Appreciating Daniel Agger
In an era in which almost every footballer seems to harbour ambitions of one day playing for Real Madrid or Barcelona, Daniel Agger was one of the few who bucked the trend. For most modern players, other clubs are seen as merely a step on the ladder to either of the La Liga giants. Agger, however, is not like most modern footballers; he's a complex character who values a settled and happy home life above money and trophies. The Dane had numerous opportunities to leave Anfield and was the subject of serious interest from Barcelona on more than one occasion, but he showed little or no interest in ever leaving Anfield until this summer when he found himself surplus to requirements.
It will have surprised many to see him return to his first club, Brondby, when at just 29 years of age he could still be playing in one of Europe's big leagues for a top club, but Agger was not going to leave Merseyside to go just anywhere. It had to be the right move for him and his family. He certainly had no interest in remaining in England and playing for one of Liverpool's rivals, that's for sure. The Dane appears to not be driven by ambition or financial motivation, and there are much more important things in his life than football. Some players live and breathe the game; others are not that interested in football but just happen to be rather good at it. Agger falls into the second category.
- Report: Agger returns to boyhood club Brondby
His response to the seemingly annual speculation linking him with a move to the Catalan giants was usually to shrug and say "It's up to the club." The only way he was leaving Anfield was if he were no longer wanted, and unlike some of those he has shared a dressing room with over the years, he was never tempted by "greener pastures." That's a rarity in modern football; when presented with a better offer, most players try to force this issue themselves by whatever means necessary. Compare Agger's behaviour with that of Javier Mascherano for instance, who reportedly refused to play for the Reds against Manchester City in a bid to force through a move to Barcelona.
Steve McManaman, Michael Owen, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso moved on to Real Madrid, and of course this summer Luis Suarez followed Mascherano and swapped Anfield for Camp Nou. Like it or not, most footballers see Real and Barca as the pinnacle of their profession, so I always had a lot of time for Agger, simply because he did not. He loved being at Liverpool, he settled well into life in the city, and as long as LFC wanted to keep him, he was happy to stay regardless of who wanted him. That kind of attitude will always endear a player to supporters, especially when it's allied with the kind of talent Agger has.
When Manchester City made a play for him a couple years ago, he responded by getting "YNWA" tattooed on his knuckles. At that time, Liverpool were floundering, having finished in eighth place, sacked club legend Kenny Dalglish and then appointed a rookie manager from Swansea City. Few would have blamed Agger for moving to City at that time, and I wonder how many of his teammates would have turned up their noses at a move to the reigning champions (not to mention the significant pay raise that comes with it)? Not too many, I suspect, but like I said, Agger is not like most modern footballers; he's a throwback to earlier generations, when players would stay at the same club for most of their career as long as they were happy and in the team.
Liverpool have lost financially by having to sell to Brondby for a fee much lower than the player's market value, but the truth is they had little choice. Agger wanted to return home and has taken a massive pay cut in order to do so. He was unlikely to feature much at Anfield this season, having slipped to number four in the centre-back pecking order, and ideally Liverpool would have preferred to sell to a top European side that could have paid the going rate for a player of the Dane's undoubted quality. That was not an option because Agger was not interested in signing for anybody other than Brondby. He could have returned there in his twilight years, but instead he's gone back home while he still has plenty of good football left in him. I commend him for that and wish him every success with his new/old club.
He leaves Anfield as a popular figure after almost nine years at the club and will always be assured of a warm welcome should he ever return with Brondby. He only managed to win one trophy in his time at Anfield (the 2012 Carling Cup), but he did play in a Champions League Final in 2007, when AC Milan exacted revenge on the Reds for their defeat in Istanbul two years earlier. It was Agger's goal in the second leg of the semifinal that led to a penalty shootout victory over Chelsea that secured Liverpool's place in the final, and that's the moment I'll always remember whenever I think back on Agger's time on Merseyside. The first goal he bagged was memorable, too -- a 30-yard screamer against West Ham at the Kop end.
He could have been one of the greats had he been able to steer clear of injury, but over the eight seasons he was at the club, he probably missed as many games as he played. His body, sadly, wasn't up to the demands of playing regular football, something he admitted himself when explaining his decision to leave, but whenever he was able to put a run of games together he looked a class act. He was not without his faults, of course -- he struggled to deal with the more physical strikers and was often found wanting when defending set-pieces -- but Daniel Agger was a fine footballer for Liverpool. Just as importantly, he was also a loyal servant and a stand-up guy who didn't view the Premier League and Liverpool as merely a stepping stone to the Bernabeu or Nou Camp. I just wish there were more like him. Good luck, Dan.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.