As the 2002-03 Serie A campaign came to a close, the Roma faithful got the chance to watch another born-and-bred make his debut in the shirt he grew up watching.
On the same day that Daniele De Rossi scored his first goal in the Roma shirt, fellow prodigal son Alberto Aquilani made his first-career senior appearance for his hometown club at the Stadio Olimpico.
Both De Rossi and Aquilani were tipped for greatness, as pretty much every young Italian midfielder is, and were expected to usher in a new era of Roma football just two years after they had captured the Italian title.
Not only that, with legend Francesco Totti heading into prime of his career, the two new darlings of the Roma youth system were supposed to keep the legendary No. 10 at the top of the Serie A world and bring more silverware into Italy’s capital.
As his career has developed and went on, the 25-year-old Aquilani now has a challenge in front of him—not leading the club he has in his heart to a Scudetto, but attempting to fill the void of Xabi Alonso at Liverpool.
The price tag is a big one at just about £20 million, but Rafa Benitez feels that the skill that Aquilani possesses trumps the fact that he has appeared in a season's worth of games over the span of two years and had never played in over 30 Serie A games in one season during his time in the capital city.
It's a risk that Benitez is willing to take.
There's no doubting the boy has talent. When he's on he can be one of the best in the center of the park. He can do it all—pass, score, control possession. Anything you want, Aquilani to do he can.
But the problem is that Aquilani hasn't been a regular in the lineup to be considered the same kind of player and regular fixture in a lineup that fellow Roman De Rossi has become over the same period of time.
Aquilani has proved he can hang with the youth teams at the international level. He not only was one of the best at the Under-21 Euros, he stole the show. You name and Aquilani did it as he led the Azzurrini by playing every single minute in the tournament and even though the young Italians didn't advance to the knockout stages, Aquilani was beginning to be noticed outside of Italy.
As De Rossi established himself as a regular in the Azzurri squad, Aquilani battled to regularly get onto the field at the international level. He made his debut just months after Italy captured the World Cup in Germany and has mustered just 11 appearances in total.
If he'd stayed healthy to even play a good majority of Roma's league games, his career certainly would’ve gone differently. However, because of the injuries, the man how was tipped for greatness even before he made his debut in the Roma kit.
So how is a frail and injury-riddled body supposed to hang in one, if not the, most-physical league in Europe?
Gone are the days of just being thought of as a talented youngster. At age 25 you want your so-called to be exactly that—stars. Hoping and praying that the talent will come won't hang in the game that are seeing players in the early-20s become some of the best in the world.
Even with him being a local product, a proclaimed star by the masses, there was a reason why Aquilani was made the sacrificial lamb as Roma's finances go further down the drain.
Whether Benitez likes it or not, this is the player he is getting.
It may turnout to be another Benitez master transfer or it may be a complete flop. If you ask those who watch Serie A week in and week out, they are skeptical to say that he's going succeed right out of the shoot Merseyside.
What could've been for Aquilani in Rome will probably never be known.
Now he's just a casualty of his beloved team's financial ineptitude.
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