'Agger do' or 'Agger don't?' - The next big question facing Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers.
By Kevin Morley.
The new English Premier League season is almost upon us and the signs so far are very promising for Liverpool Football Club. In preparation for the first game against West Brom on Saturday, they have; managed a relatively easy passage into the Europa League final qualifying stage, beaten a promising Bayer Leverkusen side comfortably, committed the medium term future of Luis Suarez to the club and proved that, in Brendan Rodgers, they have a man who has demonstrated how to handle both the media and the egos at a club that many said would be 'too big for him.' As Rodgers said last week though, the fans are still looking for him to prove himself and the potential storm brewing over Daniel Agger will be one of the most important challenges he will face during this transfer window.
When Daniel Agger arrived at Liverpool football club in 2006, he was a modern day bargain. Agger has always been a cultured defender, the only Liverpool centre half in recent years to demonstrate anything like club hero Alan Hansen's ability to carry the ball from defence to attack without needing to kick it long. Agger was signed for £6 million, a veritable pittance for a player with this kind of ability, he is now rumoured to be valued at over £25 million - great business for the owners Fenway Sports Group.
However, if the recent protestations from the player himself are to be believed, Agger does not want to leave. With Manchester City known to be keen to invest heavily in his services, Agger has restated his insistence that he will not sign for another Premier League rival. He is not going to have his head turned by City's monopoly game salary structure and his disinterest is where the real issue comes in. The Liverpool business model is to buy players who are young, hungry and 'cost effective', turn them into world class players and then sell them on at a significant profit. While this makes perfect business sense, to Liverpool fans it makes no football sense at all.
Agger has become something of a cult hero at Anfield, known as much for his flamboyant body art as for his impressive defensive displays for the reds. His recent YNWA tattoo further demonstrating his love of all things red. He has opened a bar in the outskirts of the City and has always been accessible to fans who are able to relate to his personality. When he signed for the club, then manager Rafa Benitez declared that he would be a Liverpool centre back for the next ten years. But Agger has had his injury problems and since 2006 has played in only 48% of the club's league games. Fans who love Agger, and there is no shortage of them, are happy to overlook this. To them, it is what he contributes when he is in the team that matters most and his defensive partnership with Martin Skrtel is one of the meanest, and most coveted, in the Premier League.
To Liverpool's owners though, at 27 Agger is at his peak and is at his most valuable in the transfer market. If they are to follow their own business plan, selling Agger now, at an impressive profit, is the only option. The complication is that Agger wants to stay, the fans want him to stay and Brendan Rodgers could be caught in the middle, running the risk of carrying the can for a decision that is more about modern day football finance than it is about strengthening the playing staff.
The owners appear to be suggesting the decision to stick or twist with Agger will be down to the Liverpool manager. Agger himself is suggesting the owners are the ones in the driving seat and that if he leaves it will not be his choice. This is a delicate situation and will be one that the fans are looking to Rodgers to manage. If Liverpool do sell and have a poor start to the league campaign, Rodgers will be the one to blame. Keep Agger and he gets injured for a long period and it will again be Rodgers who gets the blame. Sell Agger and buy a replacement who is not good enough and, yes you guessed it, Rodgers will be to blame.
There can be no doubt that Agger has a poor injury record. As he seeks a new contract with the reds, the debate will be about whether a player who can not be guaranteed to be available for selection week in week out is worthy of a long term deal and increased wages. With Agger clearly an admirer of Barcelona, the only way out for Rodgers would seem to be to let Agger move to a club in Europe and to buy an equally impressive replacement with the funds from the deal. This is a lot easier said than done in today's inflated transfer market but, as Brendan said when he got the job, this is not an easy job.