Sergio Agüero scored three goals in Manchester City’s 6-0 evisceration of Chelsea on Sunday. He was the team’s best player on the day, just as he has been all season long and indeed for the duration of his eight record-breaking seasons in the Premier League. For as routine as the Argentine hitman has made scoring insane amounts of goals look—his three yesterday made him City’s all-time leading scorer in league play, and the hat trick was his EPL record-tying 11th—his goals and the performances accompanying them are anything but average, and it’s time to call this somehow underrated genius what he is: the greatest goalscorer the Premier League has ever seen.
Agüero’s first goal on Sunday was the Citizen’s second and was a textbook laser beam the Argentine striker blasted in after just 13 minutes that really kicked off the rout.
For his second, Agüero showed off his preternatural sense of where to be at all times, a sense that led him right in front of goal as Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley inexplicably headed the ball back towards his own net from the top of the box to gift Agüero the easiest of chances.
Agüero would go on to add a 56th minute penalty to cap a day that was historic in two ways. The day’s three goals brought his total tally to 160 in the league for Manchester City, topping the previous City record (158) set by Eric Brook and Tommy Johnson in the early part of the 20th century. They also added up to Agüero’s 11th Premier League hat trick, equaling the record set by Alan Shearer. And it was the latest point of evidence for Sergio Agüero’s status as the league’s all-time finest scorer of goals.
The numbers are plain to see and mind-bobbling to comprehend: 229 games, 160 goals, five 20-goal seasons (with a sixth surely coming this season; he already has 17 goals to sit atop the scoring leaderboard), and those 11 hat tricks. Unlike a good amount of foreign products, Agüero came in bombarding from the start; he scored 23 goals in his debut season back in 2011-2012 and never looked back.
Agüero has his critics, and the flaws they point to are for the most part valid—though the mountain of goals he’s piled up serve as a solid riposte to anyone who would deny his greatness. Agüero is inarguably brittle; he’s played 30 or fewer games in four of his seven previous seasons in the Premier League. (For what it’s worth, he is on pace to eclipse that number this year if nothing goes wrong.)
He has a history of failing to show up in the biggest moments against the biggest teams. Agüero has never done much in the Champions League, has been a great disappointment internationally with Argentina, and traditionally isn’t known for showing against teams of similar quality in the league. The first two points are fair, though the last one at least seems to no longer be the case; after yesterday’s hat trick, he now has 42 goals in 63 appearances against Chelsea, Arsenal (whom he also put three past in a single game earlier this mont), Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool.
He is also relatively single-minded. Agüero is a scorer and a scorer only, and lacks the all-encompassing skill set of someone like Thierry Henry. This lack of an all-around game looked like it would threaten his City career when manager Pep Guardiola came in a few years ago with his Total Football-inspired style of play that demanded passing and movement and pressing from every player on the pitch. The Agüero-Guardiola fit didn’t seem the most natural, and Guardiola said as much in his first season back in 2017, when Agüero was scoring but not contributing much else:
It is not enough to receive the ball from his team-mates. [Agüero] has to help us in the first pressure and run a lot and help us a lot with movement … You cannot be brilliant when you disappear when you [don’t] have the ball. It is impossible. Football is a connection between what you have with the ball and without the ball.
In reality, though, Guadiola has had to accommodate Agüero more than the other way around. That the sheer force of his will for goals has won over the most expansive-playing coach of them all is maybe the strongest testament to his unique brand of greatness. Agüero doesn’t actually pass or tackle or intercept any more now under Guardiola than he ever did. Yet he’s still right there where he’s always been, the crude and critical battering ram atop a sophisticated and artfully constructed weapon of destruction, arguably the least aesthetically inspiring but most impossible to replace piece of them all.
And then, there’s The Moment. Even if Agüero never scores another goal in England, he will always be remembered for authoring possibly the greatest moment not only in Premier League history, but of the last decade of world soccer. I’m talking, of course, about the “AgüeroooOHHHHHHH” goal (starts at 4:38 in the video below):
Strictly on the field, it’s a pure Agüero strike: he receives the ball in the box, stutters to fake out a defender and clear more room, then blasts the ball into the net where no one could save it. But in its broader context, it’s exponentially more special: not only did it win the 2012 Premier League title from hated in-city rivals Manchester United, and not only did it cap a furious stoppage time comeback for City, but it also lifted 44 years of domestic failure for the Sky Blues, giving them their first league title since 1968. It’s a perfect distillation of what soccer can mean in the moment, when the game transcends its flaws (the corruption, modern slavery, unfair financial advantages, etc.) and becomes something pure and affecting and amazing.
It’s unfair to denigrate Shearer, Henry, or any of the other greats of the Premier League era, just because they did not have a similar moment. (France fans would argue Henry’s moment was the handball-assisted goal that got them into the 2010 World Cup.) The Premier League’s 27-year history has featured some of the best goalscorers the world has ever seen run through its ranks, and this conversation probably wouldn’t have mattered if Cristiano Ronaldo hadn’t left Manchester United in 2009.
And it’s not like Agüero is the best overall player the league has ever seen; Henry was easily the better and more complete player, and there are other stars that can make a stronger a case for the title of Best Premier League Player Ever. When it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net, though, and doing it year after year after year after year, there has never been anyone better than Agüero. There are many things Sergio Agüero isn’t, but he is that. And with performances like yesterday’s, he’s doing what he needs to for people to finally come out and say it.