Rafa swoops for Aquilani
While Alonso was completing his medical and signing a four-year contract at the Bernabeu, Liverpool were agreeing a fee for Roma's young midfield star Alberto Aquilani. The 25-year-old is currently heading to Merseyside and he will have a medical tomorrow.
Liverpool sources point out the two deals have been running in tandem for some weeks. Once the Alonso deal was completed, and the first instalment of the fee banked, Liverpool were able to finalise the deal for Aquilani.
"Alberto is a very good player and I'm delighted we've reached agreement with Roma for his transfer," Benitez said. "Alberto has a winning mentality and great experience in both Serie A and the Champions League. He has long been recognised as a top-class talent in Italy, captaining his country at both Under-19 and Under-21 levels before establishing himself in the senior national side."
Benitez, currently in Norway for tonight's friendly with Lyn Oslo, is working to a limited budget and clearly was not willing to settle on a fee with Roma - believed to be around £20 million - without certainty Madrid's cash was on the way.
Benitez has now raised around £41 million this summer with the sales of Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Paul Anderson, Jack Hobbs and Sebastian Leto. His only other summer signing has been England full-back Glen Johnson for £17 million, but much of that fee was reduced because of the cash Portsmouth still owed Liverpool for the Peter Crouch deal.
Benitez will likely spend again in the next few weeks and may well now move for Portsmouth defender Sylvain Distin. Having seen Sami Hyypia leave on a free transfer for Bayer Leverkusen and Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel struck down by hamstring and back injuries respectively in pre-season, Liverpool are short of defensive cover.
But the initial need was for Benitez to calm worries among Liverpool fans following the loss of Alonso that the Reds now lacked midfield quality. And he has gone for an elegant, technically clever player to plug the gap. Aquilani, who recently celebrated his 25th birthday, is expected to feature heavily for Italy in next year's FIFA World Cup finals™ in South Africa.
The one concern for Liverpool is Aquilani's fitness, and tomorrow's medical will be key to the deal being completed. The player has been sidelined since surgery on his right ankle in May. Aquilani last featured for Roma on March 11 when the Serie A club crashed out of the Champions League at the hands of Arsenal and the fact he made only 14 league appearances last season because of fitness problems must be a concern at Anfield.
Aquilani is a home-grown Roma star but the club's financial plight has made it impossible to turn down a £20 million fee. The midfielder is believed to have been happy with personal terms for some while, while Roma have been waiting for Liverpool to complete the Alonso deal.
As a 16-year-old, Aquilani was offered contracts by both Arsenal and Chelsea but wanted to fulfil his boyhood dream of playing for Roma. He made his first-team debut at 18, when Fabio Capello was manager, but he has been troubled by various injuries since becoming a Roma regular.
He won his first Italy cap in November 2006 after previously racking up a string of Under-21 caps. He featured during UEFA EURO 2008, coming on as substitute against France, and started the quarter-final clash against Spain due to the suspensions of Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, a game Italy lost on a penalty shoot-out.
Benitez, meanwhile, revealed today he still harboured hopes of keeping Alonso out of the clutches of Real even though the player told him two months ago he wanted to leave. "We would have liked to have kept him but as soon as he told us that he wanted to leave we started working, looking for players and trying to do the best deal for the club," said Benitez.
"It has been too long, since May, that he told us he wanted to leave and after the official transfer request we were working very hard," he went on. "The first idea was to keep him, and the second one was to find the best price and the best replacement for us."