By Shubhankar Arun
BU News Service
Joleon Lescott won the header off the throw-in, directing the ball toward Nigel-De Jong. The defensive midfielder, not the quickest player on the pitch, turned and ran, unopposed from deep in his own half. The Etihad Stadium roared for him to release the ball, as the Dutchman took what seemed like an eternity to weigh his options. He played a neat ball into Sergio Aguero, not the worst option.
The Argentine, epitomizing the urgency of the situation, took two swift touches to get the ball to Mario Balotelli on the edge of the box. Back turned to goal, Balotelli held off the defender behind him to lay the ball off for the onrushing Aguero. He took the ball in his stride, drove past the lunging Nedum Onuoha and shot.
The 55,097 people in the Etihad that evening, and the millions watching on their television screen held their breath. The ball flashed past Paddy Kenny, going wide for a goal kick, crushing Manchester City’s dream of a title since 1968.
This is the script of every Manchester United fan’s dream.
With the current Premier League title effectively wrapped up three months in advance, the mind wanders to the 2012 season, the closest title race in the history of the league. Among the Premier League’s most iconic moments, Aguero’s stoppage time winner to clinch City the title in 2012 arguably tops the list.
A team winning their first ever Premier League on goal difference? Almost unheard of.
Scoring with the last kick of the season to snatch the title from under the nose of their fiercest rivals? Priceless.
Down by a goal to the relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers, Manchester City needed two goals to claim the title. Edin Dzeko squared things up in the first minute of stoppage time to tee up the most dramatic four minutes in Premier League history. The clock read 93:20 as Aguero broke through the QPR defense to send City fans into bedlam.
It’s a number City fans will never forget. In 2015, the stadium opened an executive lounge in the Etihad Stadium called 93:20, with commentary from the Sky Sports telecast of the game posted on the walls. 93:20 is the name of the popular independent Man City podcast, and the club itself released a four-part documentary titled the same.
But seven years later, it is tempting to wonder how it might have all turned out if Aguero’s heroics had been a figment of City fans’ imagination. What if he hadn’t scored that goal?
Sometimes, the only cure for a deep wound is radical action. The prospect of City going after a certain Portuguese player in Madrid at the time would’ve been tantalizing. Hiring José Mourinho would be a clear statement of City’s ambition and would do wonders to lift morale after heartbreak. Coming off a La Liga title and having seen off the challenge of Pep Guardiola’s Barca, the timing would be ripe for a return to England.
The toughest thing about losing isn’t the loss itself, but the realization of starting over. The realization of going back to square one: Back to the tactics board, back to pre-season running, back to tricky away fixtures on cold, rainy nights.
Keeping a squad together after adversity is no easy feat. Think of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool in 2014 — out of the 15-man squad selected for the infamous Chelsea game at Anfield, only two players remained in the Champions League’s winning squad five years later.
Brad Pitt without “Fight Club,” the Beatles without “Hey Jude,” Picasso without the Guernica, Paris without the Eiffel Tower. That’s how Aguero would be without 93:20 — still magnificent, but incomplete.
Would City have been able to bounce back? Of course, they had far too much quality and money not to. It would only be a matter of time — but how long would it take to erase the scars?
Football’s a funny game. A team can buy all the best players, hire the smartest manager and employ all the right tactics, but sometimes it still won’t be enough. Sometimes you need that little bit of extra magic. Thankfully for Manchester City, on that sun-kissed afternoon of May 13, 2012, Aguero had it.