Gardner

Back in 2005 the word from Argentina was that maybe -- of course maybe -- a new Maradona was appearing. Independiente had a precocious 16-year-old already playing for their first team, already scoring goals.

I started to watch as many Independiente games as I could (TV, of course) -- actually I was a bit late to the party, as Sergio “Kun” Aguero had made his first team debut in 2003 as a 15-year old. Never mind -- the hype, for once, seemed totally justified. Aguero was impressive, exciting -- though he looked more like a pure goalscorer than the playmaker-scorer that was Maradona’s role. And 2005 was a good season to watch him develop as he scored 18 goals in 36 games.

One thing was absolutely certain: this boy would quickly be off to Europe. So it was -- in 2006 the 18-year-old Aguero moved to Atletico Madrid. He was there for five years, until he joined Manchester City on 2011, for a reported fee of $57 million.

The thing about goalscorers is that you can accurately track their performance. All you need to know is how many goals they’re scoring. That’s all.

This is Aguero’s record:
Independiente: 54 appearances, 23 goals
Atletico Madrid: 174 appearances, 74 goals
Manchester City: 168 appearances 113 goals

To which can be added 44 goals scored in 97 games for various Argentina national teams -- 33 of them coming in his 80 senior-team appearances.

So, 254 goals in 493 games. Slightly more than a goal every two games. And the pace has been increasing. Aguero’s 113 goals in 168 Man City games is his biggest haul yet -- it made him the second-fastest scorer of 100 goals in the English Premier League (Alan Shearer was the fastest) and his goals included the dramatic 94th minute winner against Queens Park Rangers in 2012 that won the EPL title for Man City.

The record is as remarkable as it is impregnable. It cannot be questioned. Wherever Aguero has played, at whatever level, Aguero has been a prolific scorer. In South America, in Spain, in England, for club and for country. I calculate that Aguero has played under at least a dozen different coaches and has performed spectacularly for all of them.

How is it, then, that Aguero -- at the prime soccer age of 28 -- is now to be seen more on the Man City bench than on the field?

Because there is an exception to that list of satisfied coaches: the much-vaunted Pep Guardiola, his current coach at Man City. Aguero is not injured, so why is Guardiola keeping one of the deadliest goalscorers in the modern game on the bench?

Guardiola’s coaching reputation is, of course, not to be questioned. The effectiveness of coaches, like that of goalscorers, can be measured in numbers. Not goals, but wins. And Guardiola shines brightly in that column -- almost entirely because of his success with Barcelona, where he had not only wins, he had a team with immense style. He also was fortunate enough to have the incomparable Lionel Messi, who accounted for a good deal of that superb style.

At Bayern Munich he continued his winning ways (with a team that was certainly used to winning). Bayern won the Bundesliga in all three of Guardiola’s years there. But the big prize, the UEFA Champions League, that one they did not win.

Now, in his first year in England, Guardiola has been struggling. He is being given the most gentle treatment by the English media, which excuse his team’s patchy play by pointing to player injuries (true enough) and by explaining that Guardiola needs time “getting his players to play the way he wants.”

An excuse that is worth pondering. There was a time, not all that long ago, when a new coach would be expected to work with the players he found at his new club. Maybe he’d get money to bring in one, even two, major new signings. But that was before the celebrity coaches and the super-rich owners.

The boot, so to speak is now on the other foot. The players must adapt to what the coach wants. If they don’t, they’re on the bench. Or gone, and the moneybags owner coughs up for expensive replacements.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that Guardiola doesn’t want Aguero. Maybe it really is a style thing, that Aguero is being asked to play in a way that he simply cannot accomplish. I must again gleefully recall the immortal words of Brazilian striker Elber. At Bayern, Coach Giovanni Trapattoni had his own ideas about how the forward should play. Asked what position he was now playing, Elber replied tartly and perfectly: “Defensive striker.”

Maybe that’s it, maybe Aguero cannot play the oxymoronic (or just plain moronic) defensive striker role, maybe he doesn’t do enough tracking back. Or maybe he’s a bit too experienced for Guardiola’s liking, not someone who feels he needs instruction on goalscoring. Guardiola has brought in the young Brazilian Gabriel Jesus. A much younger (he’s 19) player, and therefore much easier to convince, and it is Gabriel Jesus who is now starting instead of Aguero. Or maybe this is simply a moneyball decision to sell Aguero and make money while he’s at his best.

This past weekend, in another shaky Man City performance, Gabriel Jesus got both goals in a 2-1 win against Swansea -- though the winning goal, the easiest of tap-ins after a goalkeeper fumble, will not be making anyone’s highlight reel.

But the media’s sycophancy continues. Difficult for Aguero to get back in the team now, it seems. And Gabriel Jesus’ two goals justify Guardiola’s preferring him to Aguero. Well maybe -- though I don’t understand how people know that Man City wouldn’t have played much better with Aguero on the field -- are they sure he wouldn’t have scored four goals?

