Courted by a number of smaller Italian clubs and rumored to be on his way to the MLS, Alberto Aquilani has instead opted to sign on a Bosman with another big club, Lisbon's Sporting CP. So ends a three-year stint in Florence for the "little Prince," a spell which really brought out the best in him.
After breaking through the youth ranks at Roma at the age of 18, Aquilani showed great promise for the senior side, with his consistent injuries seeming to be all that stood between him and stardom. The injuries finally convinced Roma to sell him to Liverpool for 20 million pounds. "Aquaman" never settled in at Merseyside, eventually being loaned out to Juventus and Milan before the Reds cut their losses and sold him to Fiorentina in 2012 for 7 million euros.
Aquilani looked like a new man in purple, combining with (recently departed but still beloved) David Pizarro and Borja Valero to form a brilliantly entertaining midfield based on creative passing, movement, and technique. Pek was, as he's always been, the deep-lying, long passing artist; Borja was, as he's always been, the tireless, metronomic, and tidy schemer. Aquilani roamed between them, sometimes moving deep to keep the ball, sometimes popping up in the box.
With two other creators alongside, Aquilani had the freedom to roam the pitch and use his uncanny reading of the game to appear in useful places. While he'd been cast as a number ten and a Xabi Alonso replacement previously, it became clear that he was neither. A tidy passer with an eye for goal, he was his own man and at the height of his powers in that first season for the Viola.
It didn't last. Injuries and age took some of the shine off last season, and his high wages were too much for a player who'd been passed by Matias Fernandez as the first choice option in the final midfield spot. By the spring, it was clear that Alberto would be moving on. His final numbers for Fiorentina are still remarkable: 105 appearances and 15 goals.
He wouldn't have fit into Sousa's plans well even if Mati hadn't shot past him, but his signing signaled something big back in 2012: a well-regarded, refined creator wearing the number 10 shirt was in town, informing the rest of the world that Fiorentina had big ambitions and a desire to play a proactive game. That's what we'll strive to remember you for, Alberto: your languidness, elegance, and occasional moments of genius. Ciao.