"... I wasted too much time - not because I wanted to waste it, or deserved to waste it - I just wasted it. That's why I came back to a place where I have been loved, and still feel the love from the supporters ..."
Fabio Borini said that just six months ago. Fabio Borini: the loanee who never wasted his chance at Sunderland; who made every good moment a great one; and who took thousands of ordinary men, women and children to the other side of the country, and into the most extraordinary ninety-minutes of their lives. Fabio Borini: the loanee, the hero, the one who came back.
It's just a shame that the great moments haven't come with him. Y'see because, this season, the Sunderland faithful have seen a different Fabio Borini to the one who left a hit in May 2014. This time, Fabio Borini is not the good player who forged greater expectations, but the player expected to be great, who is just good again. And if this is how his season ends, that could be the real waste.
Fortunately, this is the Fabio Borini whose ruthlessly competitive streak has, so far, refused to allow for a career of unfulfilled potential. He is the forward who forced the collective hand of national team coaches, from Gotti to Piscedda to Casiraghi to Prandelli, and rampaged his way from an Italy U16s nobody into the UEFA Euro 2012 squad at just 20 years old.
This is the Fabio Borini who has repeatedly proven that no level of club football is beyond him. He was the €350,000 teenager who captained the Chelsea U21 reserves, and led names like Sturridge, Bruma, Matić and van Aanholt to the 2011 U21 Premier League title. He was the league's top scorer too, with a barrage of hat-tricks and 5-goal slaughters. In fact, in that very same season, Borini was tested in the Football League Championship, at Brendan Rogers' Swansea City. And, with the Swans, he did it again. In that 2010/11 season alone, the Italian hauled up twenty matches: eighteen goals, eight assists; one reserve league championship, one club promoted to the Premier League.
Quite simply, he was excellent.
One pre-contractually agreed transfer and a €1.25m loan deal later, and the SSD Parma Calcio-owned Fabio Borini rocked up with a new challenge, at Luis Enrique's AS Roma in August 2011. Serie A was not even beyond him.
Now repackaged at right-wing by Enrique; the Italian turned his industrious potential and striker's mindset into a phenomenal run of form in 2011/12. He ran a brace-induced riot upon Claudio Ranieri's FC Internazionale Milano; upstaged ‘I Lupi' prospects Érik Lamela and Bojan Krkić; and cut the path into Cesare Prandelli's Italian national squad. AS Roma had no choice; entering club co-ownership of the Italian, whose season thrived under sheer hard work. twenty-six matches: ten goals, and a record 1,744 minutes played.
A €5.3m blind auction buy-out by AS Roma and subsequent £9.98m transfer to Liverpool brought Fabio Borini back to the Premier League in August 2012; back to Brendan Rogers, and back to a centre forward role he hadn't played in for over a year.
Bar his goal contributions in the 2012/13 UEFA Europa League against FK Gomel and Heart of Midlothian FC, and a tucked finish against Newcastle United, Borini had a stop-start, injury-rotting season. ten starts: two goals, one assist, 954 minutes played. Not great.
Not great got worse when the perennially-deluded Rogers realised he had inherited Luis Suárez; and Borini's first team prospects looked bleak. Fortunately, in August 2013, the Roberto De Fanti cornucopia lured Borini to Sunderland AFC on a £1.35m loan deal, and we know what he did next.
Of all players, it was Fabio Borini who grasped Gustavo Poyet's infuriatingly mistranslated continental tactics; forged his inside-forward instincts to a left-wing role, created an attack that depended on him, and overnight became the foundation of the Uruguayan's entire offensive paradigm at Sunderland.
His form was piping-hot: the 84th minute screamer, the match-winning assists after assists, his ‘keeper's confidence-killing grin, the goal that made the 1 in 61-16-1 at Stamford Bridge; the volley that ensured the ‘great escape'; a quarter-finals goal, a semi-finals goal, and the most historic tenth minute strike, on the most historic day in recent memory. Forty games: ten goals, four assists.
