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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
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

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices