Liverpool took a huge gamble in the summer by forking out the best part of £10.5m on Italian forward Fabio Borini, but with the 21-year-old failing to get involved much during the club’s first three league games, should there be any cause for concern about the player already?
It is of course still extremely early in the new season and Borini should be granted time to settle in to a new side, in a new league and adjust to both the physical and mental demands that come with it. But history shows that Liverpool have been burnt when they’ve bought from Italy in the past, with both Andrea Dossena and Alberto Aquilani struggling to either settle or force their way into the side and they will be hoping that Borini doesn’t follow a similar path.
The former Roma striker enjoyed a decent campaign last year, finishing with 10 goals in 26 games, nine of which came in Serie A. However, the fee paid for him, particularly when you keep in mind how strict the financial constraints are around Anfield at the moment, seems a tad excessive for a player who had just 46 first-team career appearances to his name at the time of the move.
Of course, the fact that he made Cesare Prandelli’s Italy squad for Euro 2012 must have played a part in his price rising, as will the fact that Roma had just paid Parma €5.3m in a blind auction for the other 50% of Borini’s rights just two weeks before his move to Liverpool, having spent €2.3 million on the initial 50% the year before.
Rodgers has clearly tried to find players this summer that he knows can fit into his system straight away so that the team can hit the ground running. Joe Allen arrived at great expense from Swansea for £15m, but his familiarity with the Rodgers ethos and style has seen him slot seamlessly into the side already and he’s impressed so far. Oussama Assaidi had cultivated a reputation in Holland for being a lively, touchline-hugging winger in the Nathan Dyer mould and Nuri Sahin remains one of the most exciting central midfield players in Europe, comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Borini worked with Rodgers at Swansea, albeit briefly, during a hugely successful two-month loan spell from Chelsea back in 2011, with his six goals in nine league games providing a welcome boost down the home straight which went a long way to helping the club get promoted to the Premier League. His clinical finishing and ability to play in a number of roles prompted the club to move for him during the transfer window this year and his age makes him something of a long-term purchase for Liverpool.
Rodgers said as much about Borini when he signed him: “He’s a big talent. He’s technically strong, he’s a good finisher with both feet, he can play central or on the sides in a 4-3-3 up front, he’s quick, and he’s tactically very good.
“He is arguably the best physical player I’ve worked with in terms of his pace, power and fitness. Mentally, he’s very strong. We’ve got a player who is on the up.”
However, in the club’s opening three league games, Borini has been fairly anonymous and fans haven’t seen many examples of his so-called pace or power, as he’s looked worryingly lightweight and not as quick as you may initially assume. Against West Brom, he cut an isolated figure alongside Luis Suarez as they toiled up top in what was a frustrating afternoon for the side, while in the 2-2 draw with champions Manchester City, he missed a gilt-edged chance from a Raheem Sterling cross and was frequently wasteful while in possession.
It was the game against Arsenal, though, that really drove home that here is a player that could struggle, for the rest of his first season in the Premier League at least. Liverpool dominated possession for long spells but whenever it seemed to get near Borini, the move broke down and his crossing is not only erratic, it’s based on hope rather than percentages. At the moment he’s like Dirk Kuyt without the rare moments of quality – all running and very little in the way of end product or guile.
It was his goal against FC Gomel that highlighted his finishing ability, but the thing with that goal was that it gave him little time to think and he was simply relying upon his natural instincts, but it’s when he’s given time to think that his decision-making often lets him down at the moment.
This is all part and parcel of being a young player and perhaps expectations have been unfairly raised due to the inflated nature of his transfer fee, but with such a small squad at his disposal and with even fewer attacking options to choose from now that Andy Carroll has left on loan to West Ham, Rodgers needs Borini to step up and deliver right from the off, otherwise the side will continue to flounder and struggle to score goals.
It hasn’t helped that both Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard have been in some dog rough form of late, but he needs to get involved more. You also have to factor in that between the now departed quartet of Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll, they scored 29 times last season and that’s quite a big vacuum in terms of goals throughout the squad that needs filling in the short-term.
What Borini does have going for him is that he is undoubtedly a talented player and he’s at ease with Rodgers methods, but he needs to be more than just a willing runner and a keen participant in games. He’s still young and he will need time to settle, but if the team’s poor start to the season continues, patience may soon begin to run out with the raw forward.
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