Stay or go? Liverpool's Borini conundrum
An injury to Fabio Borini's shoulder during Liverpool's otherwise tedious 1-0 defeat to Roma on Wednesday night emphasised the pointlessness of risking a player on the verge of being sold to Sunderland. Borini only lasted 12 minutes against his former club after Brendan Rodgers also started him against Preston North End at the weekend. Fortunately, the injury does not appear to be serious.
It has been a bizarre week for the young Italian. There can't have been much stranger transfer news. The Reds were seemingly about to make a profit on a player who had failed to fit in and who even went out on loan for all of last season. Such a windfall happens rarely.
True, he made a contribution to a Sunderland season containing a cup final and an ultimately successful fight against relegation, but he was hardly prolific during it. Was this all too good to be true?
Well, yes. News came in almost immediately that Borini was only considering the move. His agent impetuously announced that his client wanted to stay at Anfield and fight for his place. Something was afoot, but even Gus Poyet spoke cryptically about the deal. There were most likely add-on clauses for appearances, goals and even full internationals that inflated the fee past his original purchase price -- reportedly 14 million pounds -- not all of which will be triggered.
Liverpool are currently awash with money after selling Luis Suarez, and will also be glutted with strikers if the Loic Remy deal should ever be finally finalised. Despite one or two abusive messages on social media -- you can't keep every idiot in check -- the supporters have been fairly relaxed about the whole thing, but that could change quickly in an age when it seems almost every penny is counted in and counted out.
It's understandable for fans to be concerned, as it wasn't that long ago the club was in financial turmoil. There have been summer calamities before when players have moved for far less than originally thought; Michael Owen and Steve McManaman being examples of players with little or no time left on their contracts.
The agent's claim about Borini "fighting for his place" was admirable on the surface, but people were entitled to think there was more to it. With Daniel Sturridge, Rickie Lambert and probably Remy ahead of him in the pecking order, how many chances is he really going to get? Rodgers also likes to shake things up by playing one up front or using Raheem Sterling in an advanced role, thus further stifling Borini's opportunities.
The lad has got something but it's only been seen in small doses and the clock is ticking. By the age of 23, Sturridge was also deemed surplus to requirements by a big club, Chelsea, and grabbed his chance at Anfield. Borini did well at Sunderland but it was hardly in the same bracket as Sturridge. If his wish to stay and fight was sincere it would echo the decision of Jordan Henderson, whose game came on in leaps and bounds under Rodgers and is now a firm crowd favourite after almost being sold for peanuts to Fulham.
Sunderland might be a better option short-term, but if Borini wants to go home to Italy that's his business. He has a contract with Liverpool and is perfectly entitled to stick to it while waiting for the deal that suits him. It may be cynical, but so often in the past players have preferred pound signs to principles. He was a hero for Sunderland last season, yet this public delay in choosing them might have dampened that ardour a tad.
It would be a shame if fiscal implications were to overshadow what has often seemed a promising career. This is an important time in his development, and the wrong move now could be damaging for years to come. Liverpool are loaded at the moment, and keeping Borini would be no real hardship for them.
However, the stockpiling of players at bigger clubs should concern the game as a whole. It can be very unhealthy for some, and money surely isn't everything. It is quite easy to vanish without a trace no matter what talent you possess.
My partner sort of knows Jack Rodwell through family friendships in Southport, and when his career was gathering momentum at Everton her conversations were always "Jack's done this" or "Jack's signed that." Not long after his move to Manchester City those chats became far less frequent, and though injuries have taken their toll, the chances of breaking into that multimillion-pound team were always slim. Now that Steven Gerrard has retired from England duty it would be ridiculous to offer up Rodwell as a successor. A few years ago it wouldn't have seemed so far-fetched.
Fans are almost as obsessed with money as they are with football these days. At Liverpool they have seen the likes of Alberto Aquilani, Joe Cole, Andriy Voronin and Milan Jovanovic fail yet stay linked to the club through having their wages part-paid by the Reds while going out on loan -- and not an insignificant part, either. A salary can become just as big a drain on resources as the transfer fee for a failed player, especially if they hang around too long.
Most supporters will understand Borini's dilemma as long as he does not take too long making up his mind. Patience soon starts to wear thin. The prospect of him staying and eventually becoming a key performer is stretching a point almost to transparency, but perhaps Rodgers sees something few others do, and that's why he's been selected twice in recent days.
He did pay 10 million pounds for him, after all.