James Lawton: Can Aguero transform City the way Maradona lifted Napoli? Yes, and it's already happening

Mancini is right about the difficulty of reworking quickly the mentality of a big football team

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The Independent Football

What was Sergio Aguero supposed to say when asked if he can work the same kind of transforming magic for Manchester City his father-in-law Diego achieved for Naples, another historically underachieving team wearing blue shirts? With even less aptitude than Fabio Capello for the routine English platitude, he was obliged to say, pretty much, yes.

He was quite right too because it is already happening.

Aguero has done more than inject a beautifully sharp talent into the play of his new club – and strike up a potentially sublime playing relationship with the hugely gifted but previously too often exasperated David Silva.

He is doing precisely what his father-in-law did and so far without so much as a hint that he is carrying anything in his baggage to put the city's police force, tax inspectors, paternity lawyers, drug dealers and all-round underworld hustlers on full alert.

Maradona's existence in Naples, as it did largely before and after, lurched between heaven and hell on an almost daily basis but there was the same constant implicit in all that his son-in-law has pulled off in just four Premier League games.

It was the overwhelming evidence that however carefully a team is assembled, however extravagant the outlay on playing resources, it must await the vital catalyst of a player supremely confident in his ability to influence the course of events.

It means that as the Champions League cavalcade this week reclaims its gaudy place in our lives, surely nothing is more compelling than the question of Aguero's ability to extend his astonishing impact to the highest level of club football when Maradona's old Napoli team step out at Etihad stadium tomorrow tonight.

The Italians, under the clever prompting of their midfield playmaker Marek Hamsik, will no doubt ask quite a few more questions than Aguero's principal Premier League victims, Swansea City and Wigan Athletic, but on current evidence it is hard to imagine they will do a whole lot better. It may be absurd that some are already mentioning City, before their first Champions League game, in the same breath as Barcelona, but if this reaction is particularly exaggerated you would still have to be residing on another planet not be drawn into some measurement of City's progress since the landfall of the young Argentine.

It is dramatic enough, certainly, to persuade some hard-headed critics that if Manchester United have brilliantly met the challenge handed down to them by Barça last spring, if their football has regained a life and vigour and youthful optimism that has been consistently breathtaking, it is the football of their neighbours which has been the more stunning in its balance and easy penetration.

So far the teams have been performing a hand-to-hand battle for attention that makes Arsenal's appearance at Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea's hosting of Bayer Leverkusen tonight seem like the merest canapés before the main course of tomorrow's City-Napoli and United's visit to one of their most atmospheric battlegrounds, Benfica's Estado da Luz. Some say it is a little early to make such judgements but you have to suspect they can't have been watching too carefully.

Of course, it could well be that after a less than arresting start, Andre Villas-Boas is in the process of making something of what is left of the old Chelsea powerhouse and, who knows, Arsène Wenger may find some redemption in his desperate pickings at the transfer window.

However, for the moment, reality (at least that part of it represented by the bookmakers) says that the Premier League is a two-horse race with United 11-10 to retain their title and City 2-1 to play their way to the top of the English establishment. Interestingly, Chelsea (at 9-1) are still considered one point stronger than City to lift the Champions League, with United third favourites (at 13-2) behind Barça and Real Madrid.

What the numbers don't describe is the profundity of the change Aguero, from the moment he stepped on to the field as a second-half substitute, has brought to the way we have to look at City. United, it is true, have been remarkable but we knew at the end of last season that Wayne Rooney was stirring to some degree and that Javier Hernandez was emerging as a striker of sensational possibilities, but what couldn't be imagined, even as recently as the Community Shield game at Wembley, was that one player might influence such change in City.

Naturally, Roberto Mancini's every instinct is to urge caution, though tactically such emphasis has to be part of his City past, considering the attacking options that now yell to him every time he comes to pick his team. "Let's see what happens in May if we are still playing in the Champions League," he declares, "and if we are in contention in the Premier League. It is still early for us. One year is not enough to change the mentality."

No one appears to have mentioned this to Aguero or his irrepressible work-mate Silva. It might be argued that relating the early work of the former to the impact of Maradona was both premature and ejaculatory but then it made a degree more sense if you happened to be in Naples when his father-in-law was inducing delirium, when they were flying the club colours to the rim of Vesuvius and even the most sophisticated restaurants were colouring the pasta blue.

What Maradona did is what Aguero has been doing since he ran on to the field for City that first time and played with a passion and a freedom that suggested whatever else life brought to him he would always have his football – and the kind of challenge that he faced now.

Mancini is right about the difficulty of reworking quickly the mentality of a big football team. But then so much depends on the kind of players you have. In Sergio Aguero he may just have one who has the power to change everything. So, yes, it was a good question – and the best possible answer.

It's Williams who should be checking where she is at

On the day when America had such little difficulty in enlisting the sympathy of the world, Serena Williams said something particularly offensive in her angst-ridden diatribe against umpire Eva Asderaki.

She said that the official had plainly forgotten where she was. "It's America, the last time I checked," said the winner of 13 Grand Slams and various Olympic medals.

Later she excused herself for all utterances, including a highly personalised response to Asderaki's enforcement of the rule against distracting shouts before an opponent has the chance to hit the ball, because she was "in the zone".

That was once a place where Serena and her sister Venus regularly demonstrated that in their country it didn't matter where you came from, and however difficult your circumstances, you could fight your way to the top. Now it is a zone that seems to represent something quite different, inevitably maybe when a champion forgets how it was and how she came to be.

Youngs finally has winning moment

It is impossible to overstate the value of Ben Youngs' contribution to England's face-saving rally against Argentina.

He put a little life, a degree of boldness, into a performance that reeked of failed confidence and ambition. Not so long ago some of us believed that Youngs (below) was the great hope of English rugby, a player of both superior talent and competitive character – a notion sabotaged by loss of form and injury.

It is encouraging to hang on to the possibility that we might just have been right. Similarly, the Welsh, who performed so much better than the more fancied English, will be hoping that in the second decade of the 21st century, and helped by a battery of cameras, World Cup officials will in future more routinely add successful penalty kicks to the score.