Then, for all the passion and determination he inspired, he was gone. When Borini opted to stay at Liverpool, it was a harsh blow - another would-be hero gone. Fabio Borini wanted a challenge on the grandest stage, and in the 2014/15 season he got it, as Brendan Rogers' centre-forward in the UEFA Champions League against PFC Ludogorets Razgrad and Real Madrid CF. But his value at Anfield was soon dispiritingly clear. Fifteen games: one goal, two assists, 642 minutes played for Liverpool.
And that brings us to now. Six months, two managers, an £8.03m transfer fee paid; and the Italian is back.
He's still a work-horse, he's still a goal-scorer, and he's still providing assists, but its seventeen games: two goals, one assist, in a massive 1,288 minutes. This time, it's just not happening the way it used to for Fabio Borini.
Something is missing; whether it's the added flair, his contribution on-paper or, most likely, he's just not scoring the goals that wins matches and creates great moments. It all counts towards the mild idea from supporters that Borini came back too late; and that £8m+ transfer fee should have gone towards an established winger or striker, not on a player who has no defined position - that makes for wasted money.
In his defence, there is a significant tactical difference that plays its part in this. Under Gus Poyet, Borini was allowed to free-roam as a winger/inside-forward and offer support for the striker. The role didn't demand the best creativity, pace, or crossing accuracy, just an eye for goal and willingness to make a run.
This time round, following Sam Allardyce's method, the Italian is restricted in the middle-third, wide midfield role, and that means this:
Fabio Borini is averaging a shot every forty-three minutes this season; and an accurate shot every 114 minutes. Both stats are the worst of his career, but his shooting accuracy is 38% - his seasonal best. So Borini can hit the target fine, he just isn't getting many chances to as a wide midfielder. It's unfortunate, considering that sixteen of his last twenty-one league goals have come from deep inside the penalty box. However, from a team perspective, Fabio Borini cannot be Sunderland's centre forward; Jermaine Defoe is too reliable and, quite bluntly, he's irreplaceable.
However, Sam Allardyce has vacancies galore on the wings; with his options under-developed, under-performing, injured or sacked.
Borini, conveniently, has the record of a winger, not a striker. Since August 2011, the Italian has played 107 matches: 74 on the wing, 33 at centre forward. In fact, the 24 year old has contributed to more goals on the flanks (33% of matches) than he has in the centre (27% of matches). Not only that, but Borini's success rates for take-ons and dribbling out wide are better this season than in any of his career. So there's a silver lining there.
Evidently, how Fabio Borini's season ends is partly down to what Sam Allardyce requires of him.
We know that the Italian is a human cogwheel of energy, and his defensive work this season has tallied the best tackling accuracy of his career too, but everything Allardyce asks of him is what only makes him a good player, and why he rightly escapes criticism from poor team performances.
But Sunderland don't need Fabio Borini, the good player. Sunderland need Fabio Borini the great player, again.
Sunderland needs the Fabio Borini who inspires confidence and overwhelming positivity around the Stadium of Light. Sunderland needs the Fabio Borini who Luis Enrique dropped into a right-wing position he barely understood, and still scored 7 in 22.
Sunderland needs the Fabio Borini who was loaned to us, watched others fail to convert his assists, decided he would do it himself, and scored the goals that took the league's relegation favourites into a cup final at Wembley.
Sunderland needs the Fabio Borini who can take whatever role he is given on that pitch, and make it work around what he can do: bursting short runs, latching onto crosses, cutting inside, finding that inside-forward creative hole, and lashing in goal after goal after goal, and he can do it.
That's what made him a hero at AS Roma. That's what made him a hero at Sunderland. That's what makes him the one who everybody wants to see become a great player who creates great moments.
He's had six months. Now, whether he's a centre forward, a winger, a wide midfielder, or an inside-forward; the time is now for him to pick up where he left off; fight to prove his worth, fight to score goals, fight to become this club's key player again, and fight to save Sunderland from relegation one more time.
Fabio Borini: the permanent signing who never wasted his chance at Sunderland. If supporters can say that on the day he calls time on Wearside, he won't just be a hero, he'll be one of us.
And no player should waste that chance.