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Feb 12, 2009

Agger saga adding to Liverpool woes

From the outside, you have to wonder what is going on at Liverpool. The best chance in years for the club to mount a serious title challenge, and there seems to be a new story erupting every day about some kind of unhappiness at Anfield. And, it must be said, the latest tale of woe is of the club's own doing.

The decision not to renew Daniel Agger's contract is bizarre and appears to be the product of an ongoing ''tug of war'' between Rafa Benitez and the Liverpool owners. The defender is evidently annoyed by the delays, as well as his lack of playing time and, after been linked with a move to AC Milan in the transfer window, looks set to move once he can buy out his contract in the summer.

Having played with three centre-backs against Portsmouth in a 3-4-2-1 formation, Benitez appears to value defensive strength (although he has yet to find a solution to the club's full-back problems) and has done well to recruit such depth in that position.

However, having already been critical of the club's top brass for ''acting too slowly'' in the contract negotiations, Benitez seems unwilling to play the defender, preferring instead to use him as a pawn in the fight for dominance at Anfield.

The boss appears to be saying, 'if you won't give him a new contract, then I won't play him' and has started the Dane in just ten of the club's 25 Premier League games this season - with most of those coming when Martin Skrtel suffered a cruciate knee injury in October.

But the Agger/Skrtel partnership is the future of the Liverpool defence. Yes, the Dane has looked a little suspect aerially, but there is no doubt that he has the quality to succeed in the Premier League.

Strong, fast, and even capable of rasping a left-foot shot from outside the area, Agger will continue to improve and it is laughable that Benitez appears to value the contributions of the ageing Sami Hyypia above the 24-year-old.

Hyypia has experience, but Agger is the future and should be allowed the chance to cement his place in the side. If he can't displace the Carragher/Skrtel axis for the time being then there is certainly an argument to switch him to left-back, as they cannot continue to rely on Andrea Dossena or Fabio Aurelio in that position.

Agger has shown a propensity to charge up the pitch from the back, so may be a wing-back role might suit him; but if he does decide to leave then there will be a number of top clubs interested in him.

The player has been quoted as saying he is ''happy'' at the club and the latest talk of an ''ultimatum'' may be blowing things slightly out of proportion, but what is clear is that the continuing saga is dragging on too long and gives the critics more ammunition to fire in the direction of Liverpool's faltering title challenge.

Playing issues aside, the delay over Agger's contract may also have ramifications in the dressing room. Dirk Kuyt, Alvaro Arbeloa and Emiliano Insua are due for discussions over new deals and will not be buoyed by the events that have unfolded over the past few months.

If the club are forced to sell one of their best young stars because of internal disputes and their manager's inability to manage his players, then Liverpool deserve all the criticism coming their way.

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