How did it come to this? I’m resting my hopes for Liverpool’s season on an injured Italian midfielder who remains unproven in the Premier League. Alberto Aquilani, bought this summer for £20m to replace Xabi Alonso (if that’s possible) came to Liverpool a broken man. Hints that he’s been training and we could see him by the end of the month tickle at my expectations and curiosity. You see: apart from the fuzzy YouTube clips I’ve found, I have no idea what to expect of Alberto Aquilani.
I’ve read great things about him. I’ve heard great things about him. But this is not enough consolation as of yet. Waiting to see Aquilani in action is like waiting for the night of a blind date to come around. All my friends have assured me: “She’s gorgeous. She’s smart. She’s funny. And she has a terrific through ball.” I want to trust those friends. I want to believe the girl is the answer and will fill that big hole in my middle. But until we’re sitting down to dinner and the conversation starts flowing, I’ll be swimming in a nervy pool anticipation. (Alright, time to switch of the metaphor before it takes control.)
Last season Xabi Alonso was consistently the most influential player on the pitch for Liverpool. Waiting to hear if Xabi was leaving for Real Madrid or not was a painful drawn-out echo of that feeling of waiting for him to get up in one piece after Joey Barton slammed through him last May. While a team is no one player, Xabi was the central cog in the machine. Xabi’s beautiful long passes were the link from midfield to the front men.
He freed up Gerrard to get forward and devastate in and around the penalty area. He drew opposition players to him (they knew his playmaking could undo them and they rightly tried to swamp him out) which only gave more space to the likes of Torres, Gerrard, Kuyt and Riera. And when his long shots were on target it seemed like a goal could be scored from anywhere on the pitch. Our opponents knew how dangerous he was. Red card after red card was issued after players frantically took Xabi down.
Then, due to some combination of yearning for his homeland, feeling slighted from the previous summer’s Gareth Barry Saga, and drooling over the gargantuan bags of cash Real Madrid were willing to fling his way, Xabi left us.
So here’s Aquilani. He’s rated by Roma supporters and by Roma players including Liverpool alumnus John Arne Riise. Described as a creative box-to-box midfielder (without going back to the blind date metaphor… how sexy does that sound??) There are some great clips of Aquilani making great plays and taking some insane shots, but those of us who aren’t Dennis Wise need something more than a few gritty YouTube clips before we get behind a player.
Of course, at this point, Liverpool supporters have little choice.
Lucas Leiva is at best a squad player. Even if Aquilani is lost in the shadow left by Xabi Alonso, he must at least be good enough to displace Lucas from regular first team starts. Steven Gerrard has been pulled back in recent games to help beef up the midfield, but we long to see him slotting in behind Torres once again. There’s been no spark in the midfield which is where the important battles (and many league matches) are won and lost.
We need Aquilani to come good. We need creativity and diligence in the middle. A quality link between Mascherano’s defense and Gerrard’s attack.
Aquilani’s long rehabilitation has meant Liverpool supporters must wait to see just what £20m has bought. And even when he finally hits the pitch, we’ll need to exercise further patience. Between Rafa easing Aquilani back into play after a long injury and the time it will take for Aquilani to adapt to a new league and a new team, it will be a while before we see what impact he can really make. “Any foreign player coming into this country deserves a little time to gel with their teammates and get used to the new style of football. It’s such a tough and aggressive league,” reminds Steve McManaman in his recent call for supporters to give Alberto time to adjust.
Hopefully, Liverpool haven’t lost further ground by the time Alberto Aquilani finally makes his presence known.