Pep Guardiola has branded Sergio Aguero “irreplaceable” and admitted finding his successor will be his biggest challenge.
Aguero, Manchester City ’s all-time leading scorer with 244 goals from 355 games, has 18 months left on his contract and is set to leave when that expires.
The Argentina striker’s legendary status at City is already assured, with Guardiola acknowledging the club will find it hard to replace the greatest striker in their history.
“It will be one of the toughest challenges,” said Guardiola. “Sergio is irreplaceable.
“We have another incredible striker in Gabriel Jesus and maybe another one will come when Sergio leaves but he is irreplaceable.
“The most important moment of this club – more important than when this club hopefully wins the Champions League – is when Sergio scored that goal against QPR to win the club’s first league title for so many years.
“That moment is much better than four titles in one season or whatever – and he was the guy.
“Sooner or later it will happen, he’ll decide when he leaves. I’m sure the club will be ready to try to find the guy to replace him but, of course, it will not be easy.”
Guardiola has played and worked with some of the world’s finest attacking talents, including Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Romario, Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
But the City boss said Aguero, 31, as well as being one of the most gifted players he has worked with, is also the most humble, always putting the team before himself.
“I’ve never seen such a big star like him be so humble, so funny, and it’s a joy to work with him and how he accepts my decisions when it sometimes doesn’t work for him,” said Guardiola.
“Big stars don’t usually accept that. I’ve worked with other stars who believe they were bigger than Sergio when they weren’t and they were more difficult to handle and to be with.
“It’s not easy to find a guy with his status, his personality, what he’s done in his career with his humility and accepting everything perfectly.
“In the box he’s incredible but I had other guys who were not bad. Ronaldo, the Brazilian, Romario, Eto’o – he was one of the most incredible strikers I’ve seen in my life, he could do everything – and Sergio is of course one of them. Messi is a little bit higher than them but Sergio is one of them.
“He can stay (beyond his current deal) but it depends on his physical condition and desire. I haven’t spoken with him and I don’t know his intentions.
“Like with Vinnie (Kompany) who wanted to be here and then went to Belgium, like David Silva, sometimes you have to take a decision.
“But with most of the cases, the players decide. I would like Sergio to decide whether he wants more or if it’s over.”
“Now he’s still not ready for 90 minutes,” said Guardiola. “When Raheem Sterling is injured he doesn’t need any time to get fit, maybe half a day.
“Sergio needs a little bit longer for his physical condition. That’s the reality. We will give him as many minutes as possible, because we need him for the next few months and the Champions League, as we need all the players.”