What Kind of Day Has It Been

Before the opining begins, let me say this: I genuinely wish Aquilani all possible luck and success in his career, now that he goes. Sigh.

There is a lot to say about this transfer, and there are a lot of questions. Be mindful of those offering absolutes now, before Aquilani has even had his medical exam: we'll have to wait and see how things play out before we can even begin to talk with any authority on how much either team lost or won in this deal.

Many people's comments on the transfer have expressed disbelief that Liverpool would spend so much money on a player that's been injured since the beginning of February, a player who is still injured as of right now, a player who is expected to miss September as well. And it does look like folly on the surface. But Liverpool has been granted access to all documentation about Aquilani's injuries and recovery process, they have more than a passing understanding of his medical history. Either they know something Roma doesn't, or they're taking one crazy roll of the dice. On the one hand, you could say Liverpool can't afford to make such a gamble blindly, and that this suggests they believe, nay, know he'll become a real contributor. On the other hand Benitez has a track record of questionable incoming transfers, and having won titles as a coach doesn't mean he's King Midas on the transfer market. This could go either way for them, and for Aquilani.

So trying to come up with a clear answer to determine if this is good and sound business or not is premature. It's also impossible. In part because of the above questions of his fitness, and in part because we don't know what's happening with the money Roma gets. Ever since Juventus sold Zidane in 2001 and used the money to buy several very good players, allowing the team to re-tool and come back stronger than they were, fans too often adopt a naive stance when their teams sell big. 'If we make the right moves and sign this and that, we'll be better for it'. No, no, no. That 'if' is the operative word, it always is. That outcome applies only to a handful of teams and situations - most teams sell their more valuable or better players because they need to fix craters in the budget. With Roma running a €35 million deficit come next summer, I believe that's what will happen here too. The Aquilani money probably won't be re-invested in big transfer moves, they will be used to plug pot holes in the budget Rosella claimed so much praise for, just a little while ago.

The only thing we know is that, for better or worse, Roma won't be rocked on the pitch by his moving away. It was beyond frustrating to see him get injured, and then re-injured somewhere else before healing from the first injury, but it also made Roma completely non-reliant on him as a player. That wasn't a good thing before, but it just became one. I think Aquilani is a great player, and that at his best, he's valuable on each ball passing through midfield, as well as decisive with his outside shooting. But Roma has been forced to move in a direction where the team prepared for the chance of him being healthy, and not the other way around, the chance for him missing through injury, as is custom elsewhere. That part of the deal renders it manageable to sort out.

But what I would also like to touch on is the sentimentality narrative of the deal. Maybe the future will tell us that selling Aquilani for this sum of money was a good business move. Maybe it was the right choice to make, on a technical level, and maybe he was simply the most expandable player who could bring Roma some money in return. But that's a reality in which we diminish the sport into a business, stripped away of many of those moments that brings joy to the fans. Aquilani was born in Rome, he was born into AS Roma by birth right. He's from the same neighbourhood as Agostino, his local priest used to indulge him with stories of coaching young Ago when he was the same age, decades before. He speaks the same dialect as Bruno Conti, Peppe Giannini, Totti and De Rossi; he grew up idolizing all of them. While Roma isn't losing its very identity with Aquilani, since Roma still has two players both better and more beloved left in the club, having another super talented Roman on the team I believe brought the team, as well as the club, numerable intangibles. Determining his worth isn't an easy undertaking, and it's a epic struggle between logic and emotion. But a reality where that emotion is worth nothing any longer, where he's reduced to nothing but numbers in a financial report sounds like a pretty dull and grey place.

Since he was a skinny kid and right in the middle of his teenage years, Aquilani has been next to Daniele De Rossi. Both possessing stupefying upside, they were destined to run Roma's midfield for decades as they worked their way up from the primavera team to the senior team, side by side. It's in his long-time midfield partner and friend De Rossi we find the key to understanding the discourse above. When foreign media reports that various teams wants to sign DDR, and when fans of these teams blow up the Internet, indignant, frustrated, and asking out loud why he doesn't go away when it's clear Roma isn't going anywhere - romanisti know why. To imagine the reactions to DDR staying in Roma, visualize a map of Europe with Rome as its centre, with circles growing bigger and larger the further they come from the city. Those circles represent the level of surprise to his staying. In Rome the fans appreciate him staying and love him for it, but everyone gets it. They don't think he's taking crazy pills, because it's in the club's tradition to have local players staying despite not challenging for titles. That doesn't make Roma unique in football, but there's all the same a strong tradition of players born and raised staying despite better sporting opportunities. As the circles of surprise spread, even in the rest of Italy they understand. Although not as intuitively, it's more cerebral around the rest of the peninsula. We don't get real levels of surprise until we reach the shores of Britain, or the plains of Spain. There fans and media outlets are lost for words, clueless as to why he chooses to stay, why he's perfectly at ease with being labelled unsellable by a club going nowhere, fast. Many take it almost as an insult, believing his actions to lack all sort of logic - but in Rome, everyone understands him, even if we're no less grateful for it.

It's only on the back of that kind of intuitive understanding of what it means to be a bandiera in Roma, that the questions of a player's belonging can be answered.

I don't claim to hold a definitive answer to any of this, but these are questions I think of as I consider the heartbreak of seeing a true romanista in Liverpool's shirt, and the great delusion of management's perpetual promises never to sell Alberto. Goddamnit.