By Justin Fitzgerald
With Martin Skrtel on the verge of signing an improved four-year contract extension, Liverpool fans are left wondering what to make of the Daniel Agger situation. The Danish center back has explicitly stated that he has no desire to play for any English club other than Liverpool.
Liverpool may just make the transfer, even though I have two years left. But no, I have not changed my mind on the subject when I said I will not play for other English clubs than Liverpool, but sometimes you can still get in a situation where it’s not your decision.
I will not stay in a place where I am not wanted, but I’d rather be here. This is my priority.
Liverpool has reportedly rejected a £20m bid from Manchester City, resolute with a £27m valuation. There was also rumored to be a makeweight in the form of Adam Johnson to sweeten the deal but this is purely speculation. What’s not speculation is the form that Liverpool’s defense was in last season with a healthy Agger in the middle. Conceding 40 goals, only eventual champions Manchester City (29) and runners-up Manchester United (33) conceded fewer.
There exists an undeniable calming influence over the side when the reliable Dane is on the pitch. That is to say your heart is not in your throat when the ball is at his feet like it is when some of Liverpool’s younger and less experienced defenders have it. Sebastian Coates is very technically gifted but he’s also unpolished and still a raw talent. While he shows flashes of brilliance going forward, he is often caught out of position and has made several critical passing errors in key areas. The Uruguayan is certainly a work in progress, and clearly not a replacement for Daniel Agger, at least at this point in his career.
Jamie Carragher has tremendous sweat equity at Liverpool FC. He’s been a loyal servant for over 16 years and has just made an incredible 700th appearance for the club in a win over FC Gomel in the Europa League.
While undeniably being on the other end of the spectrum from Sebastian Coates in terms of experience, he’s also unfortunately on the other end in terms of age. At 34 years of age it’s no secret that he’s lost the pace to keep up with the speed of the modern game and play consistently week in week out as a center back. Jamie’s leadership and advice will be invaluable for the younger players looking to make their way into the squad, and I’m sure he’ll continue to get some cup starts, but Liverpool simply cannot rely on him to be a replacement for Daniel Agger.
So with less than a month left in the summer transfer window, Liverpool’s owners suddenly find themselves with some difficult questions to answer. Does every player ultimately have a price and is £27m an offer they simply cannot refuse? In the long run is it worth it to pass up on such a sum in favor of keeping a player that has had history of injuries and realistically has only played in an average of 18.5 league games a year over the past 4 seasons? Will there be enough time to sign an adequate replacement in the current window without sacrificing a certain level of skill?
My initial kneejerk reaction was to say that unequivocally no, Daniel Agger is a vital cog in a sturdy defense that will be key to any success Liverpool will have this season. Adding another player to the mix in such a key position just before the start of the season when Liverpool have such a crucial run of fixtures in the form of Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United all within the first 5 weeks would be devastating. Then I looked at it from a long-term perspective and could see why it might be tempting to cash in on the Dane with two years left in his contract rather than one, if in fact he doesn’t factor in to the long-term plans. Liverpool are certainly in more of a position to demand a higher transfer fee than Fulham are with Clint Dempsey for example, a player with one year left on his contract who has expressed a desire to play for a bigger club.
I think it’s also important to examine whether or not the injuries Agger has sustained over the course of his career really do classify him as being injury prone. If you’re talking about the sheer volume of injuries then yes it might be a fair statement – 4 serious injuries over the past 5 years. However, if you examine the specific types of injuries he’s sustained – metatarsal injury 2007-08, back injury 2009-10, concussion 2010-11, and broken ribs 2011-12, I think it’s worth pointing out that so far none of these are systemic and reoccurring muscle injuries such as a groin pull or hamstring tear. That being said, regardless of the type of injury, a missed game is a missed game and it’s something that simply has to be taken into consideration.
When looking at players that could act as a suitable replacement for Agger, the list grows shorter everyday. Brendan Rodgers’s current favorite is thought to be Diego Godin of Athletico Madrid, a 26-year-old Uruguayan international highly rated in La Liga. Godin played an integral part in the Spanish side that won the Europa League last season, contributing 3 goals and 3 assists in all competitions. Having witnessed compatriot Luis Suarez recently sign a new contract is also thought to act as incentive to facilitate a move to the Merseyside from the Vicente Calderón. Athletico is in dire straights financially and is thought to have reluctantly placed an £8m valuation on Diego Godin.
While Godin may show prowess going forward, let’s be clear – he is not Daniel Agger. Some may argue that Agger is more of a “finesse back” and that his flair and grace is a stark contrast to the grit and tenacity of Martin Skrtel. I would argue that if you take a look at these key “battle stats” courtesy of @EPLIndex that’s simply not the case.
In fact if you focus on two categories that will be key in the style of play that Brendan Rodgers is looking to implement this season, Minutes Per Interception and Minutes Per Loss of Possession, Daniel Agger excels in both. Brendan will be looking to implement a very high line in defense this season, and will need center backs with great vision and distribution. Agger once again fits the bill and has proven that he has both the technical ability to maintain possession as well as the fortitude to win it back.
You be the judge.