The signing of Sergio Agüero underlines Barcelona’s bad business
A great finisher, but is he finished? Seán McGill examines Sergio Agüero’s move to Barcelona and what it conveys about Barcelona’s past, and current, transfer strategy.
The fast-paced world of modern football may be turning it into a less frequent occurrence, but sometimes, even in spite of the sport’s sheer velocity, a player can slow things down enough to become simply synonymous with a certain club.
For a while at least – and more likely, for a period indefinitely longer – watching Sergio Agüero take to the field without the gold ship and the red rose of Manchester City upon his chest will feel odd.
Odd for the fans who have marvelled at his killer instinct en route to becoming the Premier League’s all-time top-scoring foreigner. Odd for Britain’s football media, who will forever call back to Agüero’s final day magic in the division’s most iconic moment.
But for Barcelona, the signing of Sergio Agüero doesn’t feel odd. In fact, it’s wholly predictable. And despite his lethality and his legacy, that isn’t a compliment paid to the Catalan club. It’s an indictment of their ability to think in the long-term, to plan for the future, to strive towards their previous glory.
Let’s get the disclaimer out the way now: Agüero could prove to be a very useful signing for Barcelona. He possesses the kind of predatory instinct that thrives no matter the occasion or location. In his 10 trophy-laden seasons in the Premier League, the Argentinian scored 20 or more league goals in six campaigns, and only notched fewer than 15 on two occasions, including this past season in which he made just 17 appearances.
There lies the first issue. Amid the goalscoring exploits and wholesome smiles, there seems to be an inevitably about an injury at some point in Agüero’s season. Only once in the last four campaigns has he started more than 25 league games, a trend only likely to worsen as the striker heads towards his mid-30s.
A challenging age for any footballer, so much so that the Barcelona hierarchy kicked club legend Luis Suárez to the curb for daring to approach the age of 34, subsequently infuriating Lionel Messi while simultaneously, unwittingly, galvanising Atlético Madrid’s charge to the La Liga title.
Many have singled out that decision as the worst transfer dealing in recent memory, but in truth, it’s just one in a litter of poor decisions made in Catalonia over the past few years. Swapping 23-year-old Arthur for 30-year-old Miralem Pjanic. Hemorrhaging €120million on Antoine Griezmann at a time he neither fit the squad nor had enough time on his side to be sold on in the future. And don’t get me started on Martin Braithwaite.
The latter aside, these are players who at one point in their careers possessed the necessary ability to don the red and blue of Barça, but much like Agüero, their primes were a thing of the past. Perhaps in another universe they went on to become heroes lauded by the Barça fans. Unfortunately, in this universe, in which many of those fans place the success of their club at its very centre, they have fallen below the side’s once scintillating standards.
Given his age and his injury history, the worry is that Agüero joins a growing list of stars who inject excitement into the support, only for the sense of dread to creep in week by week that they are witnessing another case of right player, wrong time.
Undoubtedly though, the former City marksman improves Ronald Koeman’s squad – but does he definitely start? Can he stay fit? And even if both those questions return positive answers, what happens next?
If Barcelona’s financial woes had escaped you, just a brief look at their unashamed desperation in their continuing pursuit of a European Super League despite its rapid disintegration tells the long and short of this particularly pitiful story.
While no transfer fee was needed to capture Agüero’s signature, it’s reasonable to assume one of world football’s most potent strikers of the past decade has commanded a sizeable salary from his new employers. Upon the conclusion of his two-year deal, regardless of whether his time at Camp Nou has been successful or otherwise, a return to Argentina seems the likeliest option for Kün and his family, which would leave Barcelona without a much-needed cash boost.
It seems as though free transfers will be at the forefront of La Blaugrana’s summer recruitment strategy. Eric García will embark on the same journey as Agüero, swapping Manchester for Barcelona, as the Catalans reclaim a promising young defender they previously let slip through their own youth ranks.
Meanwhile, Dutch duo Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum are both rumoured to be joining up with their former national team manager – after seeing out the end of their contracts at Lyon and Liverpool respectively – in what many would consider the prime of their careers.
On the face of it, Barça are headed for their most sensible summer spending in a long time, all while forgoing negotiations with other clubs for transfer fees. What is clear is that this is a side in desperate need of a rebuild, and for a club of Barcelona’s stature, doing so on Bosmans is unlikely to reap the desired rewards.
A necessity forced by the hands of the pandemic? Maybe. But Barcelona wouldn’t be feeling the effects of lockdown quite so brutally had it not been for their scattergun spending in years gone by.
This lack of financial and footballing acumen is epitomised by the signings of Phillipe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé, two players who arrived to much fanfare only for their performances to match up to a fraction of their near-€300m combined fee.
Had Barcelona acted more astutely in the market previously, or had they parted ways with underperforming players before their reputations became so damaged, this past year may not have dented the club’s finances to such a devastating extent.
They could have capitalised on Inter Milan’s own monetary troubles and pounced on Lautaro Martínez, a young forward with the type of technical ability that makes you think he was born to captivate Camp Nou. They could have snapped up the most promising striker in Spain, luring Alexander Isak from Real Sociedad off the back of the 21-year-old’s 17 goal season in San Sebastian. They could have been the front runners in the race to sign Erling Haaland, as the clock ticks towards his mouth-wateringly cheap (in relative terms) release clause next summer.
But instead, due to their past exorbitance and their current short-termism, they have Agüero. And that isn’t a slight on the man himself. Like many people my age, his goal to seal Manchester City’s first Premier League title – snatched in the dying moments from the hands of their city rivals – was one of the seminal moments in cementing my love for the beautiful game.
No one seemed to take Saturday’s Champions League final defeat to Chelsea quite as harshly as the club’s all-time record goalscorer, as tears of sky blue rolled down the little Argentinian’s face and onto the battle-worn pitch of Porto.
Through his talent, his dedication and, most importantly, his goals, Agüero has been integral to City’s emergence as one of Europe’s elite clubs. His next challenge is to re-establish Barcelona as just that.
Should that fail to transpire, the blame won’t be placed at the marvellously deadly feet of Sergio Agüero. It will be placed at the feet of those who continue to mishandle one of the great institutions of the sport.
At his unveiling on Monday, Agüero said “We all know Barcelona are the best club in the world.” Perhaps it’s a message worth emphasising to those in charge.