Phil Smith: Borini was key to some of Sunderland’s best ever days but the reunion was an unhappy one

Fabio Borini in action in the 2014 League Cup final.
Fabio Borini in action in the 2014 League Cup final.
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The first comments, when news broke that AC Milan were set to swoop for Fabio Borini, was that he must have a good agent.

Well, Roberto De Fanti certainly makes for a better representative than he does Director of Football.

Borini’s switch is, without doubt, a surprise – a season in which he scored just two goals rewarded with a move to one of the biggest clubs in the world. For all the Rossoneri may be a shadow of their former selves, they look to be on the rise again having snapped up some of Europe’s most exciting talent in the early stages of the summer.

Their interest is not without logic. Borini remains highly thought of in Serie A, where he excelled with Roma. He offers versatility, will settle quickly and, even when the goals dry up, he provides a tremendous output in terms of his running and pressing.

It was for that reason that David Moyes persisted him last season even when his form had collapsed.

To Milan, who are shelling out some extraodinary fees and wages, he offers a relatively low cost, homegrown squad option. It is not quite the outrageous move that has been made out in some quarters.

As for his Sunderland legacy, it is difficult to gauge quite how he will be remembered. In the short-term, not with a great deal of affection.

Put simply, when it comes Sunderland’s recent Premier League journey, Borini was there at the very best and the very worst of times.

History will fondly remember his spectacular arrival on loan, a scarcely credible derby winner in which he was teed up by Jozy Altidore after a breakneck counter, and thumped a drive into the top corner.

There were the cup goals, the Wembley strike that, for a while at least, made the impossible seem real. The image of his grin as he lined up a penalty at St James’s Park, duly dispatched.

That was the best of Borini and the best of Sunderland – confident, hard-running, technically sound. The Italian represented better than anyone the move from chaos under Di Canio to the resilience and, at times, attractive football of Poyet’s first season.

Easy as it is to say in hindsight, the reunion should never have happened.

Gus Poyet had found his best role, the inside left in a 4-3-3, and the role was primed for him that first summer. Borini never came, Connor Wickham was shunted back out to the left and the cycle continued.

By the time Borini did sign on a permanent basis, he found a manager in Dick Advocaat who seemed thoroughly unimpressed, and an unhappy second spell began.

Nothing summed it up better than the sight of the striker, having scored to secure a point against West Ham with the side all but relegated, celebrating wildly and sliding in front of David Moyes and the dugout.

It jarred, to say the least, in front of a ground seething at the end of a wretched season.

His move away, then, will not be met with much sadness, even if some extaordinary memories will always endure.

For club and player, it offers a much-needed chance of a fresh start.

For Borini and Sunderland, the Premier League was at times exhilarating but ultimately infuriating.