“Swansea is the graveyard of ambition.” Dylan Thomas
The famous words penned by Dylan Thomas was supposed to reflect how Swansea seems to devour any hope the people of Swansea, or visitors, have of leaving Swansea. Some see the line as a being a positive description of how the city is so enrapturing that it makes you not want to leave; whilst the more cynical have suggested that the line is placing Swansea as a soulless place that sucks any energy or ambition from the people inhabiting the city Unfortunately, Fabio Borini was far too ambitious (and probably too good) to follow this moniker, as he perhaps turned to the three words emblazoned outside Swansea train station: “Ambition is Critical” – the three worded response by poet David Hughes to Thomas’ line. His ambition would lead to him walking away from Chelsea, a team he felt were not giving him the opportunity to fulfil it, and via Swansea, make his way through two top Italian club sides, before being named in the Italian national squad for Euro 2012 – all of this in just over 12 months!
(By the way if you do watch the video below there is some strong language for those easily offended)
Borini did certainly love goals, even when was not scoring them. After impressing, to say the very least, since the first day of his loan move from Chelsea to Swansea in March, Borini found himself starting as Swansea’s lone striker in the richest game in world football – the Championship Play-off Final – the game that brought the winners a spot in the richest league in world football and a supposed £90m prize bonanza. Swansea had looked very comfortable, going in at the break 3-0 up, before reality sunk in in the second half as Reading clamoured back to 3-2 before hitting the post and having a certain goal diverted away by Swansea captain Garry Monk’s last ditch tackle. The Swansea fans were nervous wrecks for the majority of the second half, until Alan Tate played in young Borini just outside the 6 yard box; Borini took a touch away from goal before being senselessly tripped by the experienced Andy Griffin. Penalty. With Scott Sinclair being some sort of penalty scoring machine, he duly slotted home to make it 4-2 and essentially game over.
Although Borini did not score in the final, the reason I bring this moment up is that many Swansea fans will recall his highly passionate celebrations after earning his side a penalty. You could claim that this was merely a player celebrating the fact that it looked likely that he and his team would be playing Premier League football in the forthcoming season; this was not the case for Fabio. Borini had already tied up a deal to head to Parma in Serie A ahead of the Play-off final – actually before he’d even kicked a ball for Swansea supposedly. His outcry of joy at earning the penalty, was clearly a display of someone that had fallen in love with the club and was overjoyed that one of his last actions as a player was to earn such a vital penalty. Swansea would be the stepping stone for much bigger things.
In March 1991, Borini was born in the small town of Bentovigtlio in the province of Bologna. Like his dad, Borini would grow up a Bologna fan, the club he would eventually sign for as a young boy. In 2007, after working his way through Bologna’s various youth team, Mourinho’s Chelsea came calling and took the striker to Stamford Bridge; it was at Stamford Bridge where he would first meet a young manager called Brendan Rodgers, who Jose Mourinho had coaching the youth team before making him reserve team coach. After two years switching between the youth and reserve teams, in 2009 Borini was eventually made first choice striker for the reserve team as well as making sporadic appearances on the senior team bench. His introduction to the senior squad came under Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti who had been very impressed with the young Italian’s attacking prowess in the reserve team, so much so he placed him in Chelsea’s Champions League squad. Ancelotti said of the young players at Chelsea at the time:
“There are 17-year-olds who are very, very good. We have to stay working very closely with them. I think that the next period, we can put some of them in the first-team, players from the academy. I’m sure of that. Also, there’s a young Italian who’s very good though I don’t want to say the name..”
It was common knowledge at the time that the young Italian referred to by Ancelotti was young Borini.
On 20th September 2009 Borini made his first senior appearance, replacing Nicolas Anelka in the 89th minute in a Premier League fixture against Tottenham. Borini made another three league appearances for Chelsea, all from the substitute’s bench – in total Borini got 37 minutes of Premier League football at Chelsea and some other appearances in cup competitions. This would not do for the ambitious Borini who refused to sign a new contract and looked to pastures new. Borini even dubbed his time at Chelsea as pointless and that he had wasted the 6 months of his career by staying with Chelsea at the start of the 2010/11 season,as he thought he would have a chance of making the first team. Big Italian clubs, such as Juventus, Inter and Roma would come calling and eventually Parma would secure Borini on a 5-year deal – unbeknownst to the team he was about to join on loan.
Brendan Rodgers was enjoying a very successful debut season at Swansea City, one which looked to have the potential to result in promotion to the Premier League. Swansea’s main problem throughout the season had been finding a striker who could score consistently, with the club over-relying on winger Scott Sinclair for goals. Rodgers had tried Dobbie up front (a player eventually moved into the number 10 role to devastating effect), Shefki Kuqi, Frank Nouble (the less said the better), Jermaine Easter, Craig Beattie, Tamas Priskin and Luke Moore – none would hit the goal trail. Swansea’s chance of the play-offs could be hindered by such a goal shortage. With the loan window closing there was still time for one more audition for the part of goalscorer.
