Norwich City v Sunderland preview: Borini still to prove he can be central figure

Fabio Borini might be a hero to Sunderland’s fans, but he still has to win over his coach, writes Stuart Rayner

Stu Forster/Getty Images Sunderland's Fabio Borini
Sunderland's Fabio Borini

He calls him a hero who loves football, yet winning over Gustavo Poyet has not been easy for Fabio Borini.

It took one swing of the Italian’s right boot in October to earn his idol status with Sunderland’s supporters.

Since then he has become an integral part of Poyet’s plans, just not in the role he would prefer.

Speak to the softly-spoken 22-year-old and he will tell you in no uncertain terms – he is a centre-forward. His Sunderland career tells a very different story.

Since he joined on a season-long loan from Liverpool, Borini has only once started a Premier League in the position, before Poyet’s arrival.

He has played twice there in the cups recently, becoming the first Sunderland player to score in a major cup final since 1973 when he found the net against Manchester City.

In Poyet’s 4-1-4-1 formation, Borini’s job has been to patrol the left wing, cutting in to cause havoc when the chance arises.

Forget Borini’s personal preferences, the Black Cats are crying out for a No.9. Steven Fletcher is injured (and more to the point has looked uninterested when fit), Jozy Altidore so woefully out of form even his fellow Americans are starting to ask questions about whether he should go to this summer’s World Cup, and Poyet admitted this week January signing Ignacio Scocco is taking longer than expected to get up to Premier League speed.

Between them the misfiring trio have fewer goals this season than Borini’s six.

It is a less-than startling tally, but it does at least include goals home and away against Newcastle United, a winner at home to Manchester United, a League Cup final strike and an important equaliser against Chelsea.

He may not score many, but at least they are important. Fletcher, Altidore and Scocco cannot even say that.

His time, Poyet tells us, will come. When remains to be seen. Unfortunately, time is not something on his relegation-threatened team’s side.

“I think he will have a role (directly up front rather than wide) soon but it depends on Jozy, it depends on Fletch, it depends on the game so we’ll see,” says the Uruguayan ahead of today’s crucial trip to Norwich City, their last away game this season against a relegation rival and after last week’s disappointing draw with Crystal Palace an opportunity they cannot afford to pass up.

Lest we forget, Borini was a fringe player when he left the bench to score the winner in October’s Wear-Tyne derby.

Poyet added: “In the beginning it was me (to blame for his non-selection), I put my hands up.

“It was my fault he was not playing. Now, if he’s not the first one you pick he’ll be the next one. He’s at that level. I told him (in October) it’s not you it’s me, it was because of the way I wanted us to play in my head – but it was an easy decision to start playing him.

“Also, he became a favourite with the fans. When you score against Newcastle in both games and you win and you score in a final I think that changes things.

“You are a hero, a legend with the fans, which is great, but I think the idea when you are on loan is you want to go back and do well in your team and stay there.”

It is Borini’s intention, making a permanent deal troublesome.

Forcing his way into a team with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge at its apex is about as difficult a task as British football has to offer, but Borini does not lack confidence.

Poyet joked: “If he makes us safe in the next five games then I won’t play him in the next five.

“Then maybe everyone will forget about him. ‘Fabio Borini, oh yeah rubbish,’ so then we can buy him.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be possible.

“Listen, we need to be realistic, which means if it’s possible it would be fantastic and if it’s not we are where we are. I can’t change the world.

“As a manager when you have a player on loan and you know him very well he’s the best option to buy. It’s because you know everything. With someone else you buy there’s always something you don’t know.

“It could be he complains, a family issue, a training issue, it could be he’s too weak you try to know the player but there’s always something you miss.

“When you have the player here for several months you know him. You know when he’s good, when he’s bad, how he trains, if he complains. It’s the best way.

“It’s out of our hands but I can tell you we like him a lot and we will try. People will say the price is going up.

“I’m not going to lie, he’s an important player, he’s been great. I hope he finishes the season at the same level scoring important goals. That makes you win games, then he’s the difference between the teams.”

Wherever he plays his football next season, Borini’s popularity on Wearside is assured for life.

Poyet added: “The good thing with Fabio is he has become a hero, he has got into the club, the fans. He lives football. He’s a top professional. He’s always on time. He’s always trying to be better in training.

“When you score goals in special games, at special times like he did it gets you closer to people and gets you to play better.

“He’s showing what a good player he is, wide, up front.”

Convincing Poyet he is the man for that last, crucial, job is the next challenge facing him.

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