Aquilani fed up with waiting game

Midfielder upset by lack of playing time at Liverpool despite being fit for a month
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The Independent Online

Alberto Aquilani, the £20m summer signing to whom Liverpool are looking for a more creative midfield dimension, considers himself fit to play and is frustrated by manager Rafael Benitez's reluctance to give him his chance, his father said yesterday.

The Italian's playing time for Liverpool has been limited to 27 minutes, 19 of those in the youthful side which lost 2-1 at Arsenal in the Carling Cup in October. Benitez's reluctance to give a greater chance to a player he invested in immediately after Xabi Alonso's departure to Real Madrid has been baffling at a time when the more defensive midfielders, Lucas Leiva and Javier Mascherano have offered less invention than Alonso did. It is particularly so given that the three-month optimum time frame given for the player's recovery from an ankle injury passed a month back. Aquilani finally looks a contender for his full debut against Fiorentina in the Champions League dead rubber at Anfield tomorrow night, precisely four months after he was signed from Roma.

"Alberto is available to play and has been for more than a month," said Aquilani's father, Claudio, a paramedic at the 25-year-old's former club. "He feels good and the injury has cleared up, and now the only way he can get truly fit is to play more and more minutes. He is desperate to get his career in England up and running. He has been very frustrated, first at being injured, then at not being chosen to play for so long."

Sources close to the player (right), who may operate behind Fernando Torres if the Spaniard is also judged ready for a try-out, stress that there is no issue between Aquilani and Benitez and that the midfielder appreciates the Spaniard's quandary. As one source put it: "He knows if he plays too early he may be out for much longer. He's desperate to play, naturally, but he knows he must be careful."

Benitez has said he is unwilling to launch Aquilani into his Liverpool career at too testing a moment though his reluctance to expose the player at Blackburn, during the 0-0 draw on Saturday, was a reminder of his innate defensive tendencies. Benitez's explanation on his absence has been less than clear at times. "We want to play him as soon as possible but we want to manage with the squad," he said before the 1-0 win in Debrecen when Aquilani was given one minute playing time at the end.

"I don't know of any special motivation for Benitez in not playing him," his father added. "The only way he will recover is to be given the chance to get back to full fitness by playing some games. He is really happy in Liverpool. He has settled in well. He's getting to grips with the language, which was a problem at first, and he's surrounded by friends, family and his fiancée. He has been really impressed by the bond the crowd have with the players."

Aquilani, who spent Sunday evening with friends in Liverpool watching Roma beat Lazio 1-0 in the Italian capital's derby, certainly showed enough in his cameo role against Arsenal to suggest that the Anfield banner which reads Il Principino – A hero has arrived – is not without justification. Italy's national manager Marcello Lippi is also looking to Benitez to play him, reflecting recently that he may consider him for his World Cup plans if the player gets adequate playing time.

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