It has been nearly three years since Alberto Aquilani was sold by Roma to Liverpool, a difficult but perhaps a necessary decision for both the player and the Giallorossi. “I am a Roma fan and for me to leave my team was different than for any other player”, Aquilani said soon after arriving in England. After just a year though, he was back in Italy with Juventus. Liverpool had not seen the best of Aquilani during the course of the season, and in truth the only beneficiaries of his transfer were Roma, who had pocketed €20m from the deal.
Aquilani will turn 28 this summer and should be in the prime of his career, but is still uncertain where his future will lie. A permanent transfer to Milan seems to be the most likely course of action, but a return to the Premier League is still a possibility. At this stage of his career, Aquilani’s true potential will only be realised if he is able to establish himself in one team for an extended period of time rather than jump from one squad to another every summer. He has recognised this himself, recently saying that “I have been changing teams for three years now and I want to affirm myself at Milan by staying for a long time”.
The other problem that Aquilani faces is somewhat more long-standing: injuries. The midfielder is blessed with great technique and passing abilities that have led to comparisons with the likes of Andrea Pirlo (something he is always keen to play down), but finds himself on the treatment table as often as on the pitch. Wherever he has been, injuries of various types have plagued him, though his ankles have been particularly susceptible. His numerous ailments have meant that he has only twice managed to play over 30 games in a season since 2005/06 (31 for Roma in 2007/08 and 36 in 2010/11 for Liverpool and Juventus).
From this perspective, do Roma miss Aquilani? Not especially. Luis Enrique’s high tempo football, both in possession and in the recovery phase, would put serious pressure on an already brittle body. While the Giallorossi’s injuries have been nothing compared to Milan’s woes this season, there has certainly been no shortage of problems at Trigoria and during matches, a number of which could be a result of the new coaching techniques. But do Roma miss Aquilani from a technical point of view? That is more debatable. I would not suggest that he would displace any of the first choice midfield trio of Miralem Pjanic, Daniele De Rossi and Fernando Gago; Pjanic occupies the slot in midfield that Aquilani would take up, given the more defensive duties of the other two members of the triumvirate, and the Bosnian has been one of Roma’s best performers this season.
Given the options on the bench though, Roma have often been in need of a player with Aquilani’s touch and vision. Since January, Marquinho has shown himself to be comfortable in possession and started to show an eye for a killer ball (only Francesco Totti and Pjanic play more key passes on average per game than Marquinho according to WhoScored). Beyond the on-loan Brazilian though, Leandro Greco, Fabio Simplicio and Simone Perrotta have often left much to be desired when playing in the new Roma system. Aquilani, on the other hand, would seem to be a perfect fit from a technical point of view.
As a Roman, a move back to his boyhood club would also be of doubtless appeal to Aquilani, but would he be happy to settle for a place on the bench more often than a starting role? “His only desire has been to play football, and he has put this ahead of any other considerations and at personal cost to himself”, Liverpool director Damien Comolli stated last summer after the Premier League side had sent him out on loan to Milan. However, if the Rossoneri decided not to sign the midfielder permanently in the summer for the rumoured €6m, the Roma hierarchy could do a lot worse than turn their eyes on Aquilani as they plot their summer reinforcements.