As rumours continue to circulate that Daniel Agger will be the subject of a £22m (or thereabouts) bid from Manchester City, the new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is faced with his first truly difficult decision regarding the Reds’ first team squad.
Does he try to convince the club’s finest defender to stay on Merseyside? Does he cash in whilst Agger is at his maximum value in order to fund team rebuilding? Or would Rodgers be selling an injury prone player whose fitness can’t be relied upon? As with most things in football, there are currently more questions than answers.
Whether you believe in the idea that a player can be ‘injury prone’ or not, there’s no escaping that Daniel Agger has suffered a lot of fitness issues in his career; indeed, even before joining Liverpool, the Dane had missed the final three months of his time with Brondby due to injury.
In his six full seasons at Anfield, Agger has only started 101 out of a possible 228 league matches (44%), and never more than 24 in one season. With an injury record including breaks to metatarsals, ribs and hands, as well as groin and calf strains, it is impossible to assume that Agger will take part in enough games to have the defence built around him.
At Swansea last season, Rodgers played Ashley Williams (a ball playing centre-back with great passing ability, much like Agger) in all but one of their games, and rotated his other defenders. He can’t expect to do the same with Agger, based on his familiarity with the Melwood treatment room.
But when he can drag his tattooed body onto the pitch, what a player the Dane is, both for Liverpool and his national side.
At Euro 2012, Agger made more interceptions per game (seven) than any other player, and the second most in total (by just one) to Daniele De Rossi, despite only playing three games to the Italian’s six. Similarly, Agger registered 59 in the Premier League last season, which was the most interceptions by any Liverpool player.
It’s this ability to anticipate and break up opposition attacks that is key to how important Agger is to the Reds. He frequently wins the ball back in classy fashion, enabling him to move forward into midfield with the ball at his feet, and push the whole team towards the final third of the pitch.
It is also proven how Liverpool’s opponents score far less regularly when the Dane is on the pitch; Agger finished the 2010/11 season on a personal run of 624 minutes without conceding a goal in all competitions for the Reds.
In fact, for the whole of Kenny Dalglish’s second reign as manager, Liverpool conceded just 26 goals in the 3,505 minutes that Agger played. That equates to a goal against every 135 minutes, which is every game-and-a-half in other words.
It’s understandable that other clubs are therefore interested in Agger. With Liverpool probably unlikely to finish in the top four in Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge, and with the Dane turning 28 in December, it’s understandable that he would make admiring glances at clubs who play in the Champions League, and pay larger wages as a result.
But could he bring himself to leave Liverpool?
If Agger were to depart Anfield for the Etihad Stadium (or indeed any other Premier League ground), it would represent quite an about-turn from the Dane. Following Fernando Torres’ defection to Chelsea in 2011, Agger told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet:
“It is unacceptable to play for one of Liverpool’s arch rivals. For a Dane, it’s about having respect for the club you play at. I am proud to be able to pull on my Liverpool jersey and will never go to another club in England. I would never go to Manchester United or Everton, for example. It’s about a form of respect for the club”.
Of course, Agger would be neither the first nor the last footballer to do something different to what he had previously said he would if he left, but he certainly nailed his colours to the Anfield mast just eighteen months ago.
So if he were to go, where would that leave the Reds?
In fairness, they have a would-be replacement at the club already in Sebastian Coates. He was the young player of the tournament as Uruguay won the 2011 Copa America, and is comfortable on the ball and capable of goal of the season contenders much like Agger is. Interestingly, the two players played the joint lowest proportion of their passes backward in the Liverpool squad last season, at just 6%; proof that they are both always looking to go forward.
However, as Coates is young and still inexperienced in Premier League terms, the Liverpool faithful would have to expect some mistakes, and therefore opposition goals, as he beds in, which would be far less likely to happen with Agger in the backline.
As I said at the start, this isn’t an easy decision for Rodgers to make. Personally, I’d do my best to keep Agger at the club, and hope that more money and competing at a higher level (for now at least) don’t turn his head. He’ll be missed if he goes, but only for around half of the time on the pitch, and half of the time by the medical staff. Stick or twist, Brendan?
Statistics were sourced from EPLIndex and WhoScored.. Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here. You can follow me on Twitter here. This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 8th August 2012.