BOUGHT initially to replace one of the best central midfielders that Liverpool have had in the last 20 years, Alberto Aquilani has had a tough time at Anfield.
He arrived carrying a bad injury, he didn’t really get a run in the team for six months and then the manager that brought him to the club left.
A series of loan spells back in Italy, three new managers through the door since the one that bought him in the first place and a number of near misses in terms of permanent transfer away from the club, it’s fair to say that he hasn’t had the most glorious three years as a Liverpool footballer.
In the last couple of weeks, as he has before during pre-season, Aquilani has been in the press declaring his wish to finally prove to Liverpool fans that he has what it takes to succeed in the Premier League. He’s claimed that he was forced out on loan by previous managers, not wanted or given a chance. He’s claimed that Rodgers’ style will suit him perfectly, and that he wants to succeed at Anfield. The question is, not only will Liverpool fans actually believe these claims, but should he be given one more chance even if we do, especially with plenty of quality already in the squad in the central midfield position, and Joe Allen likely to soon follow?
Whether you believe his claim that he was ‘forced’ out on loan or not, and whether you think he’s been harshly treated or not, it’s clear that Aquilani does have talent. It’s also true that he would be more suited to Rodgers’ style of play – like most Italian midfielders, he is technically very sound, and comfortable with a tactical, pressing game where possession is key.
With his qualities and experience, there is a strong case for giving him that genuine chance to prove himself under the new manager. His attributes and his style will fit the way the team will play, and don’t forget his pedigree – for all of his struggles at Liverpool, he’s still got 21 senior Italian caps, and his loan periods were spent as a first team regular for Juventus and Milan, clubs challenging at the top of Serie A. Another factor in Aquilani’s favour is that his style is a good foil for higher tempo players in the midfield such as Gerrard. Even in the short run in the Liverpool team that Aquilani did have under Benitez, there were signs that the two might work together well in the midfield.
If Aquilani’s comments about never having been given a proper chance to prove himself were right, and if he is prepared to work hard and take his last chance to prove himself, he might genuinely present a quality option in the middle of the park that no-one could ignore.
The case against Aquilani staying is that he will add further overcrowding to a position where Liverpool are already well stocked. Even if Charlie Adam is sold, Liverpool will still start the season with Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Jordan Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey and almost certainly Joe Allen in their ranks and crucially, Gerrard aside, that means we would have four young central midfielders (they are all 25 or under) with huge potential to develop and play a big part in Rodgers’ new era. With Aquilani in the mix at the same time, the real worry might be that someone like Shelvey or Henderson would see their development slow as access to regular first team football became more difficult.
This is especially important when you take into account the questions that still surround Aquilani’s attitude. Many fans felt that, even when he was fit and enjoying a run in the side, Aquilani’s heart was sometimes lacking when the going got tough, and he often found the physical side of the Premier League much less to his liking than the slower pace of Serie A. However true or fair you think those allegations are (and personally I think it’s definitely fair to say he struggled with the pace of English football at the very least) no-one would want to see the development of promising young players hindered by someone who in the long run wasn’t prepared to put in the hard yards to succeed in England, and still ultimately wanted to be back in Serie A.
Of course, what might prove to be a decisive factor in Aquilani’s favour, ironically, is that Liverpool might not have much choice other than to give him a chance – Milan failed to persuade Liverpool to release him from his contract, and weren’t prepared to part with even the £6.4m they would have triggered if he had played 25 games, as per the loan contract. At the time of publishing, it seems Fiorentina have launched a bid, meaning that Liverpool may have finally decide to cut their losses completely and release him; if not Rodgers may well be stuck with him.
When it comes down to it, there are factors in favour of Aquilani staying and equally important ones that would point to cutting our losses and letting him go. The real answer is that the whole issue will come down to Aquilani himself, his attitude and his heart, his willingness to knuckle down and genuinely show himself to be capable of demonstrating his pedigree on a consistent basis. If he can do that, then we might all be prepared to accept that he deserved his chance after all. However, if it all proves to be more talk and hot air while he manipulates a more permanent move to Italy, then we should be getting behind the young talent we’ve already got well stocked in midfield, and get in line to say Arrivederci. As ever with the merry-go-round of pre-season rumours and the run up to the transfer window, time will tell.
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