Sergio Aguero: The antithesis of Balotelli

The sublime Sergio Aguero emerged from poverty and dirt pitches but possesses the class the Italian lacks, says Ian Herbert

Sergio Aguero's vocabulary was instructive yesterday, when he got around to discussing the striker whose latest conduct suggests that Umbro will require new supplies of its "Why is it always me?" T-shirts, which initially sold out in one afternoon. "Es un buen pibe," Aguero said of Mario Balotelli. "Un buen pibe..."

There is no direct translation of this term – neither "kid" nor "boy" quite defines a noun which is wrapped up in the mythology of Argentinian football. Pibe describes the kid who has risen up from the dirt pitches to achieve greatness.

It was the Argentinian journalist Borocoto who wrote in El Grafico in 1928 that if the country wanted to erect a statue to its footballing spirit, it should depict "a pibe with a dirty face, a mane of hair rebelling against the comb; with the intelligent, roving, trickster and persuasive eyes and a sparkling gaze. [A] mouth full of small teeth that might be worn down by eating yesterday's bread."

The point of all this was that Aguero, and not Balotelli, is the one who has carried this heroic tradition into the Etihad Stadium. Pibe was attached to him almost as much as "El Kun" – the name of his grandparents' favourite Japanese cartoon character – when he burst on to the scene in Buenos Aires, because he had arrived out of the dust. His childhood, in a villa misera in Quilmes, north of the Argentinian capital, did not resemble the destitution of Carlos Tevez's early years in Fuerta Apache but it was certainly written through with poverty. Balotelli's story, past and present, is a different one.

Whether Aguero was attaching him to the same tradition as himself, or simply employing a piece of slang as a term of endearment, is unclear. But the Italian has not fought his way from destitution and nor is he heading beyond brief moments of high impact to Aguero's realms of greatness.

Psychoanalysis is a treacherous enterprise where Balotelli is concerned, though it is tempting to ask whether Aguero's very different approach to his work is born of knowing of the squalor that lies beyond football's gilded cage. The bread would certainly not have been stale in the lower-middle-class home of Francesco Balotelli, a former warehouse manager, and his wife Silvia, a trained nurse and indefatigable foster-mother, who raised the future Manchester City footballer from the age of four.

The backgrounds may tell us something, even though Lionel Messi, the middle-class boy with neat hair from Rosario, deconstructs the notion that genius is always born of struggle.

The curious aspect of Balotelli's struggle to evolve from boy to man is that he, just like Aguero, was blessed with the stable family life which modern elite clubs like City consider so important to a player's conduct that they detail it in the 50-page dossiers compiled before a player is signed. His mother, the diminutive Silvia, is the one who pops up in Manchester to keep an eye on him. Her presence hardly resembles that of the Aguero clan – of whom seven siblings and the parents will decamp for months at a time, with the player's redoubtable wife, Giannina Maradona, also on hand. But she is the one who can sit him down and make him focus.

The very fact that Aguero, who is a mere two years older than Balotelli, still discusses Balotelli as a "kid" tells us something about the light years between the two, in terms of maturity.

"He's a young lad, he takes care of himself and gets on with his own business, approaches his life as he wants," Aguero said of his team-mate yesterday. "I'm a bit of a family guy; a homebird. I like spending time with my wife and my son. I love my work, do my shift. That's what's important to me, showing my respect for City by doing my work. Everyone has their own path. But those of us who are really close to Mario know that off the field he's a really good lad. Like a lot of players he has his own idiosyncrasies here and there. You know him as a player – what you see on the field. But I know he's a lovely lad."

Logic suggests that Aguero might yearn for a bit of space at times – a night at the local with half a lemonade and the phone switched off – because to go with that clan there are also the duties attached to being the son-in-law of God. On Sunday morning, Diego Maradona was in touch, checking City's kick-off time, and there was a congratulatory text expected when the player got home. "Normally before and after a game he's always in touch," Aguero said.

This is a long way from the chaotic life of Balotelli, though the one upside of a juvenile outlook is that there is no time to fret about penalties – and the Italian certainly never misses. "I did check with him first and said, 'I'll take it – are you sure you want it?'" Aguero said of Balotelli's "pause" kick which sealed Sunday's 3-2 win against Tottenham. "He said, 'Yeah, I'm 100 per cent sure', so it was fine for him to take it."

James Milner yesterday also spoke of Balotelli's welcome ability to deflect attention. "You can always rely on Mario to set some fireworks off to get the headlines," said midfielder Milner. "The rest of us can just quietly keep going about our business." Looking to tomorrow night's Carling Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool, Aguero revealed a childhood hero from that club whose stability foretold his own.

"I was not so much a fan but one of the players who was my idol when I was a lad was Michael Owen," he said. "He was quite small and had an eye for goal, just like me. When Liverpool were winning trophies, I was looking out for them because Owen was doing well. It's ever since he scored against Argentina in '98. I cursed him pretty badly for scoring that. But getting that goal didn't stop me from admiring him. He's a top player and a goal against Argentina doesn't stop me thinking that."

Will Balotelli ever catch some of the constancy of Aguero, el pibe? The view from Italy is a resounding "No."

Yesterday, Corriere della Sera reported: "Il solito Balotelli: gol e polemiche." "The usual Balotelli – goals and controversy".

Fixtures: next five

City's next five fixtures

Everton (a) 31 January

Fulham (h) 4 February

Aston Villa (a) 12 February

Blackburn (h) 25 February

Bolton (a) 3 March


United's next five fixtures

Stoke (h) 31 January

Chelsea (a) 5 February

Liverpool (h) 11 February

Norwich (a) 26 February

Tottenham (a) 4 March


Suggested Topics
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements