With the initials of You’ll Never Walk Alone inked across his knuckles, you can’t question Daniel Agger’s commitment to the cause.
Despite Liverpool being without Champions League football for the last four seasons and a list of well-paying suitors ranging from Barcelona to Manchester City, the Reds vice-captain has remained ever-loyal to Anfield; rumours linking him away in summer 2012 instigated the self-tattooed YNWA on his right hand.
But there is little room for sentimentality in the beautiful game, and in truth, Agger’s influence on Merseyside has been waning for some time. With the Catalans and former club Brondby both reportedly preparing £12million bids for the Danish international, and a direct replacement already sourced in £20million signing Dejan Lovren, should Liverpool finally cash-in on their nine-year servant?
I’ll admit early on that I’m not Daniel Agger’s biggest fan. His strong bond with the Liverpool fan base can often blur opinions on Merseyside. Brendan Rodgers isn’t his most avid supporter either; injuries played a factor, but despite handing the 29 year-old the vice-captaincy at the start of the 2013/14 campaign, Agger went on to make just 16 Premier League starts – that’s only one less than the error prone Kolo Toure and one more than Premier League novice Mamadou Sakho. There must be an underlying reason for that and not simply fitness concerns.
Agger has been with the Reds since 2006 and the benefits of that continuity, especially at the heart of defence, cannot be understated. Yet, the ball-playing, goal-scoring centre-back of heralded worldly standard that netted a 40 yard long-ranger against Blackburn just a matter of months into his Anfield career is not the player the 29 year-old has since become.
Rather than offering the cultured comfort on the ball of a Barcelona variety continental defender, his 89% pass completion rate and average of 32 forward passes per match were bettered by both Sakho and Skrtel last season, who eventually emerged as Brendan Rodgers’ favoured partnership. Likewise, the latter statistic was also trumped by new signing Dejan Lovren, who averaged 40 forward passes per match at Southampton. Those long-range strikes too, haven’t been a regular part of Agger’s game since the 2006/07 campaign.
Not that passing or netting prowess should now become the litmus test of all Liverpool defenders. Indeed, quality and consistency on the ball is vital to Rodgers’ progressive philosophy and ball-playing centre-backs have become a recurring trend in the Premier League and yonder in recent years.
But defensively too, there are notable holes in Agger’s game. The Liverpool gaffer felt compelled to sub him off on the hour-mark against Swansea last season, later revealing that he felt the Denmark skipper lacked the physicality to effectively handle Wilfried Bony. That in itself, considering Agger has spent nine seasons in the Premier League, is incredibly telling and interesting enough, Mark Lawrenson once described him as possessing the body of an office worker.
Similarly, despite the defender’s impressive reading of the game, his concentration levels leave a lot to be desired. On the opening day of last season, an air-shotted clearance resulted in a handball and subsequent penalty for Stoke City. And there have been countless occasions where poor marking from Agger at set pieces – despite it being one of his primary tasks as a centre-back – has cost Liverpool vital goals.
The lack of strength and serial inability to mark effectively suggest intrinsic flaws. No centre-back in world football is perfect, but those weaknesses over the course of an entire season could well be the difference between Liverpool qualifying for the Champions League and finishing in fifth. Equally as worryingly, in terms of interceptions, clearances, blocks, and tackles won per match, Agger was bettered by at least two of Skrtel, Sakho, Lovren and Toure in each category last season.
Of course, the statistics don’t tell everything. John Terry averaged less than one tackle per match last season but was undisputedly one of the Premier League’s most impressive defenders.
That being said, Agger’s curtailing over the last few seasons cannot be ignored, and the recent signing of Dejan Lovren suggests, even if the Danish international were to survive the summer on Merseyside, his departure would soon become an inevitability.
Due to his Premier League experience and proficient form last term, Martin Skrtel is expected to start regularly again next season, but the end-game for Brendan Rodgers in terms of centre-back pairings remains fusing Lovren and Sakho together – two centre-halves who keep with his progressive theme perfectly and cost the Red’ a collective £38million. Following closely behind are Toure, Sebastian Coates and the highly-rated Tiago Ilori, so depth at the heart of defence won’t be a problem for Liverpool next season, even without Agger and the added burdens of Champions League football.
His experience and connection with the club would still be a huge loss at Anfield, there is no disputing that. But in the modern era of Financial Fair Play, every footballer has their price. Barcelona and Brondby are both allegedly prepared to pay around £12million for Agger – hardly a modest sum for a defender becoming less vital to the Liverpool starting Xi by the game.
Amid a summer window in which Liverpool’s inward spending is set to far exceed the £100million mark, letting the Dane leave for new horizons feels in the best interests for all parties involved.