Fabio Borini: Liverpool, Sunderland, QPR … the authorised version

The world and his dog have a view on the Fabio Borini affair. My own is well known: he is not paid to be a Sunderland supporter but for being a professional footballer, and must be allowed to
make his own choices, but I do bitterly regret all the wasted effort to bring him back when it was clear all along he’d sooner take a break from active football. Even those Sunderland supporters who profess not to care too much that this, indeed, is the outcome express a view merely by saying just that. What of Borini himself? And Liverpool fans? It is likely we still know only part of the story of how he now comes to be kicking his heels at Anfield with, apparently, little real prospect of breaking into the team on Brendan Rodgers’s present thinking.

Well, Borini read the article we reproduce today from the excellently written Liverpool fan site The Anfied Wrap and gave it the seal of approval you see above. So step forward the author, Neil Atkinson, from whom we have heard before, with an introduction followed, with his consent, by the piece itself …

Jake: from happier days
Jake: from happier days

Neil: I originally wrote this for a primarily Liverpool supporting audience but Salut Sunderland asked to reproduce it here and I thought, yeah, that’s fine. But I need to briefly make clear to Sunderland supporters what I think about Borini in their context. There have been, since Borini tweeted the piece, a fair few Sunderland supporters having a go at him on Twitter with me in copy. I completely understand their frustration towards him.

The Sunderland response to Borini last season was magnificent. They repaid his clear commitment to their cause in spades and took him to their heart. In essence, they treated him like the terrific football supporters they are. This summer their frustration comes from his rejection of the move and that it seemed dragged out. I understand the rejection, but that it seemed dragged out is as much the business of the people running Sunderland’s football club as it is Borini. Presuming Borini asked for the sort of wage and (much more significantly in my view) the sort of clause discussed below from QPR then Sunderland should have moved on immediately. They were hanging on presumably because they thought Borini would change his mind on wage or clause.

Perhaps they were badly advised by Liverpool. Perhaps they were concerned they wouldn’t get someone else as good. But regardless, football on the pitch and off it is about choices and that Sunderland didn’t move on quickly was their choice much more than it was Borini’s.

When Borini earned a place in Sunderland hearts
When Borini earned a place in Sunderland hearts

THE CURIOUS CASE OF FABIO BORINI by Neil Atkinson // 3 September 2014 //

THE REPORTS are as follows: QPR agreed a fee with Liverpool for Fabio Borini that is approximately ten million pounds. They offered him a salary in the vicinity of double his current money. This was rejected. Borini has said to QPR that it would take triple his money and, crucially, a clause which allows him to move for less than ten million pounds next summer for him to be interested in the move. Both those things.

Earlier in the window, after what I would argue was a moderately successful loan move, Sunderland made it clear they thought it successful enough to offer fourteen million pounds for Borini’s signature, yet Borini didn’t seem to entertain this offer.

Let’s accept the reports because it is these reports which have led to Borini getting down the banks.

In short, this seems clear – Fabio Borini doesn’t want to play for Queens Park Rangers. He’d do so if:

1 He got crazy money.

2 He could see how he could leave at the end of the season to then go and play for someone else.

Further, Fabio Borini doesn’t want to return to Sunderland. He went there last season. Did well. But perhaps he believes it to be a dead end. He’d have a case to think that. He did well, we can all agree he did well, their supporters were massive fans of his, he showed huge commitment and scored goals in big games but now, after that season, his only offers are Sunderland and QPR.


In terms of usual conversations about footballers, there’s a complexity here, perhaps an uncomfortable one. Fabio Borini clearly isn’t motivated solely by money but from reports we can accept we can see he would allow himself to be consoled by it for twelve months. He clearly sees QPR as nothing more than a stepping stone in his career and as a stepping stone he’d like to feel he can more easily step off as quickly as possible. If he was solely motivated by money then he accepts the highest bidder and goes.

