From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.42 :: Oct. 17, 2009

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FOOTBALL

Aquilani's Anfield woes

The Italian player is still to come close to making his debut in England having been signed despite an ankle problem, but that has not deterred Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez from reiterating his belief that he got the better deal in the transfer trade-off, writes Robert Meaden.

When Liverpool finally buckled in the summer and sold Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid, the Anfield followers were promised a swift and credible successor. Rafael Benitez was true to his word in part at least, and just hours after allowing the Spanish midfielder to leave, he agreed a GBP20 million deal to bring in an Italian replacement.

However, Benitez's claims that Alberto Aquilani is more than a match for the departed Alonso are yet to be assessed by anybody other than Liverpool's medical staff.

AQUILANI IS STILL TO COME CLOSE to making his debut in England having been signed despite an ankle problem, but that has not deterred Benitez from reiterating his belief that he got the better deal in the transfer trade-off.

"I know the fans are frustrated but we have signed a good player with talent and I never worried that we would have to wait for him to be fit," he said.

"Xabi was a player who received the ball and played long and short passes. Aquilani wants to play higher up the pitch than that. He wants to be in the final third so that he can create chances. In that respect, playing passes to give the strikers the chance to score, he is better than Alonso. When he is fit the team will be more dangerous because he has the ability to find (Fernando) Torres and (Steven) Gerrard with passes that will give them more chances to score. He is ahead of schedule for his comeback, but we must be careful with him."

INDEED, BENITEZ MUST BE wary, for injuries are not a new curse to fall upon Aquilani's shoulders, which are just about the only part of his body yet to prove fragile in a promising but stunted career.

Aquilani's rise to prominence began at an early age - 16 to be precise - when Barclays English Premier League sides Chelsea and Arsenal reportedly attempted to lure him away from Roma.

However, the player who became known as `Il Principino' (the little prince) at Roma, realised every youngster's dream by playing for his boyhood club - making his debut as an 18-year-old in a Serie A clash with Torino.

FABIO CAPELLO WAS THE manager then, and the current England boss decided in Aquilani's best interest that a year with a lesser club to gain first-team experience was the way to go and subsequently sent him to Triestina.

A successful season followed, complete with over 40 appearances and four goals. That season - 2003-/04 - remains Aquilani's most prolific. In the following five seasons, the creative player was supposed to cement his place in the Roma side and become an integral player in the likes of Francesco Totti. He succeeded in patches but just 100 games in half a decade is evidence enough of the problems Alberto repeatedly suffered.

SHORTLY AFTER BEING HANDED the coveted No. 8 shirt at Roma, he tore a thigh muscle, duly made a stunning return a few months later, but almost inevitably, a small batch of impressive performances were shortly followed by further injurywoes, with his other thigh this time feeling the strain. And Aquilani's career followed a similar path throughout, with good games preceding more time on the treatment table.

For Italy, at youth level he first appeared for the national side in 2001 at the qualifying stage of the European Under-16 Championships and followed that in 2003 by being an important part of the side that won the under-19 equivalent.

AQUILANI THEN PROGRESSED to the under-21s, but missed the 2006 European Championships with knee ligament damage.

His full international debut came in November 2006 in a friendly match against Turkey, and he went on to be named in the squad for Euro 2008 and started Italy's quarterfinal match against Spain due to the suspensions to Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso.

Aquilani's reputation in Italian football is suitably illustrated by the fact that he was deemed to be an adequate replacement for AC Milan stalwarts Pirlo and Gattuso, two modern midfield legends.

BUT WHILE LIVERPOOL FANS will be delighted if Aquilani can reproduce that sort of form alongside Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, right now most would probably just be happy to see him in action at all. For Aquilani, it comes in one word - injuries. The midfielder undoubtedly has bags of ability, but will his body ever be capable of realising its potential? Only time and the medical staff of Roma and Liverpool know the answer to that.

He is known to be dating Italian actress Michela Quattrociocche, although reports that they are now engaged are yet to be confirmed.

Aquilani has been spotted at the wheel of a sporty Mercedes E-Class during his time at Roma.

FACTFILE

Name: Alberto Aquilani
Position: Midfielder
Club: Liverpool
D.O.B.: 07/07/1984
Italy caps: 11
Italy goals: 2
Italy debut: v Turkey, 15/11/2006

Moment to remember

He scored his first international goal and promptly added a second for the azzurri in a World Cup 2010 qualifier against Montenegro last year.

Moment to forget

The 2008/09 season was one of Aquilani's worst for injury complaints, as a thigh injury ruled him out from October to January before an ankle injury virtually ended his season in February.

© PA Sport, 2009, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.



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