by Ben Rushworth

That might seem like a strange question when one considers that we’re discussing an unquestionably world-class striker, one leading the attack at the richest club in the world, and one who is collecting trophies on a regular basis – if, perhaps, not as regularly as the club’s owners and fans would like. But a player being “underrated” is relative; he might be lauded to the rafters but if it is less than he deserves then the term is accurate.

When discussion turns to the best player in the world, there are two that are generally held to be out ahead of the chasing pack. The goalscoring records of the Barcelona and Real Madrid talismen, Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, are staggering in their excellence and consistency. This season alone the chiselled Portuguese forward has reached twenty league goals by the end of November, in just eleven appearances.

But what of the second tier, if you like, of world footballers? Eden Hazard thinks he is “not yet” in the top five, but discussion of the other top players in the world usually focuses around the rest of Barcelona’s forward line, Neymar Jr and Luis Suárez, and Sweden’s enigmatic and charismatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man with the least Swedish name in history. It is not often that Agüero’s name is included in that discussion; I would argue, not often enough.

The diminutive Argentine joined Manchester City in 2011; a statement of intent from the club that had, arguably and with the benefit of hindsight, somewhat rushed into the Robinho signing in an attempt to prematurely take their seat at Europe’s top table. It felt more real even then – fans with only a passing interest in La Liga were aware of his prolific form at Atlético Madrid and the last striker to move from Vicente Calderon to the Premier League set the division on fire in his first seasons at Anfield. Fans of Manchester City seldom lose sight of how far the club has come in a short time – they have been bitten too often for that – but the sight of Agüero in the sky blue shirt must have hammered their rise home once again.

He scored on his debut, an accurate arrowed finish at home to Swansea City, and has gone on to score 92 goals in 139 appearances since. That’s just about a goal every 1.5 games – or, about every sixty minutes of playing time. It’s not Ronaldo’s two-goals-per-game, or Messi’s astonishing possession of the all-time La Liga and Champions’ League scoring records by the age of 27, but it’s pretty bloody good by any standards, especially if one subscribes to the generally-held view that the standard of defending is higher in the Premier League.

The very best players are capable of dragging their team through games almost single-handedly; making something happen on the field when it seems that the other players have perhaps lost their way. The charge that can perhaps be levelled at Ibrahimovic is that he goes missing in the biggest games, at least at club level, but no-one could say the same about Agüero. Like Roy Keane in Turin in 1999, he sometimes seems to get City over the line by the sheer force of his personality. The hat-trick this week against Bayern Munich is merely the latest occasion; unforgettably for every football fan, he somehow bulldozed through a tiring QPR defence in the final seconds of the 2011/12 season to win the league, and against the same opposition recently he won a lethargic City a point by himself. Ronaldo is powerful and unstoppable; Messi has flair and unrivalled ball control; but if I needed a player to score a one-on-one to save my life (in some contrived Bond villain scenario, perhaps), I’d pick Sergio Agüero. He recently said he was staying at the Etihad until the club won the Champions’ League; that may or may not happen in his career but it’s certainly a good distance more likely with him there to help.

This week Agüero was described as “Suárez without the baggage”, and I’d agree with that wholeheartedly. He’s certainly on a par with the Uruguayan controversy-magnet in terms of his ability, but he’s considerably less likely to spend a third of a season suspended for one thing or another. For me, he’s the third best player in the world, and – I believe – not recognised as such. Therefore, at least in my view, he’s criminally underrated.