The Sleepwalker

When was the last time a Roma player scored at the rate Borini is currently? (I'm asking because I'm too lazy to look it up, it's not a rhetorical question.) Borini has scored seven goals in the last eight Roma games, and while I'm not suggesting it'll be awkward at the next costume party at Trigoria because both he and Osvaldo will come dressed as Gabriel Batistuta, it's hard to ignore the topic for much longer. As much as I have pushed the envelope on ignoring topics worthy writing about, we have now reached an impasse: we have to talk about Fabio Borini.

Technically, he's not brilliant. He's decent, maybe even good, but not straying far on either side of average—for a poaching striker, his fundamentals are perfectly in place, although he's a far cry from an Erik Lamela. So what's the differentiator? To say work ethic would be too simplistic, and imply that Lamela has none (which he does). No, the real difference is difference itself. Luis Enrique quipped that Borini gives 100% even when sleeping, which is the best summarization of Borini I've heard to date. For his coach and team mates alike, he is an enabler: without him, the lives of Francesco Totti, Miralem Pjanic and Erik Lamela would be a lot harder, because of the simple truth that he's nothing like them.

This makes Fabio Borini both the most romantic and least romantic story of the moment.

Preternaturally talented 19 year olds ignite the hearts and minds of the crowds like few others. Yet we admire too, in another manner altogether, the unassumingness of players whose success is owed more to perspiration than inspiration. It's not selling Borini short, or failing to appreciate him, to say that his greatest quality is that he has none. His actual technical skills struggle to break the top 3, a podium dominated by one sheer, indomitable will, two iron lungs and two legs that can't stop, won't stop.

Although we would need a Sliding Doors viewing to be able to say with complete confidence that it was his years in England which raised him, it's a feeling tough to dispense with. It's a football fan's stereotypes about the game reaffirmed, a narrative delivered wrapped up in a pretty box. Then again, maybe he sought out England because he was already wired that way, and saw a natural fit. Then again, this time it was an English club that showed no faith and gladly let him walk out the door, not an Italian one. So much for reaffirming stereotypes. Either way: it is clear that missing a few years of substandard weekly competition in the primavera championship, and a year and half to two years of scarce appearances in serie B, has done him no harm. Irrevocable, or otherwise. Not content with the prospects of spending years to break through at a struggling club, perhaps only to have his entire career destabilitated on the whim of the then coach, Borini didn't play the hand he was dealt; he changed his cards, prayed to the skies and he changed his stars (maybe, just maybe, nowadays he also goes to malls and balls too hard). Although everything about his climb towards the summit has felt more happenstance than inevitable rise (both the last minute nature of the deal last summer, and the fact that I would be surprised if Luis Enrique knew all that much about him, iPad or no iPad), it's a happy accident long since woven into the club's strategy. And now he even stands a good chance to go to the European Championship this summer.

Often during games, Borini surprises opponents much as he has us fans by popping up in places he shouldn't be. Although his talent, as mentioned, is different from that of an Erik Lamela, Borini too pushes fans towards the end of their seat. While with Lamela it may be in anticipation of known unknows or unknown knowns, Borini does it by putting every single ball into contention. He hunts down loose balls with the same determination of a novel character chasing down the man who murdered his family: he'll hunt it to the world's end. And then do it all over again five seconds later; rinse, repeat for 95 minutes. Because even minds of great fantasy and vision, like say authors or Lamela, Pjanic, Totti, needs someone who pushes the story forward.