The forgotten man of Italian football, Alberto Aquilani is not a name fans would immediately pin the country’s World Cup hopes on. A nomadic career has prevented the midfielder from leaving a lasting imprint in recent memory, sliding off the title track amidst failure to convince for clubs such as Liverpool, Juventus and Milan.
Likewise falling short of the heights he was tipped for donning the Azzurri strip, the upcoming tournament in Brazil may be Aquilani’s final chance to salvage an international future. His outlook has improved of late. A move to Fiorentina has given the former hot prospect a vital sense of permanence, prompting Cesare Prandelli to call him up to the Confederations Cup last summer.
The role Aquilani plays has been an important element in the resurgence of Vincenzo Montella’s men, who have now qualified to the Europa League in consecutive seasons. Slotting in beside David Pizarro and Borja Valero in the engine room, the 29-year-old’s forays and box-to-box style creates space for his counterparts to weave play. As his time in Florence confirms, Aquilani can also be pretty handy with the goals too.
Netting a first ever hat-trick, against Genoa remains the highlight of his season. Indeed, the Artemio Franchi has seen a biggest return of goals to date, ensuring he has bagged a larger haul than each of fellow candidates Claudio Marchisio and Riccardo Montolivo over the last pair of campaigns.
But despite looking comfortable against the likes of Verona and Bologna in Serie A, plus Pacos Ferreira and Esbjerg in Europe, doubts still exist whether Aquilani has enough international credentials to stand up to opponents of Spain’s and Brazil’s calibre when representing Italy.
His record for Fiorentina stepping up versus top sides is unconvincing. There was his negative tendency to disappear in the home League defeats to Roma, Inter and Napoli. And on Saturday, the player’s inability to effect the result in the Coppa Italia final contributed to the Tuscan outfit finishing second best.
The World Cup dress rehearsal in 2013 had been only Aquilani’s second tournament for Italy since Euro 2008, and it showed. He endured a shocker against Japan and was hauled off by Prandelli after only half an hour. An anonymous performance in the defeat to hosts Brazil followed. Overall, the Roman appeared lightweight and lacking in quality while constantly being bypassed with ease.
Perhaps recognising the limited future his continued selection would present the Nazionale, Prandelli refrained from calling Aquilani post-October’s friendly tie with Armenia. Italy’s depth in the middle of the park, where they can pick Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and still turn to Thiago Motta and Marchisio on the bench, has spaced him out.
An emergence of talented youngsters only compounds matters further - Aquilani can neither count on the prodigious potential of Marco Verratti, nor the ‘super sub’ capabilities of Alessandro Florenzi. Despite enjoying an admirable revival with Fiorentina, progress in the national set-up mean the days left for the ex-Roma man to make an impact for his country are depleted.