Sergio Aguero’s contract extension at Manchester City has put an end to more than two years of uncertainty and proves that he has won the complete trust of Pep Guardiola, to the extent that the Catalan rates him more highly than Harry Kane.
Given Kane’s temporary slump and Aguero’s fine form since the turn of the year, that may seem an unremarkable statement, but it should not be forgotten that Guardiola has not always been 100 per cent convinced by the Argentine’s merits.
There have been plenty of signs in recent months that Guardiola has been won round by the hard-working striker , but the striker’s new deal, which keeps him at the Etihad Stadium until 2021, does render a previously suspicious situation completely redundant.
For one thing, the official announcement of Aguero’s new deal goes several steps further than the last agreement he reached with the club; he signed a previous extension in February 2016, when Manuel Pellegrini was still in charge, but there has been no confirmation of that until this day.
The often woolly excuses offered by City in the months that followed only added to the suspicion that something was amiss, and that was not helped by the fact that Aguero himself has given contradictory answers whenever he has been asked when his deal expired – sometimes 2019, sometimes 2020.
His long-held desire to return to boyhood club Independiente also muddied the waters, with Aguero’s father even claiming that the striker was ready to return after the World Cup.
And given Guardiola held serious reservations about Aguero’s suitability and attitude when he first arrived in Manchester, there was always a genuine possibility that the star man could leave, especially when the striker and his agents met with the City boss midway through the 2016-17 season.
Indeed, sources close to Aguero insist he had to be assured of his importance to the club by City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak during a face-to-face meeting in Los Angeles last summer, and those sources believe Guardiola would have sold Aguero had Al Mubarak not vetoed it.
Guardiola had won a battle with his employers when it came to selling Joe Hart, but Aguero was another matter entirely.
Yet there was another flare-up mid-way through last season, when the striker felt promises made by Al Mubarak on behalf of Guardiola had been broken.
Within months that had been put to bed, however, and by now it is ancient history.
Aguero and Guardiola have not always seen eye-to-eye, and indeed they are hardly drinking buddies now, but that has become irrelevant due to the forward’s performances on the pitch.
Guardiola respects the strides Aguero has taken to improve his game; to meet the challenges set of him.
Since day one, the City boss has urged the striker to run more for the team, not just to press defenders but to drop deeper and become more involved in the play, linking up midfield and attack with quick passes.
He has also charged the former Atletico Madrid man with making more intelligent movements off the ball; for example, to run directly between two centre-backs in a bid to occupy both markers and create space for team-mates.
Nobody can doubt Aguero’s hard work over the past two years, least of all Guardiola, yet the Argentine has had a little bit of luck along the way; whenever he has felt most in danger of losing his place, he has benefitted from injuries to Gabriel Jesus.
The Brazilian broke a bone in his foot not long after joining the club during Guardiola’s first season, and then injured his knee midway through 2017-18, presenting Aguero with two distinct opportunities to show he can do what is demanded of him.
Guardiola preferred Jesus for much of the youngster’s first year at the club, and Aguero was even told to watch and learn from the then 19-year-old, but the senior man has taken advantage of his opportunities to such an extent that he is now seen as by far the best option to lead the attack, in any situation.
In March, a few months after Aguero’s most recent bout of discontent and following Jesus’ knee injury, Guardiola praised the striker in a way that he had rarely done up until that point.
“Since we were together here with Sergio, I think the last month, two months, is the best Sergio I have seen,” he said after City beat Chelsea.
Aguero was on 30 goals in all competitions when injury cut short his season, denying him the chance to beat his best haul for the club: 33, which he set the year before.
Put simply, Aguero has been playing the best football of his career. He is running more, creating more and scoring more than ever, to the extent that there is nobody City could feasibly sign who could do it any better – and in recent summers they had tried.
Now there is no need.
Guardiola’s reference to “the Harry Kane team” angered Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino, though for the Catalan it was merely a clumsy attempt to portray his admiration for the England striker. Publicly and privately, he rates Kane as a phenomenal player.
There were even murmurings towards the end of last season that City had asked Spurs to name their price, yet when that was put to a Guardiola confidante the response was clear: “Guardiola prefers Aguero.”
They have come a long way. And are now set to go even further together.