Sergio Aguero has held on to what few forms of security he can find across the course of a challenging eight months, from which only now does he appear to be emerging with the old swagger and verve.
The Manchester City striker’s agent, Bruno Satin, is not one of those who vanishes from the picture when a player is assailed with unexpected troubles – in Aguero’s case, the split from his wife, Giannina Maradona, at the turn of the year. There are plenty around City who wish that Mario Balotelli had had the kind of steadfast representation Satin has delivered. But the field of play has brought Aguero his share of troubles too, contributing to his most challenging season since his breakthrough year of 2010-11 at Atletico Madrid.
There was the ankle injury the 24-year-old sustained at Southampton in the first Premier League game of the season, knocking him out of his stride and keeping him out of the picture for a month. And when he finally made his return, there was his discovery that those players on whose fizzing interplay he always relies in his roving, predatory role were just not what they had been in the autumn of 2012. The goals have come – 15 now, after the header (a rare Aguero specimen) sealed City’s progress to the FA Cup final – but he believed after watching Balotelli dominate last summer’s European Championship that a player he has always profited from – Aguero and Balotelli were partners in last season’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford – would help him retain the giddy heights. Not so. Neither has Edin Dzeko been a powerful foil.
The “what ifs” are unmissable, when you talk to City’s players about the transformative effect of the last week – first, sweet victory at Manchester United and then Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Chelsea at Wembley. “You have to remember that we have a great team, a strong squad, that is capable of fighting to win more trophies. We could have done better,” Aguero said.
He will countenance no discussion of how, minus Europe, fewer games make a player fresher and it is clear that he wants to be in the thick of everything now the light nights are here. “Sometimes it’s better to have played more games, because it gives you greater playing rhythm,” he says.
So many Manchester City players have discovered in the past week what has been curiously missing for much of the season. Yaya Touré, odds-on to perform well on Wembley’s vast pitch, was a giant again on Sunday, and even Samir Nasri continued his own mini-renaissance after a difficult season.
“I wasn’t here when we won the FA Cup two years ago,” Nasri said after Sunday’s semi-final. “I have won the Premier League and the Community Shield with City, now there is only one I have missed – and I want to win it!” However, the Frenchman still looked like a man with the world on his shoulders in the post-match mixed zone. Sunday’s goal was his first since 24 October – that’s five months and 20 games without one. This summer gives him grounds for anxiety, when City will surely seek more dangerous players for his type of role.
The next significant target, after a rehearsal for the FA Cup final with Wigan Athletic’s arrival for tomorrow night’s Premier League tie, is a victory at White Hart Lane on Sunday which would see off beyond all doubt Tottenham Hotspur’s challenge for second spot. City’s hold on it at the moment is already very fragile.
“It gives us a chance to get a bit further away from [Spurs] and to be a bit calmer for the last few dates of the season,” Aguero said. Micah Richards, whose knee injury has destroyed a season in which he has played no part since October, will be in the squad for tomorrow’s match. David Silva, who has been carrying a hamstring injury, is likely to be saved for Tottenham at the weekend.
Aguero’s double-footed challenge on Chelsea’s David Luiz was, as expected, the source of no retrospective action from the Football Association yesterday because the referee, Chris Foy, had seen the Argentine piling into the Brazilian (left). Retrospective red cards can only be issued if the official has not seen the incident. It was a curious moment, not typical of Aguero, who seemed to have gone in with intent, to judge by the stare he gave Luiz in the aftermath of the challenge.
But it is something familiar and fine which has been restored in the player for now, with those around him back operating to the optimum. “It’s crucial that we try to win something every year, whether that’s a cup or the league,” Aguero reflected. “This year we cannot win the league. We are too far away. But this is an important cup in England, for the club, and for everyone.”