Will Anfield’s forgotten men get a second chance?
They brought high hopes and expectations when they arrived. They were the missing pieces of the jigsaw. They were going to help Liverpool reclaim their place amongst England’s elite after a prolonged absence.
Unfortunately for Alberto Aquilani and Joe Cole, it didn’t quite work out as planned for them at Anfield; both men found themselves loaned out only a year after signing for the Reds.
Aquilani, who joined from Roma in the summer of 2009 for a fee of £20m, has spent the last two seasons on loan to Juventus and then AC Milan. However, both clubs declined the option to sign the Italian international on a permanent basis. Juventus first decided that £13m was too much to pay for the midfielder before AC Milan gave him 24 games during his loan spell; they were only a game away from triggering a clause which meant that they would have to sign him for £6.4m.
The move to Milan was a surprise as the manager at the time, Kenny Dalglish, made comments which implied that Aquilani had a future at Anfield under his tenure. Indeed, he starred in pre-season games and looked to be in contention for a regular first-team place under the Scot until he was sent back to his homeland for another season. Dalglish later claimed that the Italian would not fit into the system he was looking to play at Anfield.
The chance to salvage a career on Merseyside may yet be offered to Aquilani with the club under new management in Brendan Rodgers. Although he is not the deep-lying playmaker that Xabi Alonso was, he fits into Rodgers’ philosophy as someone who likes to pass the ball and retain possession. A quick glance at his statistics shows that he is not a great goalscorer but offers more of a creative influence on the team – a stylish upgrade on both Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson, perhaps?
If Rodgers is to give Aquilani a second chance, he would have to hope that the midfielder is not hampered by the same injury problems which were so prevalent during his first year in England. He arrived with an ankle injury, which had been operated on at Roma, but Rafael Benitez said that he was fully aware of the problem and was willing to wait for Aquilani to recover, buying him anyway.
Since joining Liverpool, Aquilani has made only 28 appearances for the club with 2 goals to his name. He was restricted by injuries and poor fitness, which meant that he rarely completed ninety minutes under Benitez. He impressed in flashes, winning a series of man of the match awards for some sparkling displays but he didn’t even feature in half of the club’s league fixtures.
Aquilani’s agent has claimed that the injury problems are “a thing of the past” and, at 28, he should be coming into his prime as a midfielder. With only two years left of a five-year contract, Liverpool need to decide whether to give him a second chance or to take a cut-price fee and rid themselves of him. Rodgers has said that Aquilani is “a good guy” who things haven’t worked out for at Anfield but, nonetheless, he is “a player with the qualities, in terms of technical and tactical ability, to play”.
Similarly, Joe Cole could make the most of his second chance at Anfield to really make his mark after a disappointing debut season for the Reds.
A free transfer from Chelsea, the 30 year-old came to Merseyside with a reputation as a player of real quality who represented a coup for Liverpool but, as the fans soon found out, that was far from the truth.
A red card on his league debut at home to Arsenal for a lunge at Laurent Koscielny was followed by a penalty miss against Trabzonspor in the Europa League qualifying rounds; not the ideal start to life at his new club. It didn’t get much better as it took him until January to score his first league goal – a last-minute winner against Bolton. His first season at Anfield totalled 32 games, only 9 of them starts, with 3 goals.
French champions Lille arranged a loan deal with Liverpool for Cole and he joined the club for the duration of the 2011/12 season. They were so impressed with him during the loan spell that they wished to make it a permanent move but accepted that he would be in the plans of new manager Rodgers. Linking up with the dangerous Eden Hazard seemed to spark the England international into life as he scored 9 goals in 42 appearances which gives encouragement to Liverpool fans and suggests that he could make a positive contribution if given the opportunities upon his return to Anfield.
Much like Aquilani, Cole is a player who could fit into Rodgers’ 4-3-3 system as he has experience of playing as a wide player in that formation under José Mourinho whilst at Chelsea. This was where Cole was at his most devastating, being almost unplayable at times whilst frequently switching wings with Arjen Robben. Again, there are similarities with Aquilani in that he could be seen as an upgrade on another flop, Stewart Downing; only if the Joe Cole of Chelsea can be rediscovered, that is.
The problem with both Aquilani and Cole is that they are amongst the top earners at the club. This may not sit too kindly with Fenway Sports Group, the owners of the club, and they may look to sell one, or both, to free up some extra money. Despite loaning the pair out last season, the club subsidised a portion of the wages – particularly Cole’s rumoured £90k/week package – and would not want to waste money in such a manner again, particularly with the implementation of Financial Fair Play. If both players are not viewed as valuable members of the first team squad, they will leave.
Rodgers has come out in the press saying that there will be no spending spree at Liverpool over the course of this summer as the club “don’t have a wheelbarrow load of money”. Frankly, there isn’t much need to spend the ludicrous amounts that Kenny Dalglish did as two potential solutions to Liverpool’s problems are right under the manager’s nose. It’s down to him whether he chooses to use them or not.