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The midfield duo were loaned out last season but have both expressed their desire to stay at Anfield and could still shine under new Reds manager Brendan Rodgers

COMMENT
By David Lynch

If two men best represent Liverpool’s status as a club still mired in the process of ‘transition’ it is Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani.

Both spent last season away from Anfield, loaned out to Lille and Milan respectively, but have signalled their willingness to stay this term should new boss Brendan Rodgers want them. It is undoubtedly news that the Northern Irishman will have welcomed, as having players want to stay – as Liverpool found out with Fernando Torres – is half the battle.

Yet, equally as important as the former Swansea manager’s judgement of their merits is the stance of Reds owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG). The Boston-based group are widely known to be keen to trim the club’s bloated wage bill and Cole and Aquilani’s presence amongst the top five earners following Dirk Kuyt’s departure is not a statistic that will please such frugal businessmen.

However, if getting such heavy burdens off the wage bill were as easy as simply loaning the midfield duo out then there would be little doubt over their futures. Last year though, Liverpool found themselves subsidising a large portion of both salaries despite neither featuring for a single minute and that is not a mistake they will wish to repeat.

Now is the time for FSG to assess whether further loan spells with such expensive terms are genuinely good for the most important part of their product – the team. All things considered, they might as well give Cole and Aquilani a go.

It is not as if the pair have shown themselves to be incapable of succeeding at Liverpool. Aquilani’s situation is particularly baffling given that in his first season he appeared sporadically under Rafael Benitez and still regularly evidenced his quality.
KOP COMEBACKS

 ALBERTO AQUILANI
YEAR JOINED
APPEARANCES
GOALS
ASSISTS
2009
28
2
6

 JOE COLE
YEAR JOINED
APPEARANCES
GOALS
ASSISTS

2010
32
3
2

A 20-minute substitute appearance at the DW Stadium was an unusual highlight given that it came at the sort of ground which the Italian’s alleged mental weakness should preclude him from shining at. Man of the match performances against Portsmouth at Anfield and, most impressively, against Atletico Madrid in a Europa League semi-final defeat also showed that the former Roma man clearly possesses the ability. So what gives?

Was the 28-year-old’s agent simply paying lip service to Reds fans by insisting his client is happy to stay at the club earlier this week? There are many theories over Aquilani’s willingness to make a go of things on Merseyside but regardless, Rodgers would be foolish not to at least attempt to find space for the Italian. A situation whereby a loan club is 0.5 appearances (a substitute's role) away from triggering a clause to buy - as Milan were last season - cannot be allowed to happen again.

As for Cole, much of the criticism directed at the London-born midfielder during his first season at Anfield centred on his perceived lack of fitness as he huffed and puffed his way through games. Yet, that Roy Hodgson’s teams rarely monopolise possession has since become a well-known fact; there is a logical argument that those early games forced the 30-year-old into running harder than he had before in his career – and it showed.

His performances in Ligue 1 last year were grounds to believe that he can still contribute in some capacity next season. 42 appearances and nine goals is an encouraging return in any league and his previous successes in a front three - much like that which is likely to employed by Rodgers - is another reason for his return to be considered.

So, the evidence points to the fact that both players could at least play important squad roles next term, even if there are plenty of reasons they might not command first-team spots. If there is anything Liverpool learnt during the absences of Lucas Leiva, Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard last year it is that squad depth and quality must be improved this summer.

In fact, that oft-derided summer transfer flops Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam held down starting berths in the positions in which the returning pair do their best work is food for thought. It would be hard to argue against Aquilani and Cole being a significant upgrade on their incumbents.

The opportunity to forgo spending on transfers and simply take a hit on the wage bill is one FSG must now at least consider. The long-term aim of lowering weekly outgoings on players who contribute little is sensible given the imminent arrival of Financial Fair Play sanctions but they are just that – long-term.

After years of stagnation at Liverpool there is understandably a lack of patience amongst the club’s fanbase and perhaps it is in fact the owners who must now show that virtue with regards their vision for a club which is more financially efficient.

The rewards for such bravery will be seen on the only place that truly matters, the pitch.

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