He was the Premier League pioneer of long sleeve tattooed footballers, a rare breed of player who not only got his clubs motto inked on his knuckles but also turned down the chance of riches and rewards to return to his hometown team. That man is Daniel Agger and the former Liverpool and Brøndby defender this month called time on his colourful footballing career at the age of 31.
It was 10 years ago that English football got introduced to Agger, then just a fresh faced 21 year old youngster. For a Denmark based defender who had played just one professional season at that point for Copenhagen based side Brøndby IF to be thrust into a top 4 Premier League team seemed quite the step up. Agger had rose from the youth levels to being named ‘Danish talent of the year’ and winning the Superliga & Cup double in his first season under the iconic Danish hero Michael Laurdrup, Liverpool made their move and a record fee for a Danish club was agreed in January 2006, Agger swapped the number 22 yellow shirt and took the departing Milan Baros’ Liverpool number 5. The next step for Rafa Benitez’s new centre half was to break into the formidable Liverpool rear-guard of Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia which was no easy task, but due to a run of injuries Agger would have to watch from the stands as his first 6 months for the defending European champions as he only made 4 appearances thus missing out on the 2006 FA Cup victory in May.
August 2006 was a brilliant month in his early Liverpool career; he not only played 90 minutes in the Community Shield winning final against Chelsea but then scored a rocket of a goal in Liverpool’s opening home game of the new season against West Ham United. In the pre Twitter days this was still a goal many people got their hands on to watch and still gets showed frequently now. Playing over 40 matches in his first full season the crowning moment for the big number 5 was his contribution in the Champions League Semi-final 2nd leg against Chelsea, scoring another goal that will live long in the memory of Reds everywhere. The 2007 final in Athens was not to be after a 2-1 defeat to AC Milan, though Agger again made a telling contribution playing the full 90 mins alongside Jamie Carragher and assisting Dirk Kuyt’s late goal.To cap the year he was awarded Danish Footballer of the Year in his homeland.
In the following 7 seasons that Daniel Agger spent at Liverpool he was unable to repeat the 2006/2007 highs, injuries did play a big part but also a factor was the tinker tactics of Spanish manager Rafa Benitez, a coach famous for his squad rotation, Agger always was surrounded a competition squad and players came and went so to stay in the frame consistantly it took its toll. A close run to the title in 2008/2009 was the nearest Agger came to Premier League silverware in that period with a 2nd place finish to rivals Man United but in 2012 he got his hands on a winning medal helping Liverpool lift the League Cup, Agger started the match before being replace by Jamie Carragher after fracturing a rib as the game went to penalties.
The ‘Brendan Rodgers years’ that followed have certainly had their fair share of press since Agger announced his retirement. In truth te relationship didn’t start well on Rodgers ‘first league game away at WBA when Agger not only conceded a penalty but saw red in an embarrassing 3-0 defeat. With Jamie Carragher’s retirement in 2013 and the famous ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ motto inked on the knuckles, the role of Vice Captain matched the attachment Agger had towards the famous club, but behind closed doors not all seemed well, despite Liverpool coming within an inch of winning the 2013/2014 Premier League the first choice partnership of Sakho and Skrtel restricted Agger to only 20 league matches, a final day goal on his final 232nd appearance against Newcastle, his 14th and last goal could well of been the fairy-tale ending for the Anfield career but due to differences and the tough physical strain on his body Agger opted to go back to Brondby.
For a player still held in very high esteem across Europe with strong transfer links to Barcelona and Juventus made the decision to ‘go home’ only increased the bond with Liverpool and his stature in Denmark, the lowly transfer of £3 million only emphasized the nature of Aggers return back to across the north sea from Merseyside, in his own words it was time to move on. Brondby had been down on their luck since the sale of Agger so re-signing the 29 year old defender was quite the coup for manager Thomas Frank who had former Premier League striker Johan Elmander in his squad,. Taking the same shirt number 22 from his first 2 seasons he made his return in the ‘New Firm Derby’ away at FC Copenhagen but that ended in a loss. It was only to last 2 seasons as yet again the challenge to complete a full season was too much on the Dane’s condition with the Men in Yellow completing one 3rd and one 4th place league finish, legend status at the club was cemented regardless.
In Agger’s words it was time to stop, After the final game of the Danish Superliga season he tweeted “Tak til alle. For tweets, for sange og blomster. En helt speciel dag, som jeg altid vil huske.” Basically thanking everyone for his well wishes and sharing what a special day he would always remember. Other investments started to rear their head including his very own brand off beer called Aggerspils, a very Danish export indeed. After announcing his retirement in June he admitted taking Painkillers had greatly affected his well-being, After his last New Firm Derby in Copenhagen he was quoted after the match as saying “I’m done with this circus” suggesting the strain was taking its toll.
With 75 Denmark caps and 12 goals to his name the former captain who played under Morten Olsen since 2005 could have had a glorious stage to bow out on this summer in France but Euro playoff defeat to Scandinavian neighbours Sweden ended that dream, Olsen left and his last 2 caps were won under new boss Age Hariede. Appearances at the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euros alongside stalwarts like Lars Jacobsen, Jon Dahl Tomasson & Stephan Anderson were the only tournaments to show for a defender who would of made much more of a contribution to the international game in a different Denmark era.
Tusind Tak Daniel, A player who will be fondly remembered on both sides of the North Sea not just for having giant Viking heads tattooed on his back and his own Beer brand but more for being a modern ball playing defender in a highly competitive Premier League era.