Fabio Borini deserves some sympathy
Sent off for two ridiculous yellow cards at the weekend, the Italian appears to have ended his Liverpool career in comical ignominy.
It would take a heart of cold, hard, exceptionally un-Christmassy coal not to feel just the tiniest bit sorry for Fabio Borini. Brendan Rodgers’ first Liverpool signing made perhaps his last Liverpool appearance on Sunday, a brief cameo that ended with two yellow cards in two minutes. The first for throwing the ball away in outraged fury at the incorrect awarding of a throw-in — an offence greeted with a quite wonderful “oh, you stupid berk” expression by referee Michael Oliver — and the second for introducing his studs to Santi Cazorla’s left nipple.
Stupid, clearly. Potentially disastrous, absolutely. Not really how a professional footballer should be spending their time, naturally. Very funny, obviously. But also, perhaps, understandable, on a number of levels. After all, this was a game that Liverpool felt they should be winning, but were losing, against an Arsenal side who had looked there for the taking all game. In those circumstances, a bit of frustration is entirely appropriate, even when a kick to the tit might not be.
More generally, it would be entirely unsurprising if Borini, as well as suffering from all the attendant frustrations that come with being a Liverpool player at this difficult time, was labouring under some extra, heavy personal burdens. Back in 2012/13, Borini made a slow start to his Liverpool career, for reasons not entirely his fault. One goals in his first eleven games wasn’t a great return, but the three-month shoulder injury that knocked him out until the middle of January was deeply unfortunate. So too was the foot injury that saw him miss half of February, all of March and most of April.
Unluckiest of all, Liverpool used that January to rescue Daniel Sturridge from his purgatory at Chelsea, and Borini, bought to partner Luis Suárez, came back to find somebody else doing the job, and doing it quite well. That’s football, particularly at the weightier end of the table. A slow start, an inconvenient injury, another arrival, and suddenly a player’s big club moment has gone and he’s yesterday’s prospect.
To pick another example from not too far away, Marouane Fellaini refused to leave Manchester United over the summer, apparently because he was quite proud to have been given a crack at the big time and didn’t fancy giving up on it so soon. Borini found himself in a similar position over the summer. Following a decent loan spell with Sunderland last season, he nearly left Anfield permanently, before deciding at the last moment to give himself one more shot at becoming a Liverpool striker. Maybe he looked at Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert and thought to himself “I’m in with a chance here,” regardless of Rodgers’ warnings to the contrary. Or maybe he asked for comically oversized wages from QPR.
In one sense he got that gamble entirely right. Daniel Sturridge has been injured, while Balotelli’s been underwhelming and Lambert has looked … well, like the fourth-choice striker he was bought to be. By rights — as a striker at a club that’s desperately needed a striker — Borini should have had that one last chance to salvage something from his Liverpool career. But where Fellaini has benefitted from an injury crisis and the curious whims of Louis van Gaal, Borini has been overlooked, ignored, sidelined and generally passed over while Liverpool have laboured, and is now apparently unwanted in Liverpool’s latest, slightly more perky incarnation. At least, that is, unwanted until it’s the 74th minute, Arsenal are winning, and Rodgers has nobody else to turn to.
You could understand being a bit hyped. You could understand being not in the clearest of minds. You could understand wanting, rather desperately, to make an impression, though obviously that impression should ideally be on the scoresheet rather than somebody else’s rib cage. Muddled thinking on the football pitch tends to have the same results — own goals, red cards, and so on — but arise from all manner of circumstances. This is projection and guesswork, of course, and he might just be an idiot. But he certainly wasn’t playing like a man entirely happy with his lot.
In any case, he might have been doing his team a favour. Some of Liverpool’s best football of recent weeks has come when a man down, against Arsenal and against Basel in the last minutes of the Champions League. Crowd outrage and player fortitude seem to alchemise into something approaching last season’s overwhelming attacking rush. Obviously, running around a lot with ten men is no substitute for actually playing well with eleven, but it’s better than playing badly with eleven.
A few minutes before his first yellow card, Borini found a yard of space in the six yard box, sprang to meet a cross, and drew a flying save from Wojciech Szczesny. Had the cross been an inch or two further in front of him, had he been able to use his neck muscles to direct it down rather than just keep it down, he might have been waking up this morning a hero. Instead, you suspect, that’s his lot: even if Balotelli weren’t coming back from suspension and Sturridge due to return in January, no manager is going to forgive a cameo that comically calamitous. Much less a manager who didn’t want to pick him in the first place. No wonder he sprinted down the tunnel. He had a locker to clear out.