Anfield's red carpet for Robbie is a magic one for Agger

Danish defender feels pain and pleasure of a bruising baptism in the Premiership
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It is the morning after Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Birmingham City at the club's Melwood training complex, and the young Dane rolls up the left leg of his tracksuit bottom, displaying the bruises and cuts on shin and knee. They are the consequence of a first-half impact with Damien Johnson's studs, which had left Agger in a crumpled heap and the City midfielder first into the showers.

Not that the centre-back appeared too troubled by the Johnson challenge. "It was painful, but I just wanted to stand up and get on," he says. "I didn't even see the card. I thought he got a yellow. I didn't realise [it was a red] until half-time, when Rafa [Benitez] talked about us playing 10 men."

Agger, 21, can be perhaps excused for being so overcome by the occasion that he did not immediately realise that the visitors were a man short. Not only was he appearing for the first time in a Liverpool shirt following a career acceleration of warp-speed proportions, but he was also in a side in which another new boy, albeit a decidedly familiar one, had returned to a rapturous Anfield.

They had laid down the red carpet for Robbie Fowler; for Agger it was more of the continuation of the magic-carpet ride he began two years ago when he joined Brondby's youth team from his home-town club, Rosenhoj BK. After a mere 34 games for Brondby's senior side, during which he represented his country on four occasions - including the 4-1 defeat of England - there is a sense of wonderment that he finds himself in the company of the champions of Europe.

"It's different kind of football from what I'm used to," he says. "It's a lot faster. The ball is here, here and here [he gestures as though referring to the pinging of a pinball]. I will have to get used to the tempo."

As Liverpool's most expen-sive defender, expectancy weighs heavily on his slender frame, though he claims: "I enjoy playing under pressure." On Wednesday he replaced Jamie Carragher, although it is likely that the England centre-back will return for this afternoon's game at Chelsea. It was a debut which, for the most part, augurs well.

His overall performance was received with guarded enthusiasm by Rafael Benitez, who had persuaded the club to part with £5.8 million for a player regarded as the long-term replacement for Sami Hyypia, who is 32. "Jamie and Sami are two players I can learn a lot from," Agger says. "Sami teaches me lot, particularly on the subject of positioning. You have to listen, you have to learn it, and quick. But also I will show what I can do and fight for my place."

At the time of Hyypia's arrival at Anfield, Agger was just a teenager in a suburb of Copenhagen, with no idea where his destiny lay. He also played tennis to a decent level, and golf. The son of a father in the roofing business and a mother who works for Scandinavian Airlines, he did well at school, and studied business. "It was not until I was 18, 19 that I knew that football could lead to something," he says. "I'd always loved playing football, but until then, I'd played always for fun. Everything went so quickly. I'd only played maybe 20 games for Brondby when I played my first game for Denmark."

The manner in which he largely negated the threat of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen during that friendly win against England last year confirmed his burgeoning reputation. However, in his rather self-effacing manner, Agger insists: "The result showed that we all did it well. Not only me."

As for Rooney, the defender enthuses: "I've seen him a couple of times now; he's a great player, an all-round player, creating a lot of chances and excitement. You need to have temperament. You can't be a footballer without it. You need to have an aggressive appetite."

However, there is a line, as Agger agrees. As a young player, it was one he overstepped too frequently. "I had a big problem with my temperament," he concedes. "As a youth player, I was very aggressive. I was getting too many yellow cards and stupid red cards. When I was aggressive, I was very aggressive, although I never hurt anyone on purpose. I just wanted to win the ball. Then Tom Kohlert, my youth coach at Brondby, took me to one side and said, 'No. It doesn't work like that'. I've learnt a lot from that time which I've brought with me. As a footballer, you still have to be aggressive, but you have to use your brain."

He is acutely aware he has entered one of football's ancestral halls, where portraits of Han-sen and Lawrenson are reminders of Liverpool in their pomp. He can be certain that that pair, and other old boys, will ensure he maintains the kind of standards they brought to defending.

Benitez claims he signed Agger because of the hunger he perceived in him, and has predicted that he can be a Liverpool centre-back for the next 10 years. "That's good to hear," says the Dane. "They are big words, but I will give everything to justify them."

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