Sergio Aguero has always been an automatic starter at Manchester City.
The idea that the Argentina international, when fit, wouldn't feature in one of Roberto Mancini or Manuel Pellegrini's teams was unthinkable, such was the striker's influence on matches.
Aguero was the go-to man when the club needed a goal, the epitome of the type of player any Premier League side would want leading the line. He could find the net from range while being a poacher in the box, touch the ball three times in a game and walk off with a hat trick. He was clinical.
The relationship between Pep Guardiola and Aguero has always seemed odd. Ever since Guardiola took the reigns at City, there's been speculation that the Argentina striker doesn't fit the new manager's plans.
Guardiola wants more than a striker who simply puts the ball in the net, even one who does it as often as Aguero. His strike record for City is phenomenal -- he's the second-quickest footballer to 100 Premier League goals, behind only Alan Shearer, and with 154 goals he's third in the club's all-time scorers list after just five seasons and some regular injuries. In the Premier League, Aguero has scored almost double what anyone else has for City.
But Guardiola has never questioned his finishing. Earlier in the season, after Aguero had scored a brace in City's 3-1 win at Swansea, the manager said that he was "so happy for him," but "he knows that I want more."
The coach doesn't just want a striker who scores goals. He wants someone who is willing to put in the hard graft -- someone to come deep and get involved in the build-up play, causing problems with his movement, chasing lost causes and putting pressure on opponents to win the ball or force a bad pass.
Aguero has proven he can do it. It certainly isn't his natural game or what he's used to doing, but it isn't alien to him either. Perhaps his best performance of the season was the 3-1 win over Barcelona in the Champions League, and he didn't find the net in that game.
Yet for spells this campaign, Aguero has looked frustrated. He has been suspended for seven games since August after swinging an elbow at West Ham's Winston Reid in his side's 3-1 victory and diving in knee-high on Chelsea's David Luiz in a 3-1 loss.
The arrival of Gabriel Jesus and the Brazil international's ease at settling into the team can't have helped matters. At the beginning of the season, few would have expected even Guardiola to leave a fully fit Aguero out for three matches running. Of course, one was an FA Cup tie with a partly rotated squad, but the other two were Premier League fixtures where he'd normally be a nailed-on starter.
The speculation isn't going to go away. After Sunday's 2-1 victory over Swansea -- a game in which Aguero played only seven minutes from the bench and where his new rival for the centre-forward role scored both of the goals -- the Argentina striker said that he has three months "to help the team as much as I can ... We'll see what the club wants to do with me."
He made it clear that he has no intentions of leaving and wants to stay and fight for his place. The club, meanwhile, also showed they have no desire to sell the striker, who still has three years left on his contract, and Guardiola says he's still very much in his plans, too.
But you can guarantee that will be the end of this. Given how well Jesus has played in his three starts for the club so far, Guardiola isn't likely to drop him for the trip to Bournemouth next Monday. Nor will he be inclined to move him out wide to make room for Aguero, so the latter may remain on the bench.
While all parties suggest that no transfer is imminent, it certainly wouldn't be the biggest shock in the world if this were to be Aguero's final campaign in Manchester. Could the next three months effectively be a trial to see if the striker can play to the manager's style more often?
The idea that there's not room for both Aguero and Jesus in City's squad is balderdash. The club has been over-reliant on the Argentina international for years, after Alvaro Negredo went off the boil, Edin Dzeko was moved on and Wilfried Bony proved a failure.
City began 2016-17 with two senior strikers, so they won't be in a hurry to move one on. Being benched for two -- and potentially a few more -- matches should be the inspiration Aguero needs. Not even the best striker in the Premier League is an automatic starter these days, and it'll either fire him up to be better or prove to be the beginning of the end of his time with City.