Time for the ‘Little Prince’ to start paying back his fee

Everyone knows this has been a disappointing season for Liverpool, but perhaps the most frustrating chapter has been that of Alberto Aquilani, last summer’s £18 million purchase from Roma. The Italian has failed to impose himself at Anfield since his move in August and it could prove to be a costly mistake from Rafa Benitez, especially if The Reds fail to finish in the top four. It was always a gamble to spend so much money on a player who has struggled with injury problems and was not fit at the time he arrived on Merseyside. But Benitez told the BBC that it did not matter:

“We can wait for him. We have enough midfield and offensive players to cope, and when he does start to play everyone will see what a clever player he is.”

In his limited appearances so far – nine league outings, with just four of those starts – Aquilani has certainly proved Rafa right. He is a clever player. He has looked tidy and shows an eagerness to pass and move. But it hasn’t been enough to justify his price tag, which could rise to over £20 million. While his ankle grievance kept him unavailable until October he has since had plenty of time to establish himself in the team. And while it is understandable he would need time to settle, as most foreign purchases do, as one of Liverpool’s major summer purchases he should have had a far bigger impact.

But why hasn’t it worked so far and will the playmaker step up to the plate next season, once he has acclimatised to the English game? The improved form of Lucas has probably been part of the reason why the Italian has struggled for minutes on the pitch. And with Liverpool struggling to reach the heights of last season’s performances as a team, it has called for players with more grafting qualities like the young Brazilian and his fellow South American, Javier Mascherano. Aquilani is not as defensively able as these two, but it has still surprised many that with his excellent vision and ability to drive forward he has not been able to oust either one from the side on a consistent basis.

The 25-year-old looked to be living up to the hype in January when he turned in an excellent display in the home win over Tottenham but he was dropped for the following game away at Wolves and has now started just one of the last six games and looks increasingly unlikely to force his way back into the side before the season’s end. This will leave Liverpool fans hoping that he can deliver next season after a full pre-season. If the Italian international doesn’t find his feet by then, the £18 million will begin to look even pricier, during a time when money is tight at Anfield. It is time he started showing his worth.