The first thing Daniel Agger remembers is that he was unable to control his body. He did not feel any pain but he was just lying there shaking. Earlier that day, 8 March 2015, he had led out Brondby to face their rivals FC Copenhagen in a Danish league game. He lasted 29 minutes before being taken off. He then collapsed and was taken to the physiotherapist’s room at Parken.
He should never have played. He was carrying a knock from the week before and, like so many times in his career, he took a lot of anti-inflammatories – far more than the recommended dosage – and his body had had enough.
He stopped taking anti-inflammatories that day and this summer, having quit football in May, at the age of 31, the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published a series of interviews with the player, conducted over a two-year period, in which he opened up about his career and what he put his body through in order to play.
Agger played for Liverpool from 2006 to 2014 before rejoining Brondby to play another two seasons. He played 384 games in total – 232 games for Liverpool, 77 for Brondby and 75 for Denmark – but his body gradually broke down. He now has pain in his back all the time and estimates that he was able to perform to only 70% or 80% of his capacity during his last two seasons at Liverpool and at an even lower level at Brondby.
Agger’s main problem was he was hypermobile, meaning his joints overextended. He also started having back problems as early as 2007, which were exacerbated by an awkward fall during a pre-season trip to Thailand in 2008. He eventually suffered a prolapsed disc in his back, which led to pain in his knees and toes as well. In order to play he took anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat rheumatism, often Celebrex, and at times exceeded the recommended maximum dose, putting his health at risk.
“I have taken too much anti-inflammatories in my career,” he told Jyllands-Posten. “I know that full well, and it sucks, but I did stop it [in the end]. I am not gaining anything personally from saying this but I can only hope that other athletes do. It could be that others take a pill or two less.”
Arteta is the biggest leader in the team as evidenced by the decision to make him captain. David Moyes, his former manager, once said: “I see Mikel now and when they are having a bit of a huddle he is the one who is the leader and I think they look to him”.
“He has taken on a lot of the leadership qualities in that side.”
Arsene Wenger described Arteta as ‘influential and a leader‘, and so have many others including teammates and pundits.
These qualities are what can make Arteta have a small but very important role at the club this season; coming on when Arsenal have the lead to make sure it stays that way.