There are other reports, other rumours. Borini is supposed to like Liverpool. He has a life here that he enjoys. He may well also think he can break into Liverpool’s set up. There are precedents for that. A long season beckons and Liverpool suddenly look a lot better playing two forwards and the third on the list, Lambert, looks short of the pace required to play in this Liverpool side. Other reports suggest he’d like to go back to Italy. Getting back to Italy when clubs in England will pay over ten million pounds for you is hard. Only five transfer fees over eight figures were paid in Italy this summer.

Borini has also never been settled – he’s 23 and he has played senior games for five different clubs. It wouldn’t be unlikely if he’d like his next move to be one he can properly get behind. A club to settle at. Sunderland was sold to him as a springboard and he doesn’t want QPR to become a prison. His next move could define his career. The next four year deal he signs takes him through to 27.

All this is very human. We are, as humans, motivated by a variety of factors in our career. We can, if given the opportunity, be motivated by material gain, by career progression, by location. Some of us don’t get that opportunity, we aren’t fortunate enough to be put in that position. But those of us who are trade off one motivation for another constantly. We may place money at the centre of our career, we may trade off short term gain for long term gain, we may choose location over salary or we may embark on a difficult path we believe to be eventually rewarding. There’s no definitive right answer. Everyone’s circumstances are different and different choices suit different people.


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However, coverage and discussion of Borini is exceptionally negative. Borini gets slaughtered as greedy and/or delusional. His decision unfathomable. His demands unreasonable. People are “disappointed in him.” Disappointed in what exactly? That Liverpool Football Club didn’t receive fourteen million? Well they weren’t going to reduce the ticket prices using that money. (By the way, if they did it would be 14,000,000 / 19 / 45000 which is 16 quid off a game). That money isn’t getting taken from you. What are we disappointed in? That a young man chose to stay at a football club for the next four months. He would definitely play more for Sunderland or Queens Park Rangers than he will at Liverpool. We can all agree on that. But what happens next for him?

A lot of this is about what the gap between the top seven and the rest actually means. Wilfried Bony scored sixteen league goals last season. He’s a good player. He remains at Swansea City. Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton have all signed centre forwards, he has a release clause, yet he remains at Swansea City. How many league goals would he have to score to get a move? How many can he and Swansea City score? Swansea scored fifty four goals in the league last season – the most scored by a side outside the top seven. Bony contributed almost a third of them. If he wants to play for a bigger club – and possibly he doesn’t – what does he have to do? What is possible for him to do? His only option is to do it again.

Borini is at a top seven club – he’s at a top three club – and if he moves from this top seven club then when does he next get his chance? Maybe never? Probably never. So why throw it away for Queens Park Rangers? And if he does choose to throw it away why not ensure that he gets weighed in for it? If you are going to sell out your dreams, how much do you sell them for?

Matt's cartoon as adapted by Jake
Matt’s cartoon as adapted by Jake

Salut! Sunderland
on tour at ESPN. How Monsieur Salut dealt with one of their questions:

Q: Who can help in January?

A: Let us forget Borini for good. Clearly, he would sooner sit on someone else’s bench, or merely aim for it, than return. Gus Poyet must look instead at men who might suddenly be fringe players, and anxious for on-field time, because of the top six clubs’ transfer activity. Arsenal’s Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell could be one possibility unless Sunderland goals are flowing by then.

But back to Neil …

Lastly, then, the question becomes “should he accept his level is Sunderland?” Perhaps he should. They are one of this country’s great historic clubs with a marvellous fanbase. Perhaps he should accept the most he can be is a big fish at that sized pond. However it might be that he’d rather be any size fish back in a Serie A or La Liga sized pond but knows that a move to Sunderland or Queens Park Rangers without any clause allowing a reasonable, effective transfer fee sees him stuck in a location he doesn’t want to be in having simultaneously abandoned his ambition.

