A little over a month into my first season as a Liverpool fan, the club paid a visit to Old Trafford where they lost 3-2 in what was the most exciting match I'd witnessed so far in my fledgling fandom. Steven Gerrard's brace to tie the match up at 2-2 was the highlight for most fans, but my own highlight was Daniel Agger's response to Luis Nani after the latter had gone to ground far too easily: "Fuck off! Play fucking football!" This is my kind of player, I thought afterwards.
In that moment were the essential elements of many of the things I would come to love most about Agger over the last four seasons: the brutal honesty, a refusal to suffer fools, and a dedication to playing the game without silly gamesmanship or dramatics. The only thing missing from this tiny vignette involving Nani was his sense of pride and unwavering loyalty about getting to play for Liverpool FC, but that would come in time.
Lots of people with more tactical nous than I have spent time in the last week outlining Agger's strengths and weaknesses on the pitch, and lots of other people have spent time lamenting what might have been had Agger's body not let him down time and time again at increasingly inopportune moments. Those are important aspects to discuss about any player's career, but they're not the most important things left in Agger's wake now that he's moved on. This post is not about whether or not he was too easily bullied by strikers or how he spent half his Liverpool career injured. (He didn't.) This is about what is not so easily replaced off the pitch.
It took nearly a decade spent on Merseyside in the company of Steven Gerrard for it to happen, but Daniel Agger is a Dane with a Scouse accent. I don't think I'd be going too far out on a limb in suggesting this is something he'd be immensely proud of, as it speaks both to his longevity with Liverpool football club and a love affair with the city that fit him and his family so well. After serving eight-and-a-half years with the club, Agger arguably reached the pinnacle of respect amongst fans that can only be eclipsed in the modern age by being a one-club man playing for your boyhood club.
Liverpool Announce Daniel Agger as Vice-Captain
After an unsettling week that saw transfer rumors cloud his future, Liverpool have confirmed that Daniel Agger will be the club's new vice-captain.
If you're not born into the club, the next best thing is to convert early and stick with it through thick and thin. Agger gave the prime of his career to Liverpool, a period in which the club played some of its worst football in recent memory and in which dedication to the rebuilding process meant forfeiting the chance to win silverware elsewhere.
When it came to the former, it meant calling out Hodgeball for what it was and having the guts to be the only player to speak out against the travesty that marked Roy Hodgson's preferred style of play. To say the player did not get along with the coach would be an understatement, but Agger represented a style of play that Liverpool fans had long enjoyed and expected from their side, and one that Brendan Rodgers would again institute once appointed nearly two years after Hodgson's appointment.
With the latter, it meant turning down chances to go to long time admirers Manchester City or Barcelona. Winning wasn't necessarily the important thing to Agger; it was winning with Liverpool that was of interest to him. Even at the end of a season in which Liverpool surpassed everyone's wildest expectations to finish second, Agger still managed to find a way to suppress a quietly controlled fury at Liverpool not winning the league.
"You'll Never Walk Alone" is often interpreted as a call to follow the club through thick and thin, but sometimes loyalty means holding something or someone you love accountable when you know they can do better. Agger was never one to shy away from fair criticism of both himself and the club after a poor performance, and the honesty with which he did so will not be so easily replicated in his absence.
There's a pervasive sense in #ModernFootball that you can't expect anything from footballers. They're mercenary, they have astronomical wages, they're terrible role models for The Children™, and their loyalty isn't worth the paper their contracts are written on. And, unfortunately, that's incredibly true for many players. But time and time again Daniel Agger illustrated how you can expect more from a player and have that expectation rewarded.
When Fernando Torres left Liverpool to win all the trophies with Chelsea while having the least amount of involvement possible, Agger made it clear that leaving for a rival Premier Club was unacceptable. When Manchester City came calling, Agger responded by tattooing YNWA across his knuckles. When it was clear that he would be playing a marginal role in Brendan Rodgers' side going forward, the only transfer option he considered was a move back to his boyhood club Brøndby. Agger held others to a high standard, but it was the same standard he held himself to.
It's an uncommon level of loyalty in a modern footballer, but Agger is an uncommon player and an uncommon man. He's moved back to a league where he is undoubtedly the star player by many magnitudes of quality, but being a large fish in a small pond had nothing to do with the move. Agger's choice isn't about ego or money, but about finding a stable, secure place to play his football and raise his family. Liverpool showed loyalty goes both ways by allowing the player to move for a pittance of a transfer fee that would have been laughed out of the room if presented by any other club.
Daniel Agger loves football, but he loves it on his terms and in a way that won't compromise his values as a person. And that's a very rare thing indeed.
The last Liverpool match I attended was Steven Gerrard's testimonial last summer. As the team went through the motions during their warm-up, a family in the row behind us chatted happily about the match.
"Who do you think is going to have the next testimonial at Anfield?" asked a young but obviously astute child. "I bet it's Daniel Agger."
"That kid's not wrong," I said to my sister.
A lot can happen in a year. You'll Never Walk Alone, Daniel, and you've made a lifelong fan in me. Thank you for everything.