Borini came promising goals and his confidence was displayed in his interviews leading up to his debut against Nott’m Forest at the Liberty Stadium. Borini claimed, “They say I am like Inzaghi” When asked whether he was referring to Simone or Filippo Inzaghi, Borini replied, “The one who scored the most goals.” Brendan Rodgers claimed that Borini “lived for goals.” His debut certainly displayed this as he starred in Swansea’s 3-2 victory of Forest, scoring two and having a huge impact on the game. He seemed to instantaneously fit into Rodgers’ desired system, coming short for the ball at the right times and playing off the last man to devastating effect. He also had the tendency to go out to wing opening up space for Dobbie and Sinclair to raid down the middle. An experienced Forest defence simply could not deal with him. Apart from two clinical finishes, Inzaghi comparisons were drawn again following his enthusiastic celebrations; Borini celebrated both goals as if he’d scored the winner in the World Cup final. Borini stated in the build-up to the game how he not only enjoyed Inzaghi’s goalscoring ability, but also how flamboyantly he celebrated every goal (“I like the way he celebrates a goal even if his team are winning 6-0.”). Swansea fans would soon become accustomed to Borini’s trademark ‘knife between the teeth’ celebration; Borini explained the celebration following the Forest game:
“I’ve been planning that celebration for a long time. In Italy it means you’ve got the knife between your teeth. When you want to achieve something so badly that you are angry to reach your goals, you put the knife between your teeth.That’s what I was trying to show by putting the side of my hand in my mouth.”
My love for Borini had ignited so much that I even remember playing in an 6-a-side game and being prepared to unleash his trademark celebration when I scored. Unfortunately, my finishing was not up to Borini standards as I did not even hit the net once, much to my frustation. – I clearly needed the ‘knife between my teeth’ more.
Borini would start in every single one of Swansea’s nine games leading up to the play-offs, scoring 6 goals in total. Loud choruses of “F-A-B-I-O/We’ve got Fabio” would ring aorund the Liberty Stadium to celebrate the impact of the young Italian. The moment Swansea fans perhaps best remember him for was his goal in a crucial 3-0 victory over promotion rivals, Norwich. With a freekick positioned 30 yards away from goal, Borini smashed a sidefooted effort swerving over the wall and into the top corner of John Ruddy’s goal; the style of the freekick very much mimicked the freekick style of his former Chelsea team mate Didier Drogba; Borini admitted after the game that he had learned the technique from spending time on the training ground with Drogba.
Borini’s goals alongside a great team effort led Swansea to third place and the end of season playoff lottery. Borini did not score in any of Swansea’s three playoff games that eventually took them to Premier League, but Borini’s work ethic shone through all three games, in particular in the first leg of the playoff semi-final where Swansea found themselves down to ten men in the first minute, leaving Borini to lead the attack almost singlehandedly – a task he did admirably in helping Swansea secure a heroic 0-0 draw at the City Ground.
Just as Swansea had finished popping their champagne corks and riding open topped buses through Swansea city centre, Swansea made a last ditch effort at hijacking Borini’s pre-Swansea deal to sign for Parma, but their attempts were futile much to the dismay of Rodgers, the chairman and the Jack Army. Captain Garry Monk even suggested that Borini would rather stay in South Wales if he had not agreed a deal before arriving:
“Fabio is a great lad and talent and it was bitterly disappointing that we couldn’t keep hold of him. He played a major part in our run-in and will go down in the history of the club. I know he had sorted out the Parma deal before he knew what was going on. But I’m sure if he knew what we would achieve, it would have made him think twice.”
Despite Borini’s flight to Parma after his stint at Swansea, Rodgers declared that he could see Borini returning to the club one day. Judging on the year he has just had in Serie A, I cannot see this happening anytime soon, as Borini has become a huge hit in Italian football.
Borini did not even hang around for the Swansea City promotion party and instead headed straight to Parma, leaving a letter behind for his Swansea team mates thanking them for how they welcomed him and treated him during his time with the club. Borini featured throughout Parma’s preseason friendlies, including a substitute appearance at the Cardiff City Stadium against Cardiff, where he was jeered by the home fans for his ties to Swansea; however, as the Serie A season grew closer it began to transpire that Roma had taking a liking to Borini and offered Parma €1.7m to loan the player for the season – Roma also inserted in a clause that meant they could possibly buy the player for €7m at a later date. On 21st August 2011, Borini signed for the Giallorossi just as the transfer window was closing.
