Aguero 178: Guardiola's tough love leaves City's record man reaching for the stars
Record scorer Sergio Aguero's hero status with Manchester City fans is secure - he must now settle where he ranks in the Messi-Ronaldo era.
Napoli managed to avoid conceding to Sergio Aguero when they faced Manchester City in the Champions League in 2011, but no one escapes he's lethal qualities for long.
The Argentina star scored his landmark 178th in City colours inside the Stadio San Paolo cauldron and an insatiable appetite for goalscoring should bring 200 into view soon enough, with Eric Brook's now-broken club record set to disappear into the distance.
There was a time when the all-time mark set by 1930s hero Brook appeared safe for posterity, as City lurched from self-styled tragicomedy to inevitable farce during the 1980s, 1990s and the early part of this century.
Sheikh Mansour's weighty chequebook was supposed to end all that, but the old bumbling tendencies of what former manager Joe Royle dubbed "Cityitis" appeared as dark clouds on a bold new horizon when the moment of destiny arrived on May 13, 2012. Their star striker was having none of it. He will always be defined by goal 30.
Aguero - or "AGUEROOOOOOO" to give him his maniacally embossed name from the famous television commentary – hitting a fearless injury-time winner against QPR to win City's first league title for 44 years, at the expense of rivals Manchester United, is the stuff of modern football and sporting folklore. Victory snatched, chewed up, from the jaws of defeat - City having plonked it in that prohibitive mouth in the first place.
For a generation of long-suffering supporters used to serving as the butt of United's jokes, Aguero spared them from a punchline they would never live down. It's not just that he won it for them; it's how he won it, who he denied and the manner in which he denied them. He is their ultimate champion.
It is tempting to wonder how this unimpeachable status impacted upon Aguero in the five seasons between that heady afternoon and his record-breaking strike on Wednesday, while it makes his relationship with Pep Guardiola all the more intriguing.
Guardiola is not a man beholden to sentiment or reputations amassed at City. Just ask Joe Hart and Yaya Toure.
Although Aguero was never in line to be culled or exiled like his fellow crowd favourites, a Champions League hat-trick against Borussia Monchengladbach last September and a brace to sink Swansea City less than two weeks later were each followed by Guardiola jarringly urging him to improve his all-round game.
City's previous manager, Manuel Pellegrini, declared Aguero to be "the best player in the world" outside of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But here was the mentor of his great friend and compatriot issuing a challenge to do more, despite a run of 11 goals in six matches at that time.
The challenges have not stopped since. Gabriel Jesus' seamless adaptation to life in Manchester relegated Aguero to the bench earlier this year and City's fruitless pursuit of Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez had obvious and uncomfortable implications for the Buenos Aires marksman.
Despite Guardiola's regular insistence that Aguero was not for sale, it indicated a decline in the player's status during the most recent transfer window when he was mentioned only in dispatches.
Elsewhere, fees spiralled for the next generation. Neymar and Kylian Mbappe were the men realistically vying for the status Pellegrini once granted to his premier attacker.
Since City last won the Premier League in 2013-14, Aguero has outscored Antoine Griezmann and Neymar in terms of top-flight goals. His elite credentials are beyond doubt, yet there is a sense the contemporary of Messi who took LaLiga by storm as a teenager slipped a little too easily back into the pack.
200 – Sergio Aguero has scored his 200th goal in European top-flight matches. Machine. pic.twitter.com/PtZtoSHRDN— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 16, 2017
For all their respective qualities, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic and Wilfried Bony could never challenge Aguero's status as City's number one. Jesus did just that in the space of a month.
Aguero might have looked for a way out but, to his immense credit, the man identified by City sources as the most low-maintenance superstar of their current era knuckled down.
Jesus suffering a broken metatarsal at Bournemouth in February gave a centre-forward in his prime years the chance to impress Guardiola all over again. He pressed, he harried, he became more involved in what his manager likes to call "the process". Praise flowed more freely from Guardiola and, of course, he scored goals.
"He will die scoring goals," Guardiola said as he lauded the Brook-hunting Aguero last month. Competing alongside the footballing immortals Messi and Ronaldo, the City striker must now determine where history places him in their era.
When Wayne Rooney claimed Bobby Charlton's club record at United last season, it felt like a final and deserved flourish for a great player on the decline. It is different for Aguero, his milestone a mere staging post as he spearheads a swashbuckling collective designed to bludgeon opponents. In the side Benjamin Mendy dubs the "Shark Team", he is the still razor-sharp teeth.
Five years on, the Aguero Moment has lost none of its lustre, but its eponymous hero has the chance to bolster the body of work for which it will always be the cover page. Aguero's lofty reputation with City's once embattled faithful can never be tarnished; outside Manchester it remains, goal by inevitable goal, up for grabs.<script></script>