Between the ages of 28 and 33, give or take a few years depending on the individual, lie the peak years for a central defender. Centre back is a position that is less demanding on a player’s mobility and pace, and one that rewards virtues like composure, experience, the ability to read the game. A defender reaching their peak age bracket is usually the image of a player perfectly matured, not yet stagnant. Obviously, it’s no coincidence that a defender’s peak playing years are also their peak earning years. It is during this golden period that the big moves of a player’s career are most likely to occur, they become studs desired by all the top clubs; a defender at the summit of his powers is always a coveted commodity in football. Inflated transfer fees are happily forked over, incredible salary packages are thrashed out behind closed doors and, on the day the photographers get to snap the new man holding the shirt, smiles are shared aplenty by everyone involved. It is a time every player hopes will bring unbridled personal and professional furtherance.
So it makes it all the more curious that Daniel Agger, aged 29 and firmly in the midst of these fruitful years, has decided to leave Liverpool, one of the world’s biggest clubs, and go home, to Denmark and to Brondby, his boyhood club. Though he had fallen down the pecking order at Liverpool, especially since the arrival of Dejan Lovren, the Dane was still being mooted as a potential target for clubs like Barcelona and Arsenal as recently as August of this year. His reputation has not been significantly damaged by his recent uninvolvement with the first team at Anfield, and by all accounts, he is an extremely amicable and harmonious presence in the dressing room. Certainly every single Liverpool fan would have nothing but glowing words if asked their opinion of Daniel Agger. He has become a cult hero at Liverpool, and himself has fallen in love with the club and the fans, even to the extent of having YNWA (You’ll Never Walk Alone) tattooed on his fingers. His open letter to the Liverpool fans that accompanied his departure was heartfelt and tender:
Liverpool has been such a big part of my life and my family’s lives for so long that leaving is extremely difficult. I’ll start by saying that Liverpool fans constantly keep surprising me. Since the news broke about the transfer, I have received so many positive messages and well-wishing for the future – not just from supporters in Liverpool but across the world.
“My family and I have always felt your backing, it is something unique to this football club, this city and our supporters – it’s been a privilege to have represented this club and I’m forever thankful for everything I have learnt during my time here.
“When I joined this great club, I came here as a 21 year old boy with a lot to learn. Liverpool has helped me grow up and shape me into the man I am today. I’m proud of who I’ve become and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my time at Liverpool.
“I’ve been honoured to live in this close knit city and my experiences as a Liverpudlian are unforgettable. I’d finally like to wish the club all the best for this season. I’ll be supporting you every step of the way, as will millions of others. You’ll Never Walk Alone.
In the modern world of football where bitter transfer requests, followed by snide sniping often chaperones players out of clubs, Agger’s gesture is evidence that truly pleasant, professional people still exist in the game. It seems that Agger has in fact done something that almost no other professional footballer could be trusted to do; turn down the money and prestige right there in front of him, being gladly offered to him. In his interview with LiverpoolFC.com, Agger stated “I wouldn’t leave here [Liverpool] to go anywhere else and that has been proven by my actions in recent seasons – I have turned down many offers to move to other Premier League and European clubs.” Remarkable, that a player in his prime would actively deny himself such hugely lucrative opportunities in favour of something rarely seen in football; loyalty, the desire to return home. In his eyes, he’d already made his big move, in 2006, to England.
The young Danish defender was fresh-faced and wide-eyed, his hair gelled boyishly and his shirt a little too big for him when he shook hands with Rafa Benitez at his unveiling. The globetrotter’s urge that can grip a player, sending him ravenously in search of higher or more exotic destinations, while constructing a laundry-list resume, is one that Agger had resisted, perhaps has never even felt. “The opportunity arose for me to return home to Brondby and at this stage of my career it felt like the right decision for me.” he said. Returning home, a humble home, at age 29.
This was not a homecoming that was spouted regally via an essay printed in Sports Illustrated, ala Lebron James, whose decision to return to Cleveland, at the time, was lauded for the classy way it was announced. It looks positively self-obsessed, even obnoxious, compared to Agger’s announcement, modestly communicated to the Liverpool Echo (not that Agger and James are comparable in terms of the stature they hold in their respective sports). This was a decision that made perfect sense to Agger. Brondby became an option for him and he took it without a second thought, in spite of the bemusement around him.
He’s been welcomed back to Denmark’s largest club as a hero, and why shouldn’t he be? If the worth of a player is judged by his actions on the field, then Agger should be praised simply for that. His actions off the pitch have merely shown that he’s also one of the sport’s quiet gentlemen.