The Roma Borini would be joining were at the beginning of an exciting project with former Barcelona B team coach and Barcelona, Real Madrid and Spain playing legend, Luis Enrique taking charge at the club. Enrique had been developing his coaching philosophy under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, but this would be Enrique’s first foray into full time management. Many in the press dubbed the team “Barca-Roma”, as the Roma ownership looked to overhaul an ageing defensive-minded team and create a genuinely attractive, free-flowing football philosophy at the club.
Many expected Borini to play a backup role in his first season at the club, behind attacking players such as Bojan Krkric (a player that followed Enrique from Barcelona), Pablo Osvaldo and club legend Francesco Totti. Borini would get a chance early on his Roma career coming off the bench for the last ten minutes for Pablo Osvaldo in a 2-1 loss to Cagliari, before making his first start for the club a week later in a 0-0 draw with Inter. After several appearances Enrique soon realised he had a bright attacking talent on his hands and he soon started deploying Borini regularly from the beginning of games. Borini would net his first goal for the club, complete with trademark celebration, on 26th October against Genoa.
Enrique’s Roma stuttered throughout the season, but their most impressive attribute was the way the front three, usually consisting of Borini, Totti and Osvaldo,interchanged positions repeatedly throughout games, causing chaos opposition defences. Enrique had his Roma team playing a 4-3-3 formation with the fron three usually consisting of Totti, Osvaldo and Borini switching positions regularly. Unlike his time at Swansea, Borini found himself starting slighter wider than his more familiar central role, but with Borini’s constant movement he took to the role exceptionally well. Roma’s ‘Barcelona’ tika-taka philosophy also transcended to the front three with all three displaying excellent composure on the ball and helping Roma to have the third highest ball possession in the league behind the top two teams, Milan and Juventus. ‘Swanselona’ had acted as the perfect schooling for Borini’s switch to tika-taka-orientated ‘Barca-Roma’. Borini became a regular feature in the Roma side and scored 9 goals in 25 appearances for the club. Borini has even been linked with a move to PSG (now managed by Ancelotti), a club who are destined to make a large impact on European football in coming years with their Qatari owners seemingly able to offer obscene amounts of money to secure the players they want – although this is still just speculation.
Borini’s all-action performances were beginning to get quite a lot of coverage in Italy and Cesare Prandelli, coach of the Italian national team, began to take notice. Prandelli had taken over the national team following the Azzuri’s woeful display in the 2010 World Cup under the manager that led them to World Cup glory in 2006, Marcello Lippi. Prandelli was put in charge of the team with an outlay to oversee a large transition from the veterans of 2006 to the new generation of Italian footballers, such as Giovinco, Balotelli, Chiellini and Borini.
Borini had featured for Italy throughout all age levels from U-16 to U-21. and Borini even captained the U-19 squad in the U-19 European Championships in 2010. After mounting speculation, Borini finally got the call-up to senior squad on February 26th and featured in Italy’s friendly fixture 3 days later against the USA, which the Azzuri lost 1-0.
With no clear first choice strikers lined up for Euro 2012, many pundits speculated who Prandelli would include in his squad; he eventually opted to take Di Natale, Balotelli, Giovinco, Cassano, Diamanti and Borini as the side’s attackers – experts are still unclear who Prandelli will select as his two front men with most believing he will go with Balotelli and Cassano while some suggest the 34 year old Di Natale will partner the Man City forward.
So, what of Borini in Euro 2012? Well, it looks likely that he will not be in the starting XI for the opening fixture against Spain, especially as Prandelli favours two up front. If Italy do lose their opening game to Spain, which many predict, Italy may need to ensure victory in the final two group games against Croatia and Republic of Ireland. If Prandelli needs to take a more attacking stance, Borini could be a perfect player to bring on, especially if Prandelli switches to 4-3-3, a system Borini is now more than familiar with after his season at Roma – although many might suggest that Parma’s dynamic Giovinco might just be ahead of Borini in the pecking order. Also, who’s to say that the enigmatic Balotelli won’t get frustrated with Spain in the opening fixture and somehow get himself sent-off, leaving a free striking berth for someone in the following fixtures.
Italy have just been engulfed by another ‘Calciopoli’ as another match-fixing scandal has even led to the authorities arriving at the national team’s training sessions to question players with Domenico Criscito of Zenith St. Petersburg even being removed from the squad following allegations of match-fixing. Although there is a uncertainty surrounding the Italina camp, many people forget that the last big scandal to sweep Italian football came on the eve of the 2006 World Cup, which Italy went on to win. If Italy are to pull off similar heroics this time, they might need to depend on the energies of players such as Fabio Borini to keep them plodding along. Borini’s ambitious nature might just help propel him into the limelight. Forza Fabio!