Aguero back scoring in Kings League, dreams of signing Messi

Sergio Aguero steps up, draws breath and buries his penalty past Iker Casillas to complete a first-half hat trick. No, you have not been transported back to a 2010 derby between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid; this is the latest round of fixtures in the Kings League, Gerard Pique's seven-a-side league played in a warehouse on an industrial estate near the airport in Barcelona.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

It is where former Atletico, Manchester City and Argentina striker Aguero, president of Kunisports, one of the 12 teams in the competition, is rediscovering his love of scoring goals.

Aguero was forced to retire prematurely in 2021 at the age of 33, just months after joining Barcelona, due to a heart condition. Tears rolled down his face as he said goodbye to the game that had provided him with so much joy -- including that moment against QPR in 2012 when City won their first Premier League title -- but he has had plenty to smile about since.

He may not have been playing in Qatar, but he was a prominent face in Argentina's celebrations as they won a third World Cup last year. He was then in Istanbul last weekend to witness his former teammates at City clinch the Champions League for the first time in their history.

The following day, he was in Barcelona, scoring twice in a 4-3 win for Kunisports to earn himself the Player of the Week award.

On Sunday, he was back at the Cupra Arena again, grinning from ear to ear as he netted a stunning hat trick against his old foe Casillas in a match which has drawn more than 3 million views on streaming site Twitch and was broadcast on free-to-air television in Spain.

Aguero was still smiling 20 minutes later when he missed a penalty against Casillas, who is also the president of a team but was making his debut as a player, as Kunisports beat 1K on penalties after a 4-4 draw.

"It's different to how I experienced the game as a professional," Aguero told ESPN. "It's more about having fun and entertaining people. There are the novelty cards and we put on a bit of a show to entertain. It's very different to traditional football."

The novelty side of the competition has evolved since the league launched in January. In addition to teams being dealt one card before the match -- featuring "jokers" such as penalties or sinbins for opponents -- a massive dice is now rolled in the 18th minute of the first half (games are two halves of 20 minutes) and whatever number it lands on is how many players compete for the final two minutes. It could be anything from 1 vs. 1 to 6 vs. 6.

"The 1 vs. 1 with a goalkeeper, so I guess 2 vs. 2, is really good," Aguero added. "That's probably one of the parts of the format I most enjoy."

Aguero would say that after making a mockery of the Ultimate Mostoles defenders last weekend.

Goals in the final two minutes of the second half, meanwhile, count double. It means a two-goal lead really can be the most dangerous advantage in the game.

Not all former professionals have taken to the format like Aguero, mind. At 35, he is one of the youngest to have been involved, but appearances from Ronaldinho, Andrea Pirlo and, on Sunday, Andriy Shevchenko have flattered to deceive. Former Ukraine striker Shevchenko was even responsible for Ultimate Mostoles' defeat this weekend, missing the vital penalty in the shootout, drawing flashbacks to his failure in the 2005 Champions League final for AC Milan against Liverpool in Istanbul.

"Firstly, it is to do with fitness," Aguero said when asked if the level -- most players are semi-professional or amateur players in the Catalan league system -- has caught some of those big stars out. "When you are used to training every day, playing and then you stop, you lose that fitness. But we still have that quality and technique. The biggest difficulty is getting used to the size of pitch. We are used to bigger pitches and more spaces. This one is much smaller."

That has not been a problem for the explosive Aguero, though, who is able to play recreationally despite his heart condition, wearing a chip to monitor his heart which he joked makes him feel like Ironman.

It would unlikely be a problem for one of Aguero's closest friends, Lionel Messi, either. The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner was recently on the lookout for a new club after running down his contract with Paris Saint-Germain. He has since announced his intention to join Inter Miami. Why not Kunisports?

"We haven't spoken about it," Aguero laughed. "I think it's a little complicated at the moment with the schedule, but I hope one day he can play for us.

"Many stars have played and more want to come. We've seen Chicharito [Javier Hernandez], Ronaldinho, Pirlo, Shevchenko and Casillas play for some of the other teams. There are a lot of players keen [to represent Kunisports], but obviously with the timing and the distances involved, it's not been possible for a lot of them, but there are many ex-players interested in playing. It's just a case of finding the dates."

The 12 teams are competing for a place in the Final Four, which will be played at Atletico Madrid's Civitas Metropolitano stadium in July, alongside the Queens League finals, the equivalent competition for women. More than 90,000 fans filled Spotify Camp Nou for the previous finals in March.

"We are part of this project with Geri [Pique] and we are doing everything we can to keep it growing," Aguero said. "I am really enjoying myself."