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History Makers: Alberto Aquilani

For the third instalment of this series, we’ve rolled back the years to just over a decade ago, to feature a homegrown talent who went on to become a regular Italy international.

This week, we are highlighting a cup-winning specialist in two-time Coppa Italia winner and one-time Supercoppa Italiana champion: Alberto Aquilani.


ALBERTO AQUILANI - THE LITTLE PRINCE


Homegrown star Aquilani was on the radar of many of the biggest clubs around Europe even before he finally made his first appearance for his boyhood club.

The Italian starlet was fast-tracked through the Giallorossi youth ranks, a lauded academy which had already offered the club a veritable conveyor belt of talent in recent years - Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, just for starters.

Aquilani become a key player for the club in the 2000s, making 149 appearances in total, and the Roma faithful witnessed the early years - and perhaps the best years - of his long and successful career.

A versatile midfield maestro, Aquilani, was highly-competitive and creative and was adept at playing as a playmaker or in a holding role and had a passing game which became a focal point. 

The Azzurri international was bestowed with the nickname "Il Principino" ('The Little Prince') by his home fans due to his resemblance to his childhood hero and former Roma captain Giuseppe Giannini (who was 'Il Principe' to all), whose face adorned the bedroom walls of a young Aquilani.

Here are five of his best moments at his boyhood club...


1. The Aquilani Show hits Europe

vs. ARIS THESSALONIKI (h)
15 September 2005
UEFA Cup (first round)

The club’s 2005 UEFA Cup campaign got off to an emphatic start with a resounding win over little-known Greek outfit Aris Thessaloniki and Aquilani made his side tick that night in the capital. 

Aquilani set the tone for the game as he latched onto a cross from Vincenzo Montella in the first minute to nudge the pall past the advancing stopper from the Greek Cup winners.

The No. 8 then turned provider as he was afforded too much time and space again when, from the right flank, he picked out full-back Christian Panucci in the box and the Italian international confidently headed home.

With Roma rampant, Montella added his name to the scoresheet after some sublime interplay in the Aris box. Aquilani pulled the ball back to a grateful Montella who neatly slotted home from seven yards to put the Giallorossi three up after just 27 minutes. A masterful display from the midfield maestro gave Luciano Spalletti’s charges command of the tie as they ran out 5-1 winners in the first leg.
 

2. A derby decider while in the title hunt

vs. LAZIO (a)
26 February 2006
Serie A

The title-chasing Giallorossi brushed aside a struggling Lazio side with a powerful display which culminated with one of the highlights of Aquilani’s career.

With the unplayable Mancini tormenting the home side and setting up a glancing header by Rodrigo Taddei from a corner, the dazzling Brazilian would also have a hand in his side’s second goal.

Aquilani grew up dreaming of representing his beloved Giallorossi and here he was clinching a crucial win in one of the world’s fiercest football rivalries - which understandably meant the world to the young Italian.

Mancini charged into the box from the left and baffled the Lazio defence with his trademark step overs before laying the ball off to Aquilani, who had burst into the box ahead of his marker and then placed the ball past Peruzzi - before setting off in celebration towards the Roma faithful.

The Rome derby win also gave the club a new Serie A record of 11 consecutive wins as the team celebrated with 'Forza Capitano' shirts, following Totti's serious injury that threatened his World Cup participation.


3. A rabona to silence the San Siro

vs. AC MILAN (a)
11 November 2006
Serie A

Spalletti’s high-flyers humbled the Rossoneri at the San Siro, with the plaudits going to Francesco Totti who scored a brace to see off Carlo Ancelotti’s men (who would go on to lift the UEFA Champions League trophy at the end of the season). 

An early strike from Totti had been cancelled out by a second half goal from Cristian Brocchi but, with seven minutes left, the deadly trio of Aquilani, Mancini and Totti combined for one of the goals of the season.

Clarence Seedorf was dispossessed in his own half and Aquilani was first to react to the loose ball. With his back to goal, and from 40 yards out, he played Mancini through into the box with his first touch. This was no ordinary pass.

With his footballing brain in full swing and processing his options at a far greater speed than those around him, Aquilani matched his attacking mindset with exquisite skill to release Mancini with an inch-perfect rabona pass which the Brazilian crossed to Totti who nodded the ball past Dida to seal a famous win.

4. A thunderbolt from distance in Sicily

vs. PALERMO (a)
26 August 2007
Serie A

French centre-back Philippe Mexès gave the visitors the advantage on this away trip to Palermo with a tap-in from a highly-inviting ball from Rodrigo Taddei.

With Roma in control of the game a second goal was inevitable - but nobody expected it to be quite so spectacular.

A corner came back out of the box at pace and Aquilani, from all of 40 yards, moved the ball onto his right foot and unleashed a rocket which rifled through the air and nestled in the back on the net. A truly must-see hit.

Aquilani knew that the ball was destined for the net from the second it left his right foot, while both sets of supporters were left open-mouthed in awe and his teammates embarked on a foot-race to celebrate with their world-class playmaker.  

 

5. Lung-busting run turns into left-foot screamer

vs. REGGINA (h)
20 September 2008
Serie A

When Aquilani was at his brilliant best, he was invariably the heartbeat of the Roma side. His single-minded nature and workrate often set him apart from those he shared the pitch with.

On this occasion, the central midfield man received the ball just inside the centre circle in the Reggina half and he set off at a breathtaking speed towards Campagnolo’s goal.

The imminent danger to the away side became apparent as he burst through every blade of grass with pure determination. 

Nobody was going to stop Rome’s Little Prince. Reggina’s defence backed off while their midfield could not keep pace with Aquilani who invaded the final third at pace before letting fire with a left-footed net-buster as he broke into the 18-yard-box.

Golazo time again.


What happened next for Aquilani?

With finances an issue for the Giallorossi, Aquilani eventually left the club at the age of 25 to join Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool in 2009.

With his playing time at Anfield reduced by a run of injuries, their big-money signing returned to Italy for loan spells with Juventus and AC Milan before a productive permanent spell with Fiorentina.

Aquilani ventured to Portugal to briefly join Sportling Lisbon. Following stints at Pescara and Sassuolo, the classy midfielder moved to Spain for a season with La Liga side Las Palmas before hanging up his boots in 2019 at the age of 34.

For Italy he made 38 appearances, going to the European Championship in 2008 and the World Cup in 2014.

Aquilani is now part of the youth academy coaching setup at his former club Fiorentina.

“[I'm] Looking back at the kid with the long hair in the green shirt of Spes Montesacro that got the call from Roma, who got to see the most important grounds in Europe, got to play with some of the best players in the world, got to wear the shirt of the national team and played in the three best competitions in the world,” said Aquilani on his Instagram account when he announced his retirement.

“That kid realised his dream.”

Read more in this series:

Hidetoshi Nakata
Cafu
 

Follow Mark Pickering on Twitter: @_MarkPickering

 
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