What have the Romans ever done for us?

By on April 21, 2010

Alberto Aquilani

By Patrick McLoughlin.

Italy is famous for many things, from pizza and pasta to Mussolini and the mafia. But what have the Romans ever done for us? Well, there are the roads and sanitation, and medicine, and education but apart from all that they can’t really claim Premiership footballers. With the exceptions of Gianfranco Zola and Paolo di Canio Italians have found English football a very difficult league to master.

Many players, not only Italian have found the transition from Italy to England difficult. Serie A is a much slower paced league, it champions defence over attack and is very tactically astute; the antithesis of this is the Premier League which demands speed, aggression and strong emphasis on scoring goals. However, that is not to say that Italy is a poor footballing nation, because its not. Italy are the current world champions, four-times champions in their history, that’s three more than England.

The English FA also decided to appoint an Italian as the head of their national team in 2007 in the form of Fabio Capello, twice the manager of any English candidates in my opinion. However, it seems to be a national trait that Italians are notoriously bad travellers, whereas a Frenchman can be found in almost every European league, Italians cannot, during the 2006 World Cup, although eventual winners, Italy had all its players contracted to Italian teams; the only other nation to have such a domestic player bias in the tournament was Saudi Arabia.

Enter Alberto Aquilani; drafted in to fill a Xabi Alonso shaped hole, whether a Liverpool fan or not you have to feel a little sympathy for the guy. His task is almost monumental, with Roma in his native Italy since he was a boy, he signed for Liverpool to replace to out-going Xabi Alonso. Alonso’s boots are not easy to fill, Liverpool’s best player during the 2008/2009 season he is a player of unique quality, able to break up player, dictate a game as well as score he was the tick-tock in the Liverpool clock.

Aquilani not only had Alonso’s shadow looming over him but also a £20M price-tag as well as a persistent ankle injury which would keep him out of action until October, to add to this he’s left the city of his birth, he can’t speak English and had never played outside of Italy. There are parallels with the case of Andrea Dossena, Liverpool’s first ever Italian international, although he started the season with Liverpool he was later sold to Napoli in January making a measly eighteen appearances just over two years. The odds are firmly stacked against him.

Nevertheless, Liverpool fans are desperate for Aquilani to succeed, mainly to heal the pain of Alonso’s ignominious sale. The simplest of completed passes or a long ball are cheered with zealous roars and cheers; this is of course on the rare occasions Aquilani plays. Since signing in August Aquilani has made only fifteen appearances, mainly as a substitute and although claims he is fit is often selected on the bench by Rafa Benitez.

Benitez’s man management has come under close scrutiny this season; Albert Riera has claimed there is no communication between the manager and the squad, while former Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa describes Benitez and his style as “robotic”, whether Aquilani has not fully adapted yet or perhaps Benitez feels Lucas provides a better option is yet to be seen, but what is known is that Anfield is growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of opportunities Aquilani has been given.

It was Benitez’s transfer blunderings that forced Alonso out of Anfield, and now with the team lacking any direction in midfield he must surely use the Roman Number four to his advantage. Lucas and Mascherano are two very good midfielders; however, they are two very similar midfielders, both extremely effective yet unable to influence a game such as Alonso.

Similarly, Steven Gerrard, a world-class midfielder has been below-par this season and has not performed as well as he can. This leaves Aquilani who simply hasn’t been given a chance to perform, despite a very good performance at Anfield against Fulham recently; he was still substituted after 65 minutes leaving fans wondering what he has to do to earn a regular place in the side, Aquilani is in real danger of becoming the most high profile casualty of Benitez’s dreaded squad rotation policy.

Nonetheless, this article is not intended to be an attack on Benitez; although the management of Aquilani has certainly hampered his development and cannot be ignored, however, I want Liverpool fans to analyse the player himself, watch him in games and make an honest assessment of him, without Alonso-tinted glasses.

A series of injuries at Roma left him out of the team for almost entire seasons and although capped by Italy he is still not considered for regular international duty. Although the Anfield medical staff now claims that his ankle injuries are behind him he is still often injured, anything from thigh strains to virus’ have cropped up and paint the picture of a very fragile player. Perhaps most concerning is the fact that when he does play he defiantly doesn’t seem to have the physical presence or toughness required for a Premiership central midfielder, signed injured he was always going to be a calculated risk, however, it is looking more likely that the risk has not paid off. I hope I’m wrong as I think Liverpool’s problems this season have stemmed from a lack of creativity and leadership in midfield, the absence of Alonso has had a bigger impact than anyone could have imagined.

