Has any player in Liverpool's recent history commanded such open debate, as that caused by the £20 million acquisition of Roma's midfield maestro, Alberto Aquilani?
I dare say not...
For although Aquilani has undoubted qualities, (he can stroke a beautifully crafted 50-yard pass in any direction, is brave, and has an eye for a cute through ball), he is no Xabi Alonso. Yet.
Aquilani's lack of impact of any sort on the Reds' first team this season is due in the main to two reasons: 1) that his ankle injury brought on by sustained periods of playing in the Roma first team with the original injury prevented him from making an early impact and indeed missing the entire Liverpool preseason programme; and 2) that for some reason, Rafa Benitez chooses not to start the playmaker when quite clearly the player needs game time, and indeed, is currently injury-free.
Indeed, some media hacks have been quoted as saying that the combined £36 million paid by Liverpool for both Aquilani and Portsmouth's Glen Johnson would have been better spent on obtaining the services of one or more "hitmen"—or strikers as we like to call them in football land.
And this statement does indeed carry a lot of weight, when you consider that neither has made a great impact on the Reds first team, and indeed, Liverpool have been a lot stronger at the back since Johnson's enforced absence through injury.
But throughout all of this, Aquilani remains something of an enigma. He quite clearly excites the Liverpool fans who expect great things of the young Italian, and for the majority, the Anfield faithful have genuine high hopes for this obviously talented Roman (see YouTube for details). But, and I repeat but, the only time the Reds will get the best out of Aquilani is by giving the boy game time.
So just why does Benitez simply refuse to play the man?
With the rumour mill in overdrive, the most common story to come out of all this, is that Rafa Benitez believes that Aquilani is quite simply out of his depth in the Premier League, and that he is waiting to offload the player.
Week after week, a variety of excuses for the Italian's non-appearances tend to rear their heads including, "he's ill" or "he's injured". Indeed, such has Aquilani's absence from the side become such a talking point, in fact, even a joke, that one Jeff Stelling on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday programme even hedged a bet that he was missing after slipping on the floor in the corridor to the Melwood canteen!
Myself? Well, I believe for one that Aquilani does have all the attributes to become a truly wonderful Liverpool player. Yes, he does happen to be giving the ball away a little too often at the moment. Yes, he does try the extravagant 50-yard pass when a simple, short 10-yard one will do, but at least he is trying these things.
What we have to do is understand the mindset of the player at present. He arrived at the club in the summer with a big pricetag on his head. He was touted as a better player and replacement for one Xabi Alonso, who by all Reds fans admissions had just had an outstanding season; and he arrived with all the plaudits of the Roma fans and indeed, the Italian media barking about their young midfield protege. So, if Aquilani has taken time to settle, and does indeed seem hell-bent on proving all and sundry wrong by perhaps trying the impossible every now and then? Who are we to argue?
Lets give the boy a chance.
After all, if he's proven to be half the player Xabi Alonso was to the Reds' last season, then we will have one hell of a star on our hands.
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