The real life financial existence of elite footballers is something we can’t really appreciate. Their lives are, in comparison to ours, gilded. They should never have to worry about money. Few of life’s luxuries should be out of reach for them. That doesn’t equal happiness though; don’t get me wrong, it can make happiness a hell of a lot easier, but it doesn’t mean they will always be happy in their work. We know enough about their lives to know that by now. Playing football is brilliant. I can only imagine being brilliant at playing football is brilliant squared. It being your job is brilliant cubed. But if you’ve made playing football your job the idea you should be entirely subject to its whims reduces you simply to that occupation and to exterior perceptions of it.

To say he’s rubbish, he’s delusional, he’s taking Liverpool for a ride is disrespectful, not simply to him as a footballer but to him as a human on a career path. It demeans him not to respect his decision to expect Liverpool to honour a contract they agreed with him and it demeans him further to reduce his life options to two job offers and call him greedy for not choosing to go to either despite both offering to double his money. The tone of the discussion around Borini reduces all parties – footballers, football journalists and football supporters to judgemental, money-obsessed, nosey parkers, when instead he’s being what he is – a 23 year old lad with a career choice. He might make the right one, he might make the wrong one. Let’s not rush to crucify over what’s a complicated situation. We say we want our footballers to be more human. Here Fabio Borini, semi-incomprehensible tweet and all, is in a very human situation. He isn’t lucky enough to be Falcao, few of us are in our chosen profession, so he has to get on with being Fabio Borini. It isn’t as easy as we make it out to be.


* Monsieur Salut adds: Neil’s article has inspired a stream of interesting and often thoughtful comments [see http://www.theanfieldwrap.com/2014/09/curious-case-fabio-borini/#comments], but this was the one I really liked:

William Ritchie
3 September 2014 at 10:59 pm

All I can say is what I heard from sunderland players, it is not Borini who decides where he plays or lives it is his wife

26 thoughts on “Fabio Borini: Liverpool, Sunderland, QPR … the authorised version”

  1. Just to respond to Mark. You are clearly wrong about SAFC fans mate. Don’t you know what Mrs Doubtfire said about us when she was sacked?

    We have completely unrealistic expectations apparently, and that includes not having to fight relegation every season. We can barely see reality let alone grasp it. Deluded and shameless about it. That’s us,……………… actually it might be that lot up the road.

  2. All the sensible people seem to have congregated here. Where have all the idiots gone?

    Oh no!……………….what’s this coming?

  3. Imagine you are a dyed in the wool SAFC fan and lucky enough to be a PL player. Would you sign for Newcastle. NO, NO, NO I hear you shout. Imagine you are a dyed in the wool SAFC fan etc etc. Would you sign for Newcastle…for double or treble wages? YES, YES, YES would be the answer. Footballers aren’t fans, it’s their job. We’ll get along fine without Borini or any other player that turns us down in the future.

  4. Despite all that I’ll accept Fabio with open arms….for £6 million….in January. If we’d had him we’d have beaten United….and it always hurts dropping points at home against teams below you in the league 😉

  5. Great write up. The real selfishness often comes from fans that act like footballers owe their club something, like the Wolves fans that stormed their training ground when Steven Fletcher dared to want to play in the Premier League, or likewise Charlton fans abusing young Poyet this summer.

    If Borini believes he’s better than us then I admire his ambition, not a view I share but good luck to him. The only irritating thing about the whole thing for me was why Poyet wasted all that time chasing a limited player, all with the likely intention of playing him on the left wing anyway.

    From day one of the bid being accepted you wondered wether we’d be better off using the money to sign defenders, did the whole thing stop is doing so?

    • I agree completely. I liked FB as a player, but never over rated him. He was never worth £14m , if that’s the correct figure, and we should have taken the hint when he went to USA.

      My concern is that Poyet seems to have been oblivious to the transparent implications of the saga. I confess that I have never been convinced about him [ GP ] and he has done little to change my view. I hope I’m wrong, because I am sick of managerial change.

