This past week or so, I’ve seen the form of Joël Matip both questioned and praised. His performances this season have been largely tremendous, with the singular poor outing against Brentford (and an inspired, future red, Ivan Toney). The whole Liverpool side were somewhat shell shocked that day, and every player will occasionally have an off day, so any real criticism is very harsh.
The consequence of his usual great form will always see him compared to other defensive players, especially those from Liverpool’s past. There was one debate (a reasonable one to be fair), that pitted Matip against former red Daniel Agger. It is only Matip’s great form that has allowed this very specific comparison to such a player, unfortunately some of the misguided and dismissive comments by some (I’m guessing younger) fans, have prompted me to write a few words on Daniel Agger, Liverpool’s other Great Dane.
When Daniel Agger was signed from Brøndby in January of 2006, it was another low key recruit, in the mould of Sami Hyypiä. The fee was a reasonable £6 million, and it appeared to be the signing of a good young prospect, that may work out over time. At that point in time, Liverpool were regularly fielding a pairing of Sami and Jamie Carragher, as Rafa Benitez had continued Gerard Houllier’s trait of cementing a strong rearguard. Rafa’s Liverpool were riding high on the back of Champions League glory, and Agger was identified as a key piece for the eventual evolution of the defence.
During his time at Liverpool, the left footed defender only won the 2012 League Cup (he missed the 2006 FA Cup final through injury), having lost the Champions League final to Milan in 2007, a game in which he started. History may tell you that Agger had a rather unspectacular career, but if not for injuries he would have gone down as a spectacular former player alongside the likes of Alan Hansen. Agger was able to read the game, control the defence and enable his side to progress with effortless efficiency from the back. Agger surely resides along other defenders from the Premier League, that simply could not maintain their obvious levels, due to persistent injuries. The likes of Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King were sensational defenders on their day, and should be held alongside the great defenders of the modern Premier League era. Injuries can be the cruelest reality for any footballer, but it’s important to remember just how good they were, even if many of those moments were taken away.
Daniel Agger, when fit, was attracting interest from the likes of Barcelona, when at the peak of his career. His stock was incredibly high, and his decision making in defence was so critical at times, he would often stand out a mile. Jamie Carragher was the often times the backline partner for Agger, and where Carragher would garner far more recognition for his efforts, Agger was often a level above. Carragher was a great penalty box defender, and last ditch saviour. His will to win and memorable moments adhered him to the support, and rightly so. Agger was simply a classy version of the evolving centre back, and not at all dissimilar to Virgil Van Dijk. His positional awareness and ability to foresee patterns of play, meant last ditch tackling was never a requirement, as he would already be in prime position. The midfield under Rafa would be serviced not just by a multi talented and assured defensive leader (in Agger), but a player able to dictate their own progressive play. Carrying the ball out was a key facet to Agger’s game, and he helped Liverpool adjust and condense space with his ability on and off the ball. Carragher could offer neither of these qualities, and functioned best in a deep block, within a team prone to counter. This perhaps made the pairing a good fit, in a team with varied tactical approaches under Rafa. It cannot be overlooked however, that it was the quality and adaptability of Agger that allowed a much more front foot approach in certain games, and if his body had not failed him, I believe this side would have claimed far more success during his tenure.
Agger would slide effortlessly into this current Liverpool set up, under Klopp’s system. The big Danes brilliance would allow the reds to adapt an intriguing 3-4-3 system, or (with Virgil’s willingness to move over) slide into a back four and control even more of the pitch, with a high line no issue at all for Dagger. Agger was perhaps a player before his time, with a brilliant skill set and natural composure on the ball. His wand of a left foot scored many an outstanding goal, and to see so many set pieces (direct free kicks) wasted of late, Agger stood over the ball would be a welcome sight.
Whether or not Agger is better than Matip, or Gomez is better Agger is almost a needless debate. Agger was brilliant, and the two current lads mentioned are at times performing brilliantly. Agger was able to be brilliant over a number of years, and improved the entire backline when selected, and this is the level all the defenders (barring the world class Virgil) need to get to, and maintain. Daniel Agger was an elite defender, and too many times unappreciated by his managers (Brendan and Roy specifically), but the fan base, both new and old, should never be dismissive of just how good our other Great Dane was, and and must always be regarded as such. Agger is a red, and always will be, and when he donned the famous shirt in front of the faithful Kop, there is very few that defenders that did it better.