Is Agüero The New Henry? Zola? Cantona? Or Klinsmann?
Is Sergio Agüero the latest world star to join the Premier League, or is he in fact looking to be the first successful global signing since Tottenham Hotspur signed German World Cup winner Jürgen Klinsmann in the Premier League’s early years, way back in 1994?
This is not to say that the Premier League has not had a number of world class players, but most of these were one of the following three categories. The first is the old player, the player who arrived in England looking for that one last paycheque. This happened predominantly in the first decade of the Premier League, and apparently Chelsea signed quite a few of these. Gianluca Vialli and Ruud Gullit both signed with their best years behind them; indeed both of them had taken over the managerial reigns of the club within three years of their arrival, surely this is testament to the fact that they were both at the end of their careers? This is not to say that they did not add a touch of class and quality to the Premier League, but they were on the slide – neither of them ever played for their countries while in England, despite both winning more than 50 caps for Italy and Netherlands respectively.
The second category is that of the ‘problem player’. This is a player who has been disregarded by the rest of the footballing world. If I was writing in clichés, I’d say they were in the last chance saloon. Is Eric Cantona the best example of this type of player? Probably, despite it being nearly twenty years since he first rocked up on the steps of Old Trafford and kick-started a football revolution in Salford. Gianfranco Zola clearly was not at the end of his career, but he did not fit into a Parma side, and was possibly more famous for his red card at World Cup 1990 than he was for playing football. Even in the early years at Chelsea, he was never the star he would later become (obviously aside from his first season). I distinctly remember reading John Gregory’s autobiography, him describing watching Chelsea play VfB Stuttgart in the Cup Winner’s Cup final in 1998. A respected member of his staff could not understand why Zola was introduced as a late substitute as he would add nothing to the team (it is worth noting at this stage that Tore André Flo was preferred in this match). Zola would go on to score the winner, helping cement his status as a Chelsea, and Premier League, legend. Maybe this story says more about the level of John Gregory’s staff, but it also says much about his status in the English game at that stage.
The third and final category contains players who have much potential, but English clubs are prepared to pay large amounts to take a gamble on. Didier Drogba is a perfect example of this; Chelsea spent £24 million on a striker with just 39 top flight goals. Similarly, Cristiano Ronaldo clearly had great potential, and would go on to become the world’s best player, but it was still £12 million that was spent on an 18 year old. And, arguably Ronaldo’s main competitor for the award of best foreign player in the Premier League, Thierry Henry was very much a calculated gamble by Arsene Wenger. While he was a known quantity (when he was signed, he had made more than a century of appearances for Monaco, signed for Juventus for £10.5 million and had won the World Cup – hardly an unheralded player), he had suffered during his time in Turin and, much like his strike partner at Highbury, Dennis Bergkamp, it took a change of scenery to become the world class player he would develop in to.
For my money, there have only been three or four genuine world stars that have arrived on English shores. Obviously, the likes of Alan Shearer signed for Newcastle United when only Ronaldo rivalled him in world football, but English players tend to stay here and so can be disregarded from this discussion. As mentioned earlier, Jürgen Klinsmann was a world star, although he was on the wane. Surprisingly, given his success, the next player was probably Juan Sebastián Verón. The problem Verón had was that fans and the press expected him to influence the team going forward. It is only in recent years, with the likes of Xavi Hernández and, in England, Xabi Alonso controlling the game from deep that England has come to realise that there are different forms of midfielders. I firmly believe he was 10 years ahead of his time in England; what Manchester United would now give for a player of his quality dictating play from deep, the perfect replacement for Paul Scholes.
Similarly, Andriy Shevchenko was undoubtedly a world star – in his final season at Milan he scored 28 goals in 40 matches. I don’t think anyone foresaw him being the flop he would end up being. And, the other two players I would like to mention in this section were also both signed by Chelsea – Hernán Crespo and Michael Essien. In retrospect, Crespo’s record for Chelsea was actually surprisingly good – in the league he scored 20 goals in 33 starts and 16 substitute appearances, a record that is easily comparable to that of the early years of Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba. And Crespo was not past his best. His second against Liverpool is probably still my favourite Champions League goal final goal of all time.
So, what for Kun? Maybe it’s the pressure of the English media that put the kibosh on those players who arrived before him? He is already the fourth favourite to be leading scorer in the Premier League this season. Maybe it is most pertinent to compare him to the final world class player to arrive in England. Another South American star, moving from Madrid to Manchester, it seems, from a distance anyway, that Agüero is far better suited England than Robinho ever was. After all, the pressure from the media in England is going to be nothing compared to that of the Argentinian press considering who his father-in-law is? (By the way, how good are his children going to be? The genes of Diego Maradona mixed with those of Agüero? If I was David Bernstein I’d doing everything I could do ensure that Benjamín Agüero grows up feeling English). I wish Sergio Agüero all the best for his time in England. And if Wesley Sneijder also arrives from Inter, this could be the start of a wonderful time for the Premier League.
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