21 August 2010

On Alberto Aquilani's Exit

So much for the hope that Aquilani would get a chance to shine with Cole suspended for the next three league games.

It didn't take long for Hodgson to decide Aquilani wasn't in his plans, and it didn't take long for Juventus to leap at the opportunity of getting a talented Italian on loan (if he passes his medical, naturally). That Liverpool statement unsurprisingly doesn't mention the details, but rumor is Juventus will pay all of his wages and have the option of buying the player for €15m at the end of the season. For some reason, I doubt they'll be ponying up that amount, but hope somehow still springs eternal.

Having more than a day to react to the news, which broke after the Trabzonspor match, has massively diminished my initial anger. I'm still not happy Alberto won't get a chance to prove his worth, but if he's not in Hodgson's plans, he's not in Hodgson's plans. There's truth in Roy's words about how Aquilani needs to be a regular starter to regain any semblance of consistent form, and that wasn't going to happen here. We can argue whether that's down to the player's inability to stay fit, an inability to settle in England and cope with the pressure, not wanting to be here after Benitez left, or ill-conceived promises to Joe Cole that he'll always be first choice to play behind the striker, but we'll probably never know for sure (and it's probably a melange of all four). We did see signs that this was coming when Benitez hesitated to use Aquilani last season despite reports that his ankle was fully healed and with the manager's neck already in the guillotine.

I'd obviously feel a lot better if Liverpool recouped some of the £18m paid for the player, but this is a "safer" way to try and make more money off him. No one's paying anywhere near that after last season, and €15m would be a good deal if Juventus takes it up in June. But let's not pretend this loan is to get him match fitness for an eventual return; another year in Serie A will do nothing to help him adapt to English football. If he goes to Italy, he's never coming back. Just pray he stays fit and thrives there.

Regardless of the circumstances, and this being a necessary evil, I'm still disappointed. I think he's a clever, creative attacking midfielder – arguably more suited to playing behind the striker than Joe Cole (that's another debate) – that we've still yet to see given a chance. In limited (extremely limited) action last season (26 appearances, 13 starts), Aquilani managed to create the second-most direct assists in the league (third-most in all competitions) with six, in addition to his goals against Portsmouth and Atletico. According to OPTA, Aquilani set up a goal every 136 minutes, which was the best assist rate in the top five European leagues. He was magnificent against Pompey and Burnley – admittedly not the toughest opposition, but magnificent nonetheless. He eventually showed signs of linking up well with both Gerrard and Torres in an advanced position. Now he'll go down as one of Liverpool's bigger transfer flops. But, news flash, to be a flop, you actually have to be given a chance to perform. Even if he never comes back, Aquilani's still got nothing on Keane or Diouf in this department. But, if this is truly the end, he was still a flop, and Benitez paid for the move with his job (among other reasons Rafa was shoved out).

I can't help but think there's conspiracy afoot – as usual – whether it's the cleaning out of Benitez's "projects" or Aquilani demanding a move home despite his (and his agent's) public pronouncements. Maybe the new Sports Medicine department is completely unconvinced about his fitness (again, despite public pronouncements), but that's even more of an argument for selling now before he absolutely falls apart. There's clearly something we're not being told. Whatever it is, it's not reassuring for the health of the club or the depth of the squad. But what else is new?

An already thin squad, especially at the sharp end of the pitch, just got thinner, and Liverpool didn't get any money to buy a replacement. Two of Liverpool's most creative players from last season – Benayoun and Aquilani – are now gone, and Jovanovic and Joe Cole seem the like-for-like replacements at best in a team consistently lacking inspiration. The midfield's now made up of Mascherano, Lucas, and Poulsen as holding players, and Gerrard and Cole as creative sparks. When the Kop was blasting out choruses of "we've got the best midfield in the world" two years ago, it leaves more than a little to be desired and is a more than apt description of how the American owners' lack of funds have ravaged the playing squad.

Let's hope this means many more chances for Dani Pacheco, who can play in a similar position, if obviously further forward. And Mascherano better be staying or else the midfield will be beyond demoralizing.


yowie said...

there is definitely some other reason than aquilani getting guaranteed first team football because if we can see that aquilani is a hell of a lot more creative than our other def mids, then i'm pretty sure roy can't be THAT stupid.
i was looking forward to seeing aquilani gaining some form with liverpool this season, but as with anything liverpool in recent times, it has left me disillusioned with what sort of progress we will make this season.
seems like our defence will be our ONLY form of defence this season.
only true positives for us us this season will be to scrape fourth and blood some young'uns.

Earl said...

The hits just keep on coming. Yes he needs more playing time, but as thin as Liverpool is right now you can't be getting rid of him for nothing. Depressing news, I was hoping he could redeem himself this year. You're right on that its another move to erase Rafa. Cole better be incredible.

Gareth Bale with the golazo, wow.

HanzoHattori said...

There have been reports of Hodgson not giving players chances. Mavinga complained about not getting a fair chance, and Insua too. Though Insua clearly wants to stay he's being shut out. He lost his squad No. to new signing Wilson. Nemeth has just left permanently for 1.5 mil. Doesnt look too good.
Its definitely unfair to Aquilani after all he has tried his best so far. It seems he's just being shunted aside for Cole. The very least you think the manager would do would be to loan him out another premier league side to adjust.