      The trouble is, that he has done nothing to address our striker problem [ which Borini wouldn’t have solved anyway ] and little to improve the side defensively. I don’t think Vergini is any better than Bardsley, or that Jones and the Dutch kid are any improvement on Alonso.

      I don’t know much about Coates, but clearly Liverpool don’t rate him that highly and he appears to have a poor injury record.

      All in all, I’m not convinced that we are any stronger than last season.

      • I think you’re right about injuries William. Jones and Brown will get injured at some point, leaving us with four defenders.

        I do think we’re stronger however, but only with all fit.

  6. That’s absolutely correct Drummer. SAFC are the ones who have come out looking embarrassed and Borini appearing greedy, but how many people wouldn’t be bought to do another job if they could double their money. He has a career to think about and he sees a permanent move to us or QPR as not the best choice. That’s where it should have all ended.

    The story rambled on because Poyet allowed it to and kept going back to the media with little snippets for the fans. It may be that he wanted the club to pay what Borini was asking and agree to whatever clauses he wanted included. It’s unwise to adopt that approach, most of us might think, but the real problem for me is that so much time was wasted and we ended up with no striker arriving. We are worse off than where we were in January and that’s not Borini’s fault.

    • Agree, the media courtship by Poyet may have ultimately helped to put Borini off . By Poyet running to the media evety week and later on Rodgers leaning on him, Borini may have felt he was having his hand forced and therefore not allowed to make he’s mind up naturally ,which may have worked against us .

  7. Obviously Borini was taking the p##s as far as QPR were concerned , made ridiculous demands on the slight chance they might cave in . Doesn’t show him a good light . but maybe he was being forced out by Rodgers against he’s will so had to stop the deal the only way he could . For us , we shouldn’t have went so public in our pursuit and we should have had plan B , C and D ready to go as soon as Borini went to the states . Hopefully Poyets learned a lesson and ” erm , maybe , if erm this happens ” means no . Can you imagine Keane entertaining this farce ?

  8. Ifos. There have been blokes around for years who’ve been happy to move here and there picking up big money and sign on fees and doing nothing on the field. They play on reputations earned years ago and produce little. I’m not saying that Borini is one of those but he’s been reluctant to put himself somewhere that he’s playing week in and week out.

    Then there are players who have only been at one or two clubs and have been happy to sit there doing precious little for years. Steve Harper must have played more competitive games after the age of 30 than the rest of his life. Hooper was another one of the same ilk.

  9. What I find most odd, and it isn’t really addressed in the article, is the cliched idea that footballers just want to play – the money is irrelevant, as it’s a fortune wherever they go in the top flight – yet here is a footballer actively turning down the opportunity to play on a regular basis, so what does he want? The kudos of being at a club in the top echelon but not playing, not being seen playing and so not moving on at some point in the future to another ‘top’ club? It appears to be a decision that makes no sense on any level and that, I think, is what makes people so frustrated.
    Personally I’d have pulled the plug the moment he stepped on the plane to America, and it was incredibly naïve of Poyet to maintain the pursuit.

  10. A level headed assessment and any qualms on Sunderland’s part can indeed be laid at their own doorstep. He clearly did not want to come and if the hirearchy at the SoL thought otherwise, then more fool them.

    One provisio: the money involved is the madness of the Premier League and we are immune to its follies. If the financial strictures were to be stringently applied, things may alter. Fines are ineffective and the only remedy would be substantial points’ reductions. If that was good enough for Leeds, Luton, Pompey and Coventry, why not Manchester City, Chelsea and Man Utd?

  11. It’s a superb article. I have no problem with Borini at all. My issue is with our manager telling us all summer that he wanted to come when it was clear as day that he had no intention. Borini wants to stay in Liverpool. No problem with that. What he needs to realise as a footballer though is that he may be good enough to attract interest from Sunderland and QPR and get games for us and Swansea, but no bigger fish are interested in him.