Aquilani may require further time to adapt, his former captain and Roma team-mate Francesco Totti certainly believes he will make an impact in England, saying, “Alberto is an incredibly talented player, with great technique and an excellent understanding of the game. He also has a powerful shot with both feet — he really is a complete midfielder. He is elegant and smart — these are his main characteristics.”

Certainly what Liverpool have been missing but to see him in games such as the cup defeat against Reading he seems to flinch out of challenges and not overly commit himself during games. He has often been guilty of giving the ball away in unnecessary situations as well as a general lack of passion, reminiscent of a certain Harry Kewell. My question to all Liverpool fans: ‘Is he really good enough?’

Don’t get me wrong I want Aquilani to succeed; he must surely have talent and just needs a platform to show it, however, I feel that either Benitez has lost faith in him or he simply isn’t cut out for the Premier League and its demands. One final thought to consider, Aquilani’s transfer fee has been publicised as £20M but it is not a single payment, rather £5M up front with the remainder going to Roma based on appearances a clear sign that Liverpool were hedging their bets on an injury prone player, don’t be too surprised if he is finds his way back to Italy this summer while his reputation and re-sale value are still quite high.

What do Liverpool fans think about the signing of Aquilani? Should he be given another season to prove himself? Please leave your comments below….

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4 Comments

  1. Shane

    April 22, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I think Aquilani needs another season at least. Look at the number of foreign imports that have taken time to settle in England and then gone on to prove their lucrative transfer fee’s. The most obvious case of this is that of Florent Malouda at Chelsea this year.

    Last year he looked more like a sunday league football player than a highly regarded French international. However he was given time to settle and adjust and Chelsea are reaping the rewards this season. Apart from Rooney, Malouda has been the best player in the league this term.

    In the past Liverpool have been too quick to cut their losses (Robbie Keane is the perfect example). When Aquilani is fit, he shows quality. To get into an Italian midfield that bosts the likes of Totti, Gattuso, Pirlo, and Di Rossi shows this. I just hope Benitez and the Liverpool fans keep faith and give him time to shine.

  2. Phil Dickinson

    April 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    I agree more or less with Shane above. He needs time and games.

    The media in particular have been all too quick to throw up the Aquilani transfer as an example of how Rafa has wasted money. If Rafa was short of transfer funds this summer he should maybe have thought about investing in someone who was fit from day one… someone who could slot straight in.

    But admitting that Alberto was maybe the wrong choice for Liverpool’s needs at the time doesn’t mean he is a bad player and doesn’t mean he can’t succeed in the long run. With a full pre-season under his belt he’ll have a much better chance.

    But I do have worries. Firstly, I’ve read that Aquilani has given up on his English lessons and is really struggling to learn the language. If he doesn’t make an effort in the summer he could really struggle to settle fully in England.

    And, secondly, if Rafa stays, Aquilani could suffer, like Lucas has this year, as a result of the manager’s tactics. Neither Alberto or Lucas are direct replacements for Alonso and neither will be able to make that 4-4-1-1 run as efficiently as Xabi did. And if we go into next season with the same manager and the same formation, I fear Aquilani won’t have shoulders broad enough to cope with the kind of criticism Lucas has faced since Alonso left.

    But, yeah, I’m hoping the club don’t give up on Alberto just yet. He’s already shown glimpses of what a quality player he can be. I’m sure if he stays injury free over the summer, works hard and we change of tactical system going to next year, he will flourish.

  3. Patrick McLoughlin

    April 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    I hope the article doesn’t come across as too critical of Aquilani; I just wanted to analyse his impact this season. I understand that he has been recovering from a long-term injury and he’s in a brand new country so will take longer than expected, Im not debating that he’s a bad player only suggesting that he may not be the right player for Liverpool and its existing tactics.

    Like Phil said, a change of tactics and a full pre-season may show us the real Aquilani. I really hope this happens as Xabi Alonso was my favourite player, the sooner we replace him the better.

  4. Josh Hayward

    April 27, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Doesn’t seem too critical of Aquilani at all. After all £20m is a lot of money (even though it isn’t one lump sum) to pay for a player that has so far, done next to nothing.
    I, even though I’m not a Liverpool fan, would like Aquilani to succeed but trying to fill those enormous Xabi Alonso shaped boots is going to be some task.
    I just don’t think that Liverpool fans should get their hopes up too high, as I’m sure they’re not!!

    Nice article, well thought about and put forward!!

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