Cup games can often be full of narratives. The will he or won’t he, the can they or can’t they, or even the should he or shouldn’t he? The first leg of Manchester United and Sunderland’s Capital One Cup Semi-Final provided us with a particularly interesting storyline, as Fabio Borini stepped up to take a second-half penalty at 1-1.
It’s fair to say that the on-loan Liverpool striker hasn’t enjoyed the most fruitful of spells in England. A youth prospect at Chelsea, the Italian found himself on the peripheries in West London, with the Blues’ star-studded attacking set-up of the time blocking his path into the first-team squad. This resulted in a loan move to Swansea, his first link up with Brendan Rodgers. He may only have been there a short time, but the front-man helped the Swans secure promotion to the Premier League through the play-offs, leading to rumours that his role at Stamford Bridge may be increased. However that was not the case, as he was soon back in his homeland to join Roma.
Fast-forward another year and he was on an aeroplane from the Italian capital bound for Liverpool John Lennon Airport to join up with Rodgers at Anfield – as his first major signing since swapping South Wales for Merseyside. Much was expected of Borini, with a large price tag – £10.5m – and an impressive goal return at Roma seemingly putting him at the forefront of a new Liverpool side that was set to swap the pragmatism and disappointment that had haunted the reigns of Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish respectively for a new expansive playing style.
But after flitting in and out of the first-team – injuries played their part – the pressure on Borini began to grow. Daniel Sturridge’s impact in the final third, allied to the majestic Luis Suarez, rendered his role in the Reds’ team for the current season obsolete, with no European football set to minimise the fixtures in which he could play a part.
As a result Sunderland came calling, with colourful Italian Paolo Di Canio keen to offer his compatriot the game time he needed. The move went through, yet shortly after the ex-Swindon boss was dismissed and Borini looked once again to be in the wilderness.
However, Gus Poyet has turned to Borini in recent months, with the 22-year-old getting his chance in the starting XI and from the bench. Memorable goals such as the Tyne-Wear derby-winning effort have caused confidence to flood back into his game, as the minutes tick by.
So when he stepped up after Tom Cleverley’s foolish tackle had resulted in a penalty it seemed a pivotal moment for Borini, and indeed in the Capital One Cup as a competition. Miss, and his self-belief may evaporate into the Sunderland night sky. Score, and the ecstasy would weep onto the turf below his boots. As the ball flew goalwards from his right boot, for a split second it looked as if the crossbar may be the figurative line between success and failure, with the white sphere of hope perilously close to the metal bar of disappointment. The Stadium of Light took a breath of expectation. In a ground known for its atmosphere there was an audible silence. But this was pierced after an eternal second, as the ball swooshed along the roof of the net to set up what could be a key victory for the Black Cats.
After playing such a pivotal role in the game, Borini is sure to find his name on the team sheet at Old Trafford, with 90 minutes – plus possible extra time and the prospect of penalty kicks – standing between the relegation battlers and a trip to Wembley. With another solid performance, the much travelled youngster may get the confidence boost he needs to really kick on and fulfil the potential he has given glimpses of.
Having represented four-time World Cup winners Italy at a senior level – albeit on one occasion – Borini’s talent is not in doubt, but is his sense of belief that needs building up after the wrecking balls of his time at Liverpool and Chelsea knocked it to its very foundations.
A Capital One Cup Final appearance, for which he may have netted the most important goal, could be just the remedy for the hurt suffered, and form the turning point for Borini’s career in English football. Rodgers will surely be paying close attention, and as the final whistle rings around Old Trafford – which is not the fortress it once was – we may have a new player on our hands, and one ready to truly prove himself.