    He’s a decent player, who our supporters turned in to a cult hero of sorts. That may have something to do with him having inflated ideas about his own ability and value. He isn’t worth 14M even in today’s market. SAFC should have moved on weeks/months ago. There’s nothing devious or underhand with telling a club at the outset that he would only move for double his money and a get out clause. It might be greedy, we might not like it but it’s not dishonest or underhand.

  12. Why lead 2 very proud clubs such as Sunderland and QPR, with both very proud and passionate supporter down the garden parth and waste every one time if he had no intention of leaving Liverpool

  13. I don’t have any problem with what’s happened. I actually don’t think Borini is worth 14 million and I’m glad we didn’t overpay in desperation (like we did with Fletcher).

    I’m also happy with this explanation from Borini’s perspective. I’m an ST holder and lifelong Sunderland supporter – been watching games since 1962 – but much as I love my club and want them to sign good players, I have to say that historically we have been a bit of a graveyard for good players. It’s where they come for their careers to die. Borini clearly feels he belongs at a bigger club than Sunderland (or QPR), and that’s up to him. He may be right or wrong, but it’s his life. As the article says (and Borini confirms in his Tweet), he’d have to have stupid money to give up his dreams. He was offered more money but stuck to his career choice and he should be respected for that – even if it subsequently proves to have been misguided.

    Meanwhile, Sunderland will continue to find it hard to break out of the “graveyard” image if they can’t improve and can’t sign players like Borini. But that’s Sunderland’s problem to solve – not Borini’s.

  14. He should have said “no thanks” when QPR and Sunderland made an offer, instead of trying to triple his wages. By doing so, he has lost all integrity he claims to have.

    Enjoy the bench Fabio.

    • I don’t agree. Professional footballers are, by definition, mercenary.

      He may have lost integrity but not by asking for more money

  15. A very good assessment of want probably went on, and I don’t blame Borini one bit for looking after what he considers to be his best interest, nor do I blame LFC for not wanting to loan him out when they might have been able to get upwards of £10 million for him.

    Unfortunately until we establish ourselves as top ten Premiership team that will not be involved in the end of season scramble to avoid the drop ( such as Everton) we will struggle to bring in ambitious talented footballers like Borini on a permanent basis, unless of course we pay them well over the odds and build in a suitable escape clause into their contracts.

    I have no problem with the escape clause as I believe that SAFC write in a relegation clause into contracts whereby players take a pay cut if the team go down.

    So for me the way forward is for the academy start bringing through players of first team quality that will help create the basis of a steady premiership team.

  16. Have to agree with Neil’s analysis. For me the disappointing aspect too is not Fabio’s decision to stay at Liverpool but Sunderland’s decision to cling on to the hope he would come – even up to deadline day.

    If the money offered to Liverpool and the player was available then surely a decision should have been made earlier that we were also short of players in other areas of the park, notably the back 4 and attempts made to address that issue.

    We have to an extent with Coates (at the last minute), but had Borini agreed to another loan deal we wouldn’t even have been able to bring him in. It’s the back 4 situation that concerns me – especially the left back spot (nothing new there) because I’m not sure Jones is comfortable on that side of the pitch. He looks very one-footed to me.

    Should FB ever step onto the SoL pitch in a Liverpool shirt I would hope our supporters remember what he did for us last season and not what he didn’t do in the summer.

  17. An excellent article. I thought Fabio was great for us and I wish him well. Unfortunately yet again he’s one SAFC sprinkled stardust on and therefore would eye better opportunities. I can think of Downing.Evans, Welbeck, Rose, Alonso and Ki who all became more valuable to the parent club. I know ‘loans’ are a fact of modern football but generally it’s a loser for the loanee club.

    • Add to that ‘ our ‘ players , Bent , Henderson , Mignolet even Col##ck.Regardless of the fees we recieved , the fact is we can’t keep hold of our successes , either loaned, bought or homegrown . Only one I can think of we’ve successfully kept hold of is Cattermole and that’s because the option was Stoke .

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