Sergio Aguero undervalued by Pep Guardiola: Neil Humphreys
Comparisons with fellow Argentine Messi take away from Manchester City striker's greatness
Pep Guardiola has a bizarre vocal tic. He thinks of Sergio Aguero, but he says Lionel Messi.
The Manchester City manager was at it again yesterday, hailing his record-breaking striker while reminiscing about the love that got away.
Guardiola is a serial offender in this regard.
Check old interviews. When he's been asked to praise his unstoppable goal machine, he blurts out Messi's name, like an entertaining strain of Tourette's syndrome involving international strikers.
The ill-timed comparison always seems unfair.
After another stunning Aguero show, Guardiola heralded the performance in the way a newlywed might applaud her husband's efforts in the bedroom while reminding him that he will never be a patch on her ex.
It is unclear why Guardiola drags Messi into conversations that discuss Aguero's goalscoring pedigree, but it is a pertinent reflection of their relationship.
At 31, Aguero still seems to be judged on what he is not, rather than what he is - the best foreign striker in English Premier League history.
His hat-trick in City's 6-1 rout of Aston Villa saw him leapfrog Thierry Henry to occupy fourth place in the all-time top scorer's standings.
Only Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney and Andy Cole have scored more than the Argentine's 177 goals.
His 12th treble took him past Shearer to claim the most hat-tricks in EPL history.
In response, Guardiola's tribute had to be unequivocal, but it wasn't, not quite.
He was blessed to be working with Aguero, he said, but Messi remains the greatest.
In stating the obvious, Guardiola understated Aguero's incalculable value to City, which dates back to the last-minute winner against Queens Park Rangers to win the club's first EPL title in 2012.
He's been scoring ever since. He's interested in little else.
The diminutive striker streamlined the art of poaching and took it way beyond the conventional fox in the box.
Aguero would kill the fox to rule in the box.
That unique blend of arrogance and selfishness make him the kind of flawless poacher that even Liverpool do not have.
He has found the net 249 times for City and yet, even now, there's a vague sense that being a dependable goalscorer is not quite enough for Guardiola.
Sniffing around second balls and feasting on scraps seem almost uncouth for the Spanish purist, like a chef turning his nose up at a chicken nugget.
They both fill a hole, but isn't there a more palatable way to get the job done?
In fact, poor Aguero seems to have been leaving City practically every season since Guardiola's arrival in 2016.
One of Guardiola's first signings was Gabriel Jesus, essentially anointing the young Brazilian as the heir apparent.
Jesus was supposedly more refined in possession, a forward comfortable with his back to goal or drifting out wide to keep those passing patterns in rotation.
But Jesus has spent three years replacing Aguero and is arguably no closer now than the day he joined.
Aguero just keeps on scoring.
Guardiola rotated the Argentine, dropped him occasionally and undoubtedly improved his game along the way.
He may be less selfish now, but is not overly fussed.
KEEPS ON SCORING
Aguero just keeps on scoring.
In fact, he's outscored everyone else of his EPL generation since he signed for City in 2011, and still the focus has often been on the strengths he did not have.
He did not drop back like Wayne Rooney. He was not as rugged as Diego Costa.
He lacks the greyhound-like acceleration of Jamie Vardy.
He does not link play as effectively as Roberto Firmino or provide assists like Sadio Mane or waltz like the Egyptian Mohamed Salah.
But none of them score as consistently and as voraciously as the little Argentine.
If anything, Aguero is a striker slightly out of step with the game's current fashions.
Thanks to Guardiola and Juergen Klopp's tactical innovations, the EPL has evolved into something faster, prettier and more captivating.
And in the middle of all that beauty stands a stocky South American, snapping at centre-backs' ankles and smacking strikes past traumatised goalkeepers.
Obviously, Aguero is not Messi, but he rarely misses either.
He has not missed 177 times in the EPL, winning four league titles along the way.
And he's not done yet.
Rather than be measured against Messi in a pointless "apples and oranges" exercise, Aguero should be afforded the respect that the most complete striker in English football deserves.
If Guardiola still laments his inability to find another maestro like Messi, he should get used to it.
He will never find another finisher like Aguero either.