Is Liverpool ready for Aquilani?

With his Mussolini bust and superstar wag, Benitez's £20m signing will add colour to Reds
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The Independent Online

Arriving in a city famous for its left-wing, working-class culture, Alberto Aquilani will hope that one embarrassment in particular can be put behind him as quickly as possible. Last year Liverpool's new £20m signing admitted a grudging admiration for Italy's former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini which might yet take some explaining to his new fans.

In an interview in Gazzetta dello Sport in March last year, Aquilani, 25, was asked to clear up a rumour that he had a marble sculpture of the Italian leader who sided with Adolf Hitler in the Second World War. He answered with an alarming naivety: "My uncle is very keen on him and he gave me something to do with Mussolini but as for me, I don't know anything about politics".

The existence of Aquilani's marble sculpture has never been confirmed and the comments caused a stir for a while in a nation where politicians from the extreme right and left are still active in mainstream politics.

Nevertheless, Aquilani comes from Roma, a club more commonly associated with left-wing politics. Francesco Totti, Roma's star player and captain, is of a left-wing persuasion; he was understood to have been unimpressed by Aquilani's comments. But that would be nothing compared to the tirade he could expect from Jamie Carragher, Anfield's original working-class hero and Labour voter.

Signing Aquilani is a coup in football terms for Benitez because he is one of three players in the Roma team who come from the city and have progressed through the youth ranks – the others being Daniele de Rossi and Totti. Aquilani comes from the city's Monte Sacro district and his connections with the club runs deep.

His father Claudio is a paramedic and his profession has given him the chance to watch his son's career at Roma from very close quarters. Aquilani Snr is the man who runs the ambulance service for injured players – and the occasional fan – in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and is on duty for all Roma's home games.

One of the key considerations in today's medical for Aquilani will be the question marks about his fitness and, in particular, a series of ankle injuries over the last two years. He has not played since an injury against Arsenal in the Champions League on 11 March and the problem became so bad that he was sent to West Ham to recuperate, where Gianfranco Zola has taken some of the best medical staff in Italy to work.

As well as technical director Gianluca Nani, West Ham boast one of the best physiotherapists in the business – Marco Cesarini, formerly of Brescia – and he has treated Aquilani. He might even have been in England earlier because Chelsea tried to sign him when Claudio Ranieri was manager after – at the age of 16 – he starred in the Viareggio youth tournament in 2001. Aquilani's father Claudio refused to allow his son to be sold.

Aquilani is set to contribute fully to English football's WAG culture – in fact his girlfriend, Michela Quattrociocche, might even give Steven Gerrard's wife Alex Curran a run for her money in the celebrity stakes. The couple's on-off relationship has filled countless glossy magazine pages in Italy.

As a player, Aquilani is similar to Xabi Alonso, the man he will have to replace, who yesterday admitted the decision to leave Anfield had been taken in May. He said: "Once the season had finished I spoke to Rafa and I told him that I wanted to leave. I said if the chance came up I wanted to take it – when Madrid came along I thought it was the best move for me."

Aquilani is right-footed and a good passer of the ball with a decent shot on him. As with all Benitez's signings, he will have to surrender to his manager's way of doing things. "Alberto has a winning mentality and great experience in both Serie A and the Champions League," Benitez said last night. Aquilani has the makings of a great Liverpool midfielder – though he might not want to take any more advice from his right-leaning uncle.

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