The Atletico Madrid Origin Stories of the Great Strikers Part 1: Sergio Aguero

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The Atletico Madrid Origin Stories of the Great Strikers Part 1: Sergio Aguero
Associated Press
Sergio Aguero is introduced as an Atletico Madrid player

He’s inside his own half when he gets the ball, facing the touchline and with an opposition player at his back. It’s probably the right-back, but given how strung out Racing’s players are about to become, it doesn’t matter.

And so off he goes, in what will become that familiar shuttling style of his.

Short steps, head always up, not distracted by that piece of ticker tape that attaches itself to his right boot. It was closer than any defender got.

He must turn the same player inside out three times before delivering a low finish into the bottom corner to put Independiente 4-0 up.

His name is Sergio Aguero, and he is 17 years and three months old.

But this strike in September 2005 wasn’t what brought Aguero to the world’s attention.

Still plying his trade in his native Argentina, the Buenos Aires boy—who's grandparents nicknamed him "Kun" after a cartoon character—wasn’t anywhere near as famous as his good friend Lionel Messi who, a year older than Aguero, had scored his first goal for Barcelona four months prior.

One month prior to Aguero’s goal, Messi had been sent off two minutes into his senior Argentina debut. A career being overshadowed by him had begun.

And to hit the big time like Messi, Aguero needed a move to Europe; that was what propelled him to the world's attention.

BERNAT ARMANGUE/Associated Press
Aguero meets the Atletico fans

That was where Atletico Madrid, having seen him score 18 goals in his first full season in the Argentinian top flight, stepped in to make him their record signing—taking that title from Christian Vieri and Juninho, both 1997 additions—in the summer of 2006 when he was still just 17.

Signing for a reported €20 million, there was instant pressure on the young Aguero’s shoulders. Diego Maradona added to that pressure by telling Spanish TV station Cuatro (via ESPN FC) that “the fact that people haven't seen much of him in Europe means he hasn't got the exposure that Messi has had. But Aguero is just as good.”

LLUIS GENE/Getty Images
Torres and Aguero didn't often play together

And Maradona would soon turn into something of an inspiration.

As with any young Argentinian player, there were comparisons with the great man—whose youngest-player record Aguero broke when he made his debut in the Argentinian top flight aged 15, and whose daughter Gianinna the young Aguero would soon date and later marry—and those comparisons were soon impossible to ignore.

Despite coming with a record transfer fee, Atletico boss Javier Aguirre was keen to ease Aguero into the first team gently, especially as he still had Fernando Torres available to lead the line.

The teenager would usually come on as a substitute either for or to partner Torres, scoring his first goal for the club in the third league game of the season—a 4-1 win at Athletic Bilbao—before echoing Maradona’s infamous "Hand of God" goal to score the winner against Recreativo Huelva the following month.

He scored seven times in a bits-and-pieces first season, but while Aguero was improving and contributing, this wasn’t a great Atletico side.

Torres, having hauled them out of the Second Division in 2002 and then helped them stabilise in La Liga over the next five seasons, was in danger of stagnating and not reaching the obvious potential that he had.

He needed a move away, and when he left for Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool in 2007, suddenly the attention was fully on Aguero.

Still a teenager, he could have crumbled. He did the opposite.

In a breakout year for him, Aguero proved that Aguirre was right to treat him with kid gloves in his maiden season. He scored 27 times in all competitions in 2007/08, including 19 strikes in La Liga, as he finished second—in between Raul and Iker Casillas—in the inaugural Alfredo Di Stefano trophy award to decide the best players in La Liga.

Inspiring Atletico to a fourth-place finish and a return to the Champions League, his high point arrived in a 4-2 win over a title-chasing Barcelona when he scored twice—one deflected, one brilliant—while also winning a penalty and teeing up a goal for Maxi Rodriguez.

Writing about the game in the Guardian, Spanish football expert Sid Lowe rounded up some of the Spanish coverage of the game, writing:

"The Prado museum has a new work of art,” raved Luis Aznar, “and they'd better make space for more because Kun churns them out like churros.” "In 30 years, I've seen some great players at Atleti, from Hugo Sanchez, to Torres, Futre, Caminero, and Kiko," added Inako Diaz-Guerra, "but none ooze excellence like El Kun." And former Madrid coach Angel Cappa declared: "Atleti were going to a funeral but Kun took them to a party." AS, meanwhile, gave him four stars.

Out of three.

He’d arrived, then. But the crucial thing was that he never seemed to forget where he came from.

At the end of that breakout season, in an interview with the BBC, Aguero’s fondness for the way that Atleti allowed him to bed in at the club was revealed, as he recalled:

At first, I found it difficult to adapt to the style of play because the weather is different in Argentina - as is the pace of the game. I had to get a feel for the momentum here.

Here, football is very quick. When they water the pitch the ball moves fast and you slide across the field. In Argentina you touch the ball and then hold it for a bit, which allows you to have more time to look for the pass.

Also, generally in Europe it is man on man, where in Argentina one player marks you and another waits for you. The defenders here are also a lot stronger and bigger.

Most of them were behind him, though.

Now an established rising world star—and a full international to boot—if anything, Aguero’s game would evolve in the next two seasons, as he became more of a foil for prolific strike partner Diego Forlan, whose 32 league goals in 2008/09 were the most managed by a La Liga top scorer since the Brazilian icon Ronaldo for Barcelona in 1996/97.

The Uruguayan would so often be the man to finish off the chances, but Aguero was both providing them for him and scoring himself. His game was becoming more well-rounded, and he was a key player in the Europa League final victory over Fulham in 2010, which Forlan secured with two goals.

NIGEL TREBLIN/Getty Images
Aguero and Diego Forlan celebrate Forlan's winner in the 2010 Europa League final

Aguero would last one more season at Atletico, taking his goal tally for the club to 101, making him the 10th highest goalscorer in the club’s history—a feat all the more remarkable when you consider that he didn’t play for them beyond the age of 22.

The club’s fans greeted his £38.5 million departure for Manchester City in the summer of 2011 with anger at the time, largely because of the riches that Aguero was seen to be chasin. But five years on, those wounds have healed as Atletico moved onwards and upwards and he’s gone on to become the best forward in the Premier League.

City are reaping the rewards of a talent who may have been forged at Independiente but who was made in Madrid, a city where he went from a boy to a superstar.

Atletico Madrid

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