But that’s where we are with soccer coaches. And money. Between them they rule. One of the best players in the world can sit on the bench. I, and plenty of others, would like to watch Aguero in action. Forget it. Instead, we are given countless shots of Guardiola doing his idiotic Jerry Lewis imitations on the sideline, as he tries to get “players to play the way he wants.”

There’s one excuse for dropping Aguero that I haven’t mentioned. That he’s playing poorly. That may well be the case (though it never has been in the past). Well, how would he be expected to play for a coach who makes it plain that he doesn’t want him? The exciting idea that Aguero and Gabriel Jesus could be together on the field can be dismissed because it surely would not come under the heading of Guardiola “getting his players to play the way he wants.” Anyway, I mean ... two strikers? Whatever was I thinking?

(And for the cynics among you, yes, I’m quite aware that Aguero may be sulking and deliberately not performing because he -- and/or his agent -- already want out. Possibly. But I feel the mentality of the celebrity coach (think Mourinho) is at the bottom of this. With Guardiola determined to assert his authority -- and no doubt, as he sees it, his daring -- by tangling with the team’s star striker).

Aguero should not stick around while this mysterious, yet-to-be-defined Guardiola version of soccer takes shape. He should get the hell out from under Guardiola’s vision or style or system or whatever it is and find a coach who appreciates his enormous goalscoring talent and doesn’t feel obliged to meddle with it. Shouldn’t be difficult -- Aguero has had plenty such coaches in his career.

7 comments about "Pep snubs Kun -- modern soccer at its worst".
  1. R2 Dad, February 6, 2017 at 3:01 p.m.

    Hmmm. Coaches--all coaches--can be very persnickety as to how players train; the effort, the intensity, the persistence, the inconsistency. All we have to go by is what happens on match day; we don't get to see the daily training sessions. I suppose Aguero deserves the benefit of the doubt, but when you have a league full of these star managers is it fair to just point the finger at PG? Mourinho, Wenger, Klopp, Pochettino, Ranieri, Conte, Koeman--they all make decisions based on their own set of values. And now that the various flavors of pressing are popular, players are expected to run/defend more than in the past. You could make the same case for Rooney at United, Giroud at Arsenal, Sturridge at Liverpool.

  2. Allan Lindh, February 6, 2017 at 3:05 p.m.

    Right on Paul. Hope they sell him to Arsenal, where he will fit right in. And they will win the EPL. And he and his family will get to live in London.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, February 6, 2017 at 3:14 p.m.

    Going to take more than Aguero for Arsenal to win the league. Getting rid of Wenger would be a start.

  4. trebor gt replied, February 7, 2017 at 1:17 p.m.

    Concur with FPGN, he would be a huge asset to Arsenal but their problem is leadership on the field. Perhaps Kun is the guy to bring it all back.

  5. Buk Rogers, February 6, 2017 at 4:37 p.m.

    It's just two games and definitely too early to advocate for Aguero to leave City. I love Kun's game whether he scores or not and do not want to see him go. However Pep does have a track record for alienating top class players for whatever reason, in addition to winning titles. This is the one behavior he shares with Mou. I hate the fact that Pep gives guys who are proven game changers the cold shoulder. Isn't there a other way?

    On the other hand, Kun is known as a slouch in training and is also been notorious for accepting fines over turning up on time. Pep may be reacting to that, even though it's well known that good communication is key to influence others to do your bidding. He did the same to Ibra and Yaya at Barca leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

  6. Ben Myers, February 6, 2017 at 4:47 p.m.

    Pep is one of those coaches I love to hate, so full of himself. Mourinho is another. Pep had all the pieces at Barca, so Barca ran rampant over everyone. Was it the coach or the players? Pep had a great, but aging squad (Robben, Lam, Mueller) at Bayern and they could not win the Champions League for him. Now he has a less than ideal team at Man City and his ego can't pull it off. Unfortunately, his and Mourinho's supposed superiority can't pull it off.

    On the other hand, Ranieri deserves a ton of credit for the Leicester championship last year, and Klopp for cajoling Liverpool to its heights this year. Both do more with lesser players, a major accomplishment. Conte has Chelsea back at the top of its game this year. (Of course, Conte tore the heart out of Leicester, coaxing Kante to Chelsea, where he has become the heart.) I know that TV can be misleading, but these three almost always give a very positive impression of themselves toward their players.

  7. frank schoon, February 6, 2017 at 5:17 p.m.

    It is difficult to comment on the situation for no-one really knows what is going on behind the scenes and what precipitated this. Guardiola has enough experience as a coach why he is doing this. And I don't think has to do with the player stats...This column is useless

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