The Aquilani Enigma – the case for his return to Liverpool

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We all remember the thoughts we had when Alberto Aquilani was pictured holding the Liverpool scarf with Rafa Benitez. I know I was absoloutely delighted. What a capture, I’d seen this guy play plenty of times, and thought “If one person would cheer me up over Xabi going, it’s this character”. I then read he was injured. Not a problem, he’ll get fit and be up and running by November at the latest … right ?

Not so. Aquilani struggled with life on Merseyside, showing brief glimpses of quality and class in a difficult season which held just 26 appearances in all competitions (I’d wager that a handful of them were starts) and two goals. However, one of those goals convinced me that this guy was the real deal.

Atletico Madrid at Anfield. Our season was destroyed, we had nothing, I recall watching that game thinking that the Europa League was our one chance of saving our season. We were at that point out of the competition, until Aquilani stood up to be counted, and what a goal it was.

The events that followed the goal made hard viewing. Yossi Benayoun putting us in the lead, before former United forward Diego Forlan popped up late on to send us burling out of Europe at the last hurdle.

Aquilani then proceeded to put in a few impressive performances, notably against the game that handed Chelsea the title at Anfield. Going into the summer you felt that this guy would be key to our chances of a revival the next season. Bring in Roy Hodgson (I doubt you all need reminding of that saga), seven months later we’re a playmaker down and seemingly, if Italian mammoths Juventus get their way, about £15million down aswell. Aquilani was acrimoniously shipped off on loan to Turin to ‘re-discover his form’, whether this was a Hodgson decision, or a board decision, it was a pretty stupid one.

July 29, 2010 - Skopje, Macedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic Of - epa02266139 Liverpool's player Alberto Aquilani (C) fights for the ball with Rabotnicki player Tunevski Vladimir (L) during the 3rd round qualification soccer match for the UEFA Europa League between Liverpool FC and FC Rabotnicki in Skopje, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 29 July 2010.

We lacked someone with that edge about them, Stevie Gerrard is our captain fantastic and what a player he is, Raul Meireles has certainly grown into the role here in England, and is proving to be a fantastic acquistion, and Lucas Leiva has certainly come on leaps and bounds following his first forays at Liverpool FC. However, if one of them isn’t playing, our midfield is filled with either glorified thug Cristian Poulsen, who looks capable of capitulation at any moment, and once promising starlet Jay Spearing, who despite his best efforts, never seemed to really improve on what was an interesting debut against PSV Eindhoven in a 3-1 win.

We needed another option, somebody to take the pressure of Gerrard and produce that Hollywood pass that unlocks any defence. As brilliant as he is, he can’t do everything by himself! It seemed clear that we had that exact player on our books – instead he was in Turin impressing Juventus crowds week-in week-out. A slow start that has slowly become Aquilani being one of the bright lights in a rather dull season for the Bianconeri.

However, news that Juventus are losing massive amounts of money – a mid-season loss of around €40million Euros is quite staggering – has put a clean twist in what has been a very, very interesting tale. Can Juventus afford Aquilani ? Should we accept their cut-price deal ? Have we just regained one of Europes most intelligent footballers? We’ll find out in July.

Personally, I would love to have him back. A player who seems like he has eyes on all areas of his head. He can swing passes around with ease, dictate the tempo, get forward with real awareness and class, he can take a shot, he can bamboozle players with silky touches and tricks. Yes, he was perhaps a little but lightweight for the Premiership, but there have been plenty of players deemed ‘too lightweight’ that have excelled. At the end of the day, I believe that technical ability and things like vision, anticipation and most of all, team work, are far more important than somebody’s strength.

Aquilani is a playmaker, not a defensive midfielder, he shouldn’t have to bulldoze a player, he should be taking those players out the game with a crisp ball. We’ve missed somebody that can dice a team open with a pass since Xabi Alonso left. However, there was one problem that we all could agree on – that Aquilani was too injury prone.

147 games in seven years for AS Roma tells you that – but considering we have already hauled out such a price for him, I would certainly take him back in the summer. He might only play 20 games a season, but I’d put money on it that he would make a difference, a big difference, in at least 12 of those 20 games. Arjen Robben, another injury prone player who only makes 20 or so appearances a season on average, you’d certainly take him wouldn’t you?

Aquilani is a class act, and deserves another shot here. If he wants it that is.

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