When Alberto Aquilani signed for Liverpool in August 2009, his arrival was met with a distinctly mixed reception amongst the clubs supporters. Many believed that he was a talented player who could fill the hole that Xabi Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid had left, whilst others were concerned that £17 million had been spent on player with a history of injury problems. Those that were sceptical about the deal can now feel justified in their apprehension of the transfer, but was Alberto Aquilani really given a chance at Liverpool? And has Roy Hodgson made a mistake by letting him go?
Liverpool fans were rightly worried when Xabi Alonso left their club last summer, albeit for what was a very hefty transfer fee. Alonso had been one of the club’s best performers since his arrival at the club, when he, Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard formed arguably one of the best midfields in Europe. Alonso became disillusioned however, after Rafael Benitez’ mystifying pursual of Gareth Barry. Benitez’ transfer dealings were a mixed bag to say the least, so when Alonso left Liverpool and Aquilani was drafted in as his replacement, it was not a move greeted with universal praise. Their concerns were not helped when it was revealed Aquilani was currently injured and would not be able to start the season, a fact that was especially worrying when a look at Aquilani’s career told you he had a history of injury problems.
When Aquilani had gained full fitness you might have expected such a big money signing to go straight into the team. Yet Benitez seemed almost reluctant to play him, using Lucas in the midfield at his expense. Aquilani finally made his Premier League debut as a late substitute on 9 November 2009, in a 2-2 draw with Birmingham, his first start did not come until a month later in a Champions League tie against Fiorentina, a match which Liverpool lost. At this point there were certainly questions being asked over the wisdom of signing Aquilani, and the player himself must have been disenchanted with life at Liverpool.
It was not until March that Aquilani began to show the form that persuaded Benitez to sign him. He scored his first goal for the Reds against Portsmouth in March, and it began a string of impressive performances where he picked up a number of Fans Man of the Match awards. The fact is when Aquilani was fit and Benitez decided to play him, he looked like a very talented player and as if he could be an important one for Liverpool. He had time and space on the ball, an excellent range of passing and also offered a goal threat, this is what Liverpool had paid £17 million for and many fans would have been optimistic that Aquilani could be a good player for the club in his second season.
The Italian however, would not be given a chance to have a second season at Anfield. Roy Hodgson was brought in to replace Benitez and had his own ideas about who should be brought in and who should leave. Hodgson obviously didn’t see Aquilani as fitting in with his plans and he was loaned out to Juventus, with an option to buy at the end of the season. It was a disappointing end to Aquilani’s Liverpool career, who has insisted that he wants to stay in Italy. It might turn out to be a bad call by Hodgson, Aquilani showed some real form at the end of last season and he has not been given a fair chance at Liverpool. It is possible that this season Aquilani could have been a major player for Liverpool, but now we will never find out. His move back to Italy in my opinion, was far too premature.