(Bleacher Report) Alberto Aquilani was purchased for Liverpool in August of 2009 by Rafael Benitez, believed to be the replacement for Real Madrid-bound midfield maestro Xabi Alonso. The Roma born-and-bred 25-year-old was thought to be more than adequate to fill the boots of their beloved Spanish engineer.
However, the Italian arrived with an ankle injury that would keep him out for months. After the previous season in which the Reds had just nearly missed the Premier League title in second place behind Manchester United with their best finish in years, a lot of belief and expectations were placed on his shoulders.
With a £20 million price tag, “Il Principino” was expected to be the Second Coming. But to many people, this proved not to be the case. Brought in to be a deep-setting playmaker, the Italian was more keen to get forward and in many matches, he proved to be quite effective for the Reds.
He made his first appearances in November of 2009, starting with substitute showings against Arsenal in an FA Cup defeat, then made his Premier League debut on November 9th against Birmingham and his European debut on November 24th against Debrecen. His first start came against former Italian opponent Fiorentina in the Champions League in December.
By the end of 2009, Aquilani was celebrated with a standing ovation by the Kop after he was substituted in the Reds’ Boxing Day clash with Wolves.
The second half of the season saw Aquilani make progress in many ways as he pushed for fitness. He was awarded four man-of-the-match awards during the last half of the campaign and gathered a total of six assists and one goal between 18 total league appearances that were split 50/50 with nine starts and nine run-outs from the dugout.
All in all, he was believed to not impress, but I feel that was harsh criticism of the player. He was signed with an ankle injury and when finally well, put into the fray untested in a new league in midseason. By the end of the season for the time he did appear on the pitch he had put up some decent numbers.
As a player unfamiliar with a new league, it can sometimes be difficult to adjust after an injury. Also he was signed for a five-year deal even though injured—just like Andy Carroll was. However, Carroll was at least already accustomed to the league and the pace. Aquilani got thrown in when most players were already at peak fitness levels and had to try and play catch-up.
People can argue that Luis Suarez produced almost straight away, but “El Pistolero” was and still is healthy. The Uruguayan also came from a league and international team mindset more prone to attacking football than Serie A or the Italian national side, which are more known for tactical prowess than heart-bursting attacking runs like the English Premier League.
Nonetheless, Roy Hodgson packed the Roman back off to Serie A on loan to Juventus at the start of the season, saying it was to gain fitness according to an interview quoted in a BBC online article. I also think it might have been an additional makeweight for Christian Poulsen who has been even less impressive despite a few strong outings under Dalglish.
The real question now is where would Aquilani fit in? Raul Meireles joined the club looking to possibly take the place of Aquilani, and Poulsen was seemingly to replace Javier Mascherano. However, there is still the void left for another creative attacking midfield since the departure of Yossi Benayoun to Chelsea.
In this case, the argument would be that Joe Cole was to replace the Israeli but I would rather have kept Aquilani than add another 90K a week to the wage bill.
After rumors of Aquilani staying at Juventus seeming to die as the Turin giants are unwilling to pay the asking cost, I believe it would benefit the team for him to return and fight for a place. Joe Cole can be sold and leave room for the Italian and empty some wage space.
The Liverpool Echo reported that Aquilani is more than open to returning to Liverpool after recording this statement: “I’m at Juve, but I don’t know what will happen,” he said. “I’m on loan and if I’m not retained I’d go back to Liverpool in the best league in the world. We’ll see.”
Of course, the AS Roma product has also been linked with a move back to his former club.
When he was asked about a possible return to the Italian Capital, he said: “It is a delicate question. I would do, but I think it will be difficult. As a fan I’m curious to see what happens, especially if they begin to buy players and to revolutionise the team.”
In any case, the matter will most likely remain undecided for several more weeks. However, I would indeed be interested in seeing a midfield with Lucas, Gerrard, Meireles and Aquilani, as I believe a diamond rotating the four around could cause some teams some problems with the four of them all playing behind Suarez and Carroll.
The truth remains that Liverpool will still be lacking width even with his return, so I would see Aquilani in a more Benayoun-type role where he can come off the bench and throw a spark into the club when it needs it.