When Alberto Aquilani began his career at his hometown club of AS Roma, people in the Italian capital nicknamed him “Il Principino” (the little prince), in reference to Giallorossi legend Giuseppe Giannini, who himself was known as “Il Principe” during his days as captain of the club through the 1980s and 1990s.
Aquilani grew up as a midfielder, not physically strong, but with good technique and an exceptional ability to read the game, thanks to superb vision and positional sense. In his time at Roma, from 2002 until 2009, he showcased his qualities, impressing many, but never entirely convincing the board in La Capitale. Il Principino struggled to really impose himself on the team as one of the Giallorossi’s mainstays of the future, perhaps in part due to a bad run of injuries, particularly to his knees and ankles.
In the summer of 2009, Roma decided to sell Aquilani to English side Liverpool for an incredible €20M; a large sum for a player who had suffered more than his fair share of injuries in the years leading up to the deal. Aquilani even arrived on Merseyside with a knee niggle and only scored his first goal for the Reds on 15th March 2010, in a home victory over Portsmouth.
Liverpool did not enjoy an impressive 2009/10 campaign, finishing only seventh in the Premier League, while Aquilani was largely anonymous, both domestically and in Europe. At the end of the season, Liverpool opted to send the midfielder back to Italy, with Juventus agreeing to take Aquilani on loan.
2010/11 was another season of problems and injuries for the Italian. Juventus endured one of their worst ever seasons and Aquilani struggled to convince the club’s owners, the Agnelli family, that he merited signing on a permanent basis. The midfielder was sent back to Liverpool and Juventus replaced the Roman with Andrea Pirlo, signed following his release from AC Milan. Pirlo went on to start his renaissance with the Bianconeri and guided them to last season’s Serie A title.
At Liverpool too there was no room for Aquilani and again he would spend the season in Italy, but this time at then-reigning Serie A champions AC Milan.
With the Rossoneri, playing in a midfield boasting Mark van Bommel and Antonio Nocerino, and combined with the assistance of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Aquilani enjoyed a good start to the campaign, scoring his first goal in Naples in a game Milan lost 3-1. However, injuries struck again and then Aquilani found himself spending more time on the bench than on the pitch. But when he did play, the pass-master did enough to show that the talent was still there, along with an ability to operate on the same wavelength as world-class players. His time at the San Siro though also demonstrated that he still has difficulty staying healthy for an entire season, with the inherent fragility first seen at Roma still there.
As the summer approached, the Milan board thanked Aquilani for his efforts, but decided to look elsewhere for the new campaign.
Months of negotiations then took place throughout the summer, before Liverpool agreed to cut their losses and allow Aquilani to stay in Italy on a permanent basis, with the midfielder accepting an offer from Fiorentina. Aquilani landed at a La Viola side being rebuilt by new manager Vincenzo Montella and also saw an opportunity to resurrect his career in a city with much less pressure than Milan, Turin or Liverpool.
Fast-forward to the end of December and it seems Aquilani has made the right choice. He is one of the key men in the 3-5-2 system played by Montella and has put in a whole host of superb performances as part of a midfield trio, alongside David Pizarro and Borja Valero. For now, Aquilani has had only the briefest of injury layoffs (and finally that is a positive for the former Liverpool man) while he feels part of the ambitious project at Fiorentina being created by Montella – and one which has kept La Viola battling at the top end of Serie A.
Aquilani has also become stronger, allying that to his natural talent and also adding an ability to play as a second “regista”, or even as the first in the role, in the absence of Pizarro, to his game.
On 11th November, Aquilani took revenge on Massimiliano Allegri and the AC Milan board, scoring the first goal at the San Siro in a match dominated by La Viola and won 3-1. Now Aquilani is more confident and looks assured; and the midfielder most certainly has winning a recall to Cesare Prandelli’s national team on his mind. Aquilani made his Italy debut in 2006 as hope for the future. Now he can return to the Azzurri as one of the main men.