Frank Lampard revealed a lot about Sergio Aguero earlier this week when lifting the lid on the Manchester City forward’s reputation for earning fines at the Etihad Stadium as a result of his relaxed approach to training.
According to Lampard, who spent the 2014-15 season on loan at City prior to completing his move from Chelsea to New York City FC, Aguero would think nothing of turning up late for training, regardless of the financial penalties his tardiness would bring.
“He just didn’t care,” Lampard said. “He was so laid-back, he would just stroll out to the training pitch five minutes late and the coaches would say, ‘right, you’re fined.’ Sergio would say, ‘Ok, no problem. Wait until the weekend, I’ll score a hat trick and everyone will be happy.'”
Aguero is not alone in treating training as a hindrance rather than a help when it comes to preparations for the weekend. His fellow Argentine Carlos Tevez was regarded by his Manchester United teammates as being the worst trainer they had seen during his two seasons at Old Trafford but, like Aguero, he would come alive when it mattered most — on the pitch, in the heat of battle, when Premier League points were at stake.
Having been suspended for almost a month following his red card against Chelsea at the beginning of December, one can only imagine what Aguero’s performances on the training pitch were like during his four-game suspension, but City’s talisman will finally be back in action at the weekend when Pep Guardiola’s team visit Liverpool and his return should send an ominous warning to the club’s title rivals.
Since arriving at City from Atletico Madrid in a bargain £38 million transfer in the summer of 2011, Aguero has been out on his own as the most lethal striker in the Premier League.
Many have come and gone during that time, flickering brightly before fading away, but Aguero’s class has been constant. He has always delivered for City when it matters most, never more so than the 94th minute winner against QPR in May 2012 which secured the Premier League title for Roberto Mancini’s side.
Ask any Premier League manager who they would choose if they could sign just one rival player and the majority would plump for Aguero because he is the ultimate game-changer, the man most capable of turning defeat into victory in the blink of an eye.
But having missed seven games of this season already due to two suspensions for violent conduct, Aguero now has a point to prove, starting at Anfield on New Year’s Eve.
With Aguero scoring 16 goals in 19 games this season, Guardiola could justifiably ask where his team would be in the table had his No. 1 forward not been suspended for three games for elbowing West Ham’s Winston Reid and then four more for his wild lunge at Chelsea’s David Luiz.
Despite everything the striker has accomplished at the club already, there is a sense that Guardiola has wiped Aguero’s slate clean following his arrival as manager and, at times, the Argentine has given the impression that he is not wholly enamoured by the treatment at the hands of his new boss.
Being dropped to the bench against Barcelona was a low-point, with Guardiola’s repeated calls for Aguero to work harder prompting the player to accuse the Spaniard of being “picky about everything.”
But while Guardiola has not shied away from the tough love approach with Aguero, he knows well enough that the forward holds the key to City’s title prospects. The seven-point gap to Chelsea is worrying, but not unbridgeable, and Aguero’s goals are the most potent weapon in City’s armoury.
Chelsea’s Diego Costa has shown the importance of having a proven goal scorer to pierce opposition defences with goals at crucial moments in games. Liverpool have goals throughout the team, as do Arsenal, but neither has an Aguero and, despite Costa’s impressive form this season, the City forward remains the standard for all to aspire to.
With Brazilian sensation Gabriel Jesus joining City in January, Guardiola suddenly has fearsome firepower at his disposal for the second half of the season. And he will need it, with City continuing to look unconvincing at the back and captain Vincent Kompany seemingly perennially blighted by injury problems.
Guardiola has made mistakes this season — choosing Claudio Bravo ahead of Joe Hart in goal; failing to sufficiently strengthen his defensive options; taking too long to find a way to counter opponents who have worked out how to play against his City team — but in Aguero, he has a player who can paper over the cracks with his goals.
The pair have had their ups and downs, and they may both still harbour doubts about each other’s approach and mindset, but Guardiola has seen firsthand how Lionel Messi was able to lift Barcelona to another level with his match-winning contributions during his time in charge at Nou Camp.
Aguero is Manchester City’s Messi, the player with the ability to win a game from nothing, and he could yet be the man who drags his team past their rivals and to another Premier League title this season.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_