3rd June 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
“I call my role a blind job because people don’t notice the work you’re doing. I feel a bit like Thomas Müller at Bayern Munich – they pick him because he does a lot of blind jobs, which makes things easier for everyone else.”
These were the words of Sunderland’s Fabio Borini when speaking to the Guardian about the sacrificial role he’s had to undertake under Sam Allardyce. The former Chelsea, Swansea, Roma and Liverpool forward, who’s been predominantly deployed out wide, usually on the right, has gone about his defensively geared assignments with unwavering commitment and intensity. For a striker, traditionally one of the most individualistic outfield players, Borini deserves plenty of credit for going about his work with a minimum of fuss and selflessness.
“Playing wide is hard. Sometimes it’s more about going backwards than forwards. It’s about defending and tracking back rather than enjoying the ball in the opposition half, and it’s why I’m not scoring as many goals as I want,” Borini explains.
“My job has to be done. The manager thinks I’m the right man for it so I’ll do it. You have to put yourself to one side a little bit to help the team and that’s what I’ve done all season.”
There can be no doubting his diligence was a key factor in the Black Cats’ successful fight for Premier League survival, for his, and his teammates’, dogged yet methodical defensive exertions ensured Sunderland only lost one of their last 11 games, against champions Leicester City, to remain in the division.
Many will point to the fact that Borini only registered five goals and supplied two assists this campaign, but upon factoring in his defensively orientated role and Sunderland’s huge struggles for large parts of the season, it’s unfair to judge him purely on stats based metrics.
There are, however, many tangible aspects of his game that can be judged via analysing the Italian’s output. To start with his work rate is exceptional. He relentlessly presses with purpose, tracks his fullback vigorously and never hesitates to motor back to support his defenders whenever they need assistance. Moreover, he’s never afraid of a physical confrontation, which sees him tackle and harry his adversaries with dogged tenacity and aggression.
While Borini undoubtedly sets the tone for his teammates to follow on the defensive end, the technically proficient attacker still admirably contributes in an attacking sense too.
A competent passer, whose ability to use both feet to link play with some terrific one and two touch combination work in tight has been vital, Borini’s shown how his imagination in the final third has been a major positive. In addition, his pace on the dribble, underrated aerial prowess and underlying striking instincts, which see him often embark on expertly timed runs in behind and get into dangerous positions inside the box, have seen him further amplify his offensive quality.
Although he’s been limited in his capacity to truly make his mark in an attacking sense this season, Borini remains optimistic next season will be an entirely different story, saying: “Hopefully next season we won’t be fighting relegation and I can play a more attacking role, have a bit more freedom in the attacking third.”
Developing the defensive side of his game has, however, added another string to his bow and has unquestionably made him into an even better, more complete footballer. Azzurri manager, Antonio Conte, has crucially recognised this, and has duly selected him for his preliminary squad for the European championships in the summer, knowing Borini’s capabilities to perform his assigned tasks, on both sides of the ball, efficiently and effectively will be a huge bonus.
Even though Allardyce’s usage of Borini doesn’t entirely satisfy him, his fighting spirit and exemplary attitude has transformed him into an indispensable member of their talented squad.
His national team selection and survival with Sunderland served as fitting rewards for all his often unheralded exertions.
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