Sport Soccer

Sunday 24 September 2017

Aguero reaping rewards of Pellegrini's 'tough love'

'I'm delighted to hear him say that I am behind only Messi and Ronaldo,' says Argentinian as he climbs to new heights with rejuvenated City

Sergio Aguero
Sergio Aguero
Manuel Pellegrini

Mark Ogden

IT was when Manuel Pellegrini declared that Sergio Aguero is the third best player in the world that the Argentinian's position as Manchester City's golden boy became unarguable.

The forward was one of the few players to escape the sharp tongue of the ultra-critical Roberto Mancini during the Italian's spell as manager, and under his successor the compliments have repeatedly rained down.

"He does praise me, yes, but don't think he does not criticise me too,"Aguero said as he reflected on Pellegrini's assessment.

"He can be tough, and he will criticise when he has to. He will tell it as it is when you need to be told.

"Like during the Southampton game recently, he thought I was getting too over-excited when I was trying to finish chances.

"He wanted me to calm down when I have a scoring opportunity. He also wants me to come back and defend more on occasions."

The grin on Aguero's face as he recalled being told to track back more by Pellegrini  suggested that the City manager may have his work cut out.

But there is little doubt that the pair's relationship is strong.

Aguero's decision to sign a contract extension last May, less than a fortnight after Mancini's departure, coincided with Pellegrini's emergence as the leading candidate to replace him and hinted at the dressing-room disharmony during the Italian's final months in charge.

But while the former Atletico Madrid forward insists he had no axe to grind with the previous City manager, he admits that Pellegrini's "tough love" approach is now getting the best out of him.

"Every manager has their own way of going about things and their own way of thinking, not just tactically, but how they are and how they carry themselves," Aguero said.

"With Manuel, he talks to me a lot and he is always demanding that I give even more of myself out on the field.

"He wants me to make sacrifices and give 100pc at all times, so he works us really hard.

"Under the previous manager, we had talks and got on well, but with Manuel, he gives you more confidence and he is pushing me in a good way.

"So I'm obviously delighted to hear him say that I am behind only Messi and Ronaldo right now.

"You're always very happy when you hear your manager speak highly of you, but now it's down to me to back that up every time I go on to the pitch in every game.

"It's really high praise. To be mentioned in the same breath as those two guys is great. It's an extra incentive for me to prove every time I play that I can be compared to those guys."

Since arriving at City from Atletico in July 2011, Aguero has scored 65 goals in 107 appearances and has this season surpassed Francis Lee as the club's all-time leading goalscorer in Europe.

The most iconic goal of his City career, and one which stands out as perhaps the most memorable of the Premier League era, remains his stoppage-time winner against Queens Park Rangers which secured the league title in May 2012.

But Aguero admits that the goal, timed at 93 minutes and 20 seconds, almost did not happen because of a split-second urge to win a penalty instead.

"It's funny because many people, my parents, friends and team-mates, have told me that I need to go down more," Aguero said.

"My reaction, though, is that it would be an automatic yellow because I am really bad at it!

"But my characteristics and style of play mean that I will carry on and stay on my feet as much as possible.

"If I fall, I will get up again and go after the ball, but that is just the way I am.

"Against QPR, the first thought that came into my head when I received the ball was that I had been caught on my heel and ankle.

"I thought about going down, but because I have this fear about not being a very good diver, I stayed on my feet.

"It was a split-second thought to go down for a penalty, because it definitely was one, but I stayed on my feet and scored, so it was the right decision."

Aguero's partnership with Alvaro Negredo this season has generated 30 goals so far and the pair take on Premier League leaders Arsenal as the most prolific attacking duo in the country -- four goals ahead of Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

And while Aguero says that nobody can compare with Messi, his Argentina strike partner, he insists that Negredo has few equals.

"We have a good partnership and things are going very well," Aguero said.

"Yes, it helps that we get on well off the pitch too, but it is an understanding that has developed really, really quickly.

"It only takes a split second to communicate with each other in Spanish. We talk to each other in Spanish so we can understand each other better because of the language, that helps.

"But Alvaro and Messi are two totally different players. Alvaro is more of a box player.

"He holds the ball up well, turns well and brings other players. He has a great shot on him and he scores goals too, but Leo is a different class because he is the best player in the world.

"Alvaro is my team-mate and I obviously rate him very highly, but Messi is a different story altogether.

"He is more nimble and quick and he will play a pass in to you. Basically, Argentina equals Messi. He is the national team."

So is there any chance of Messi being persuaded to swap Barcelona for City to take their international partnership into the club arena?

"With Argentina, we have big chats and we all get together quite often on international trips," Aguero said.

"Whether it is (Ezequiel) Lavezzi telling us about PSG, (Gonzalo) Higuain about Napoli or Messi about Barcelona, we all talk about what is going on at our own clubs.

"Messi hasn't asked me particularly about City, but yes, we do all talk about our own clubs because we are keen to know what is going on.

"But of course I say that here (City) is the best and that they should all come and sign."

City face Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium this lunchtime six points adrift of Arsene Wenger's side having failed to translate their impeccable home form -- seven wins from seven -- into enough victories on their travels.

A win today will move Pellegrini's team to within reach of top spot, however, and Aguero insists that City will be in contention to regain the title in the closing weeks of the campaign.

"At the start of the season, you have teams in your sights and those would have been Chelsea and Manchester United," Aguero said.

"Chelsea are still there, but you also have Liverpool and Arsenal now. "I don't think many would have expected Liverpool to be up there.

"Chelsea will still be there, but we just have to be ourselves and concentrate on picking up the points.

"We have a very good squad, though, and the team is strong enough to be battling it out at the end for the league." (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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