It was only a few weeks ago that Gary Lineker stated in his column in the Mail on Sunday that Alberto Aquilani was one of the worst ever Premier League signings. My thought at the time was “For God’s sake, give the man a chance before writing him off.” Patience is certainly not a word you would describe the British media of having, and after Rafa Benitez spent £20million on a replacement for Xabi Alonso, many journalists expect instant results from the Italian midfielder after his return from injury.
I have to concede that buying a replacement for an important player who costs the best part of your remaining transfer budget and was injured for a fair few months at the start of the season, is not an ideal signing, and the absence of an Alonso-style midfielder has contributed heavily to Liverpool’s troubles in the league. This however is not Aquilani’s fault and although expectations are high for the Italian, they have to be realistic.
Aquilani has been out for six months with an ankle injury, recovery to full fitness is slow and arduous and even after returning to the starting eleven, it could be the best part of two months before he is firing on all cylinders. Once he is fully match fit though, there comes the second and most difficult obstacle to overcome: adapting to the Premier League. The pace and physicality of the English league can take a long time to get used to. A year is normally taken for a player to adapt but Aquilani will no doubt be considered a failure in the press’s eyes if he has not succeeded by then; this will give Aquilani an added extra mental pressure as he tries to settle in.
It is quite apparent already from Aquilani’s starts in the Premier League that the speed of the Premier League will be the biggest difficulty to overcome. In Italy, he was used to having time on the ball to pick out a pass, but he will be afforded no such luxuries in England and has already on occasion been tackled with the ball in his possession. The Italian no doubt has excellent passing abilities, but he will have to learn to think quicker and pass the correct ball; against Aston Villa last week he managed to get on the ball regularly and help control the midfield but he conceded possession too readily on occasion as he panicked under pressure by trying to put through too many killer balls. He must first learn the basic fundamentals of the Premier League, and ensure he is the link up man to Gerrard in simple one/two touch football attacking moves.
There have however already been many promising signs for Aquilani. Rather than not being fancied by Benitez as many in the press have said over the past month, the AA man has started two games over Christmas, and will begin to build greater understanding with his team-mates, most importantly with Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. He is certainly more forward minded than Alonso, and he can be found either in the box or just outside in many attacking moves, providing different options to his team-mates as either an outlet for a short pass or a possibility as a late runner into the box.
“Patience” is the operative word for both fans and press alike. It is something which will certainly be difficult during a season of strife at Anfield, but it must nevertheless be advice that should be heeded as we might just be rewarded with a very special player. If his former team-mate at Roma Daniele De Rossi’s word’s are anything to go by, then we should get the player we are all looking for. Before Aquilani left for Liverpool, De Rossi stated:
If it’s as it’s written in the papers, we will lose a great player. His many injuries have maybe meant that he’s been forgotten about a bit, but I am sure that if he leaves we will regret it. He’s a footballer with exceptional skill… but if you think about his career I think it would be a good opportunity, he would grow a lot by being close to the best midfielder in the world – Steven Gerrard.
If Gerrard and Aquilani do strike up a great partnership in the coming months, Liverpool fans certainly won’t be regretting his £20million price tag.