In the words of the great Andrea Boccelli, it is “Time to say Goodbye” for Liverpool fans as £18m midfielder Alberto Aquilani was effectively sold to Juventus last week. The deal is officially a season-long loan, but Juve have agreed a fee to make the deal permanent at the end of the season.
This ends Aquilani’s spell at Liverpool, which was dogged by injuries and the manager who’d signed him seemingly changing his mind about the player’s worth to the team before he’d even had a chance to establish himself. Also, the manner of his exit was weird, with Roy Hodgson talking about how he hopes Aquilani will return from his loan spell a better Liverpool player then the two tems agreeing a fee hours later.
Alberto Aquilani was, rightly or wrongly, seen as the replacement for Xabi Alonso. Rafa Benitez promised us when Alonso was sold we’d get the best possible replacement for him. So it was somewhat of a surprise that he chose to sign Aquilani, a different type of midfielder to Alonso, who’d spent the previous two seasons plagued by injury and was injured at the time of signing (I’m still at a loss to explain how you can sign a player who must have failed his medical). So that begs the question, was he really the best possible replacement for Alonso?
I mentioned in the previous paragraph that Aquilani is a different type of midfielder to Alonso. Alonso was the master of picking the ball up in his own half and starting attacks off using measured, precise passes. Aquilani’s natural position was a good 20/30 yards further up the pitch; best operating near the forward line, looking for the opportunity to use a bit of trickery to make the telling pass. Unfortunately for him, Aquilani was viewed as the successor to Alonso and was expected to perform straight away.
We didn’t see Aquilani play until October 28th, when he made a late cameo against Arsenal and showed promising glimpses of the skills he possessed and it looked as though that would be the start of the road back to fitness for him. That didn’t happen. He was ill, not match fit or injured again or some other reason, which lead him to miss games (my favourite reason was ‘the pitch was too bumpy for him to play’!). There were many times when he was seemingly okay but still wasn’t played, indeed Aquilani’s father came out with a statement to that effect. There was also the bizarre Rafa Benitez reason that he didn’t want to play him until the team was performing better, which implies the team would not be improved with him in! Aquilani didn’t make a start until the dead rubber Champions League game against Fiorentina in December but even that didn’t mark the start of him playing regularly for Liverpool.
Towards the end of the season Aquilani finally got some game time and looked impressive. He seemed to give the side an extra-dimension and scored a couple of goals and made a few assists. While he didn’t look the most robust of players, he still looked like a useful asset to the team.
Obviously something happened over the summer. With the managerial change at the club Aquilani must have thought that maybe this season would be the one that kick-starts his Liverpool career. Maybe the signing of Joe Cole and Christian Poulsen convinced Aquilani (or Roy Hodgson) that he wouldn’t get many starts and so the club looked to loan him out. Maybe the club simply needed the money and looked to cut their losses.
On a personal note, I was at the Liverpool v Rabotnicki game a few weeks ago and was watching Aquilani and Kyrgiakos warming up in front of me during the first half. While they were both warming up, Liverpool were awarded a penalty. Steven Gerrard duly converted and I was watching the players’ reactions. Kyrgiakos was smiling and applauding but Aquilani was totally expressionless. I don’t know if that’s his general demeanour or something had happened to the effect that he’d been told the club was trying to loan him out beforehand but he didn’t exactly look pleased we’d scored.
The original plan Roy Hodgson had for Aquilani was to loan him out. Hodgson said “It would certainly be what he needs, it would certainly protect the value of the player and when he does return to Liverpool no doubt we will see the Aquilani that we signed before he came here injured last year.” Sending him back to Italy, where he has already proved himself then seemed a bit weird, wouldn’t have sending him to another Premier League club have made more sense? That question was answered hours later when it was announced that not only had Aquilani been loaned to Juventus, he’d also been sold.
Lets be honest here, Aquilani is a bit physically fragile. He didn’t get the nickname ‘Crystal-legs’ for nothing. Maybe Liverpool’s medical staff has come to the opinion that he’ll never be tough enough for the Premier League and decided to sell now. Maybe Aquilani wanted to go back to Italy, maybe he never really settled in England and wanted to go back to his home country. Whatever the reason was, I for one am sorry to see him go.
Usually when a team loans a player, especially an international £18m player, the team loaning pays a fee. This doesn’t seem to have happened in this case according to this statement from Juventus: "Juventus Football Club announces that an agreement with Liverpool FC for the free temporary acquisition of the registration rights of the player Alberto Aquilani has been reached” The important phrase being ‘Free temporary acquistion’ That suggests that a normal loan was never really on the cards and that he was always going to be sold.
Another thing about this transfer that no news outlet seems to have picked up upon so far is that under the terms of his transfer, Roma are entitled to 5% of the transfer fee, meaning they’ll get £650,000 on top of the £18m they already got from Liverpool.