THERE have been a fair few players over the last few seasons at Liverpool who have turned up with big reputations, fantastic records at their previous clubs and have seemed like they should be a great fit for the club, before turning out to be huge disappointments.
It seems the more you build up your hopes that a player might just be ‘the missing piece of the jigsaw’, the more they disappoint in the end when they fail to deliver.
It’s worth remembering that both Cole and Aquilani were highly sought after players when Liverpool signed them. Cole had offers from other top six Premiership clubs, and could have gone elsewhere for more money, and both Juventus and AC Milan were rumoured to have made bids for Aquilani when Liverpool signed him, so they both came with high expectations. What went wrong for both of them? And which of the two has proved to be the biggest disappointment?
Starting with Joe Cole first of all, it’s fair to say that most of us thought we’d got a bargain when he chose to join Liverpool on a free transfer. A reputation as a creative talent that could play between the lines and unlock defences, many of us saw him as that last piece of the jigsaw who could play off Gerrard and Torres and give us a forward line to catapult the team in the league after a disappointing 2009/10 season.
In total, Joe Cole has played 32 games for Liverpool, with three goals and two assists the sum product of those appearances.
In those 32 appearances, he never looked settled at Liverpool, never had a real run in the team or went through a period where he displayed much of the talent we’ve seen him show elsewhere. He lacked confidence, fluency and rarely went at defenders, taking them on and making things happen – all of those qualities are what we thought we had brought to the team when he signed.
In Cole’s defence though, you have to remember that he joined the club (and made most of those 32 appearances) at a time when the two American stooges were at their most disruptive, Hodgson was still looking miles away from having the right tactical formula for the team and generally the club was going downhill fast. The team wasn’t confident, the team wasn’t fluent and the team wasn’t making things happen, so it was a very difficult environment for someone like Cole to come in and flourish. How do we think Cole might have done if he’d joined the season before, when Rafa was at the peak of his powers and the team had just finished second with Gerrard and Torres on fire? Of course we’ll never know, but it’s probably fair to say you have to at least take that stuff into account when judging how a player like Cole performed.
Aquilani on the other hand, cost the club £20m when they bought him from Roma in 2009. The club bought him to replace Xabi Alonso who, apart from Steven Gerrard, is probably the best midfielder to play for Liverpool in the last twenty years.
Aquilani joined the club at a different time, with the team having just finished runners up with its highest points total in Premiership history. His great stroke of misfortune was injury – he joined the club with a lingering ankle injury that took more than six months to fully heal, and when he started to get a run in the side he looked badly off the pace.
Whether it was doubts about his injury or whatever, Aquilani never adjusted to the pace of Premier League football, always wanting more time than he had in possession and never looking like he was going to really hurt teams. You can see how well he’s done since returning to Italian football with Juventus and then Milan – the pace of the game there is much more suited to him and he has played much more regularly for those teams.
It’s not Aquilani’s fault that he was bought to replace Xabi Alonso, and it’s not his fault that he cost £20m – players don’t set transfer fees after all. However, he didn’t for one second look capable of reaching a fraction of Alonso’s level of performance, and that was a huge frustration.
Joe Cole came to Liverpool at a very unsettled time for the whole football club. He didn’t perform and didn’t show us what he was capable of, but he ultimately cost nothing in transfer fees and might – just might – have settled better if he’d joined the club a year earlier under Rafa when the team was more confident.
Aquilani joined the club when the team was on the rise, he cost £20m and was bought to replace one of the best footballers this club has had in the last twenty years. He didn’t perform, didn’t look like adjusting and rarely looked happy. For that reason, he will always be the biggest disappointment of the two.
A final thought for Reds fans everywhere – both of these players came with massive hype from day one, and were the latest in a long, long line of players who were supposed to be the ‘last piece of the jigsaw’. Maybe that‘s a lesson for us all as fans not to get carried away with expectations when the next big signing comes along….
Find me on twitter @rossco1981
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