As a child, I could never sleep on Christmas Eve. There was a greedy little materialist in me who sneaked into the living room in the dark to count, shake and feel up all the presents under the tree with my name on them and then stayed up all night trying to imagine what the morning would really bring. Shameful. Now, I’m thirty years old and I am reduced to childhood again as I wait for Alberto Aquilani to join the Liverpool side as a full-time starter. This has been a three-and-a-half-month long version of Christmas Eve. When we finally unwrap him… what are we gonna get?
We’ve previewed him in a Liverpool kit. I didn’t get to watch the Arsenal match live but here’s a YouTube video highlighting his Red debut:
The bicycle kick that fired the ball into Senderos’s arms and led to pleas for handball was the biggest Aquilani talking point of the match, but for me his seer-like long pass to Degen was the thing that gave me chills and made me wonder if this is a glimpse of our next Xabi Alonso. (Hoping hoping hoping). And keep in mind while watching that highlight reel: Aquilani was only on the pitch for 13 minutes.
He also came on briefly in the draw against Birmingham. Even less time on the pitch (on in the 82nd) but some good touches and at least one fiery pass.
The LFC PR machine has been grinding out articles assuring us that Aquilani can live up to the hype his price tag has created. Mssrs Riise, Dossena, Totti and Dalglish have all let us know this kid can be great. Aquilani has talked about how great Liverpool’s physios have been, better than those in Italy and he thinks he can stay fit etc, etc.
But until we see him run out for a start and/or until we see him shell out a half hour or more of play, there’s no way of knowing just what the £20m has brought to this struggling Liverpool side.
Recent big summer signings have had a visible and fairly immediate impact on the Liverpool side: Fernando Torres exploded from the start, scoring a beautiful goal against Chelsea on his Anfield debut before spending the season breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record for Most Goals Scored by a Foreigner in a Debut Season in England. (The record itself apparently holds the record for Most Likely to Forget What Point You Were Making While You Say the Entire Name of the Record… oh yeah… big summer signings…)
Robbie Keane, while seeming a failure to those obsessed with stats such as “how many sitters he missed” (you nitpickers), really did influence the team and results from the start, drawing defenders away from his teammates, creating space and chances and being the consummate teammate even when he wasn’t getting the goals. Liverpool would not have beaten United that fall without Robbie Keane. I’m sure of it. It would have been nice to get more goals from Mr Keane, but he made his mark in a great Liverpool season and influenced results from the beginning of his brief tenure.
And before that Mascherano, Reina and Alonso each came in, giving us visible contributions and changing the team for the better in short amounts of time.
This past summer Liverpool dropped a huge bundle of cash securing Glen Johnson with immediate return: the defender scored two goals in his first four Premier League appearances for Liverpool. And he’s mostly looked great on the pitch, especially when he gets forward and carves out a deadly feed for somebody else.
But Aquilani is another story. He was broken when we bought him. His reputation as a creative, box-to-box midfielder with great vision precedes him, but there no way to tell how he’s going to improve Liverpool and live up to said reputation until he gets out there for a long, healthy stretch of time.
In his brief appearance against Birmingham (the Aquilani outing I got to watch – as I’m not Dennis Wise, I’m not going to assess a player purely from YouTube footage), I saw a spark. His stints have been short, but he’s worked hard in those short spells. He’s got that gleam in his eye. He wants to prove he’s up to the task. He wants to prove his injuries are behind him. He wants to hone in on that teammate with the killer angle on goal and boot the ball into that man’s path.
I know part of it is I want him to remind me of Alonso because I want him to prove to be a true replacement for Xabi, but he really does remind me of Alonso! Even if it has only been in tiny doses and in tiny moments… yes, okay, the YouTube video is entering into my sense of things… but it’s part of the bigger picture! Again, I’m not imitating Mr Wise, here. YouTube is just part of the information I’m taking in. (Sorry, I get defensive when I use short internet clips. They are too easy to access and don’t give the whole story, but, dammit, they have their use.) Anyway, that Alonso-like potential just feels like it’s there. So I’m a wishful thinker. Thus the Christmas Eve comparison.
Gerrard looks to start against City on Saturday. Will Aquilani be there as well? I truly hope so. I hope the dude makes his mark early the way Torres did. I hope he slots the ball through to Gerrard or N’Gog or Kuyt and assists in the kind of goal that replays in the mind for weeks. Or, even better, I hope he scores with a heat-seeker from distance. That’s not too much to ask, right? A minor miracle to lift us out of our slump? I am sitting here in my pajamas, in front of the tree, waiting for morning to come, hoping to watch Rafa unwrap a fit, explosive Alberto Aquilani who helps turn this season around. Amen.
(PS – I spent that whole Christmas-themed article working hard not to make a cheap N’Gog/Eggnog joke. Aren’t you proud of me? Thank you. Thank you. And thank you.)