Will he stay or will he go? The Alberto Aquilani Dilemma

Aaron discusses the future of Alberto Aquilani, who has returned to Liverpool after two seasons away.

GREAT change has swept through Liverpool Football Club this summer. Critical decisions on matters ranging from team management to kit sponsorship have helped usher in a new era. But with Brendan Rodgers’ reign set to begin in earnest the futures of certain players remain unclear. Signings will inevitably be made in the coming month but equally important is clarifying where our ‘forgotten men’ will be plying their trade in 2012/13.

An unflattering tag, this group consists of a handful of first teamers. Danny Wilson has failed to make the grade at Anfield since Roy Hodgson signed him that fateful summer. Will he realistically challenge the likes of Agger, Skrtel and Coates for a first team berth? Also snared that same pre-season was Joe Cole, who appears to have been handed a second chance this coming term but whose fitness and wages continue to raise questions. An interesting case is that of Dani Pacheco. Loaned for consecutive seasons his undoubted ability has failed to win him the trust of successive managers. A product of the Barcelona youth academy he may flourish under Rodgers, who awarded him a start in Saturday’s pre-season duel with Toronto.

Striker Nathan Eccleston meanwhile will also look to stake a claim this season. Applying him to this bunch may sound odd but remember he made his debut as far back as 2009. Like Pacheco he is now 21 and at a make-or-break point in his fledgling career. A regular at reserve team level with League One experience he must surely shine on tour to carve-out a future with the Reds.

And then we move to perhaps the most high-profile case of them all: Alberto Aquilani. The Anfield Cat has seen more competitive action at Liverpool than the Italian these past two years. A monumental flop? An untapped saviour? He divides opinion like Russell Brand does women’s legs. And entering his fourth year ‘at’ the club, surely it’s now or never for the man once dubbed The Little Prince.

There appears to be three determining factors surrounding Aquilani’s immediate future. The first is the playmaker himself and his somewhat questionable desire to stay on Merseyside. His settling-in period was blighted by injury and the general regression of the team itself. Replacing Xabi Alonso, a modern-day Legend, was never going to prove easy – particularly on the back of a second placed finish. As it proved AA was missing in action until October and entered the fray only when the side had begun freefalling towards a lowly seventh place.

Given the exhaustive wait for his debut there was never likely to be a honeymoon period. His agile build was exploited by an unforgiving Premier League, leading to long stretches out of the side and widespread condemnation of the transfer itself.

In spite of all the drama supporters were treated to occasional glimpses of class and clues as to why Rafa Benitez negotiated a £17 million outlay. Aquilani is classy in possession and can spray the ball about with great aplomb. He links play well and also has a goal in him, albeit far from prolific. Memorable strikes against Portsmouth and Atletico Madrid underlined his quality yet fitness and physicality hindered his overall progress. Rather than honing his game and adapting in the way Lucas has, he was loaned … twice … in two years.

Last season his general play at AC Milan won plaudits nonetheless again he was underused. Now back at Melwood he needs to make his intentions clear. Is a player of his ability ever farmed-out for two years if he has a genuine desire to make the grade at LFC? No. Therein lies the problem. Does Aquilani want it enough? Would he rather be back home showcasing his talents in Serie A? Given his eye-watering wage (rumoured to be around £100k per week) the club must address his limbo and fast. The Fenway Sports Group have consistently lamented our current payroll, haemorrhaging funds which could be put towards transfers. Paying Aquilani and Cole by the bucket-load is absurd unless both are genuinely key to Rodgers long-term ambitions.

The second factor dictating the fate of Aqualoanee is the number of – or rather lack of – suitors. Milan, initially keen on a permanent transfer, have shied away like Ryan Giggs at a family gathering. Murmurings of Italian interest seem to have died and last month we had the bizarre occurrence of his agent implying he will stay in-light of an embarrassing lack of interest. Far from enthusiastic and hardly the attitude which endears a client to his fan-base.

It has been suggested in some quarters that the club may cut their losses and simply terminate his contract. There is definite logic to that argument but the likelihood of it actually transpiring is surely remote. Perhaps a waiting game will ensue, with club officials and the player himself patiently hoping a respectable offer is tabled – one that appeases all parties. Holding out for that trump-card is however both risky and costly.

Brendan Rodgers meanwhile cannot be ignored in this stand-off. After all his will be the deciding vote. If he can see Aquilani starring in his progressive tiki-taka set-up the Italian may yet revive his Anfield career. And that scenario is by no means beyond comprehension. Rodgers preaches possession, possession, possession – evidenced on Saturday where Aquilani fared OK alongside Jay Spearing. If afforded time he is useful on the ball and perhaps a more attractive option in that respect than either Jordan Henderson or Charlie Adam. Indeed the future of the latter may tie-in with Aquilani’s.

Rumours abound of interest from Fulham and should Adam depart for Craven Cottage the door may open for our favourite part-timer. A midfield trio of Gerrard, Lucas and Aquilani is workable in this current system and would offer good creativity. This triad, supplementing two wingers/forwards and a lone striker could certainly provide the attacking football promised by our new boss.

Of course the aforementioned is all hypothetical. The truth is Alberto Aquilani remains an enigma that Liverpool are still to truly decide on. Crucially however they are all but out of thinking time. A final call must be made in this transfer window. Let’s hope it’s the right one.

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