The curious case of Alberto Aquilani

By Andy Hayes on Jun 27, 11 02:22 PM in Fans

October 2009, Prenton Park, and all eyes were on a reserve match between Liverpool and Sunderland. An unlikely venue for a first sighting of a new star but Liverpool fans were eager to see Alberto Aquilani in a red shirt, kicking a ball. The Press were watching too as Aquilani produced an embarrassed smile at the attention he was receiving at making the bench for the second string. A fifteen minute run out was all the watching public got to see, but every touch, pass and movement was analysed so closely. Opinions needed to be formed, and this was all they had to go off. He was big news.

Fast forward to June 2011. Establishing himself as a starter for the Italian national side after an injury free season where he impressed in his loan spell at Juventus. His stock must be high again, surely Juve will take up their option to buy him and Liverpool will be regretting the decision to let him go so easily. Seemingly not, as despite having his best season in years, no one is keen on having him in their side for 2011/2012. Curious.

There's no doubting that he is a good player. Anyone at the Emirates Stadium for his first team debut against Arsenal in the Carling Cup will remember Aquilani's cameo more than Emiliano Insua's wonder goal that night. The coaches on the way back to Liverpool were full of chatter of how he would fit in the side. A stylish midfielder who plays with his head up, it was refreshing that Liverpool had another option in a time where Lucas and Javier Mascherano were starting to struggle as a pair. A replacement for Xabi Alonso was clearly needed, but Liverpool fans knew they would have to be patient.

It was his well documented injury problems that had delayed his debut, and manager Rafael Benitez knew it would take a while to get he best out of Aquilani, stating 'we have signed him for five years, not five months', and it wasn't until the Boxing Day victory over Wolves that he made his first start. Benitez only really started him in games against the so called lesser sides and he started to shine in the second half of the season. His quick passing and clever movement saw Liverpool play more attractive football when he was included and he particularly impressed in matches against the soon to be relegated Portsmouth and Burnley and opened the scoring in the second leg of the Europa League semi final v Atletico Madrid.

It must have been hard for Aquilani. Billed as Alonso's replacement in a side that was hoping to make that final push from second to first, he missed the first three months of the season and was only fit when the team was suffering both domestically and in Europe. It wasn't what he had signed up for and Benitez clearly didn't have the faith to throw him in at the deep end and see whether he would sink or swim. He was drip fed Premier League football and in a season that was nothing short of a catastrophe, the big signing of the summer hadn't proved value for money, despite the positive glimpses with a couple of goals and a handful of assists.

2010/11 was meant to be the year where he re-found his form and started playing regularly and it was. Just not for Liverpool. Not included in Italy's squad for South Africa 2010, Aquilani was one of the few first team players that was ready for the start of Roy Hodgson's pre-season and many fans were confident that this would see him establish himself early in the new managers plans. Qualification for the Europa League was required and the Italian started away in Macedonia for the first match at the end of July against Rabotnicki. He appeared as a second half substitute in the return leg and then that was pretty much that. Joe Cole was playing in behind the striker and Steven Gerrard was moved into a deeper role next to Javier Mascherano for the opening league game with Arsenal, so not too many questions were asked about Aquilani's absence. 

Those questions were asked four days later though when once again, he wasn't even on the bench for the home tie with Trabzonspor. No news of an injury (surprisingly) in a game where he was expected to feature, it wasn't until after the game that the fans were aware of his situation. Staggeringly, Liverpool were considering loaning him out to a Italian club to guarantee him first team football. A player, who had been signed for the best part of £20 million only twelve months earlier was leaving, for nothing. Juventus couldn't believe their luck. They had basically swapped Christian Poulsen for £4 million and Alberto Aquilani for a year. Bingo.

They also had the option to buy him at the end of the loan. Roy Hodgson stated that it would benefit all parties. 'It would be certainly what he needs. It would certainly protect the value of the player and when he does return to Liverpool no doubt we will se the Aquilani we signed before he came here injured last year.'But like most of Hodgson's statements as Liverpool manger, this one, to use one of his favourite words, was erroneous. It has only really benefited Juventus as they had a stop gap before signing the free Andrea Pirlo and Aquilani's value is decreasing by the week. 

So what happens next? Well, 'the little Prince' may look quite the pauper as he will begrudgingly return to Melwood for pre season training if a deal isn't sorted out for him. Kenny Dalglish will certainly not have planned for him to be returning and neither will the player and the problem for Liverpool is potential suitors know this. With The Fenway Sports Group wanting to cut the wage bill, they don't want high earners who won't play on the books so will be looking to get rid, and quickly. The power is with the club who wants to buy him as Liverpool may be forced to sell at any price.

It is hard to imagine seeing Alberto Aquilani in a Liverpool shirt again. With the Reds already signing Jordan Henderson and looking to sign other central midfield players, it is safe to say that the former Roma man won't ever be the player for Liverpool that all had hoped for when he was signed. Despite the excitement surrounding the club at the moment and huge figures being branded around for potential signings, mistakes from previous regimes will still affect the club and most of them will have to be banished, before Kenny Dalglish and his men can really kick on.

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