Effort. Few Sunderland players show it, some openly show a lack of it and the rest feed us an illusion that they really try and really care. No Sunderland player represents the latter group more obviously than Fabio Borini.
It's painful to write something like this about Borini, I absolutely loved this bloke three years ago.
In 2013, Gus Poyet took a punt on a footballer with plenty of heart and plenty of self-belief. Borini was bigger than Sunderland, so he'd have us believe, but he was keen to prove himself in the Premier League and earn a more involved role for his Champions League qualifying parent club, Liverpool. Despite a good season on Wearside, one which earned him the admiration of the Sunderland faithful, Borini failed to establish himself at Liverpool after a summer of digging his heels in, resisting Brendan Rodgers' so obvious pushes towards the exit door as he stubbornly declaring himself a top footballer.
The next season, he finally accepted his fate at Sunderland. That's how it feels. It feels like he accepted his fate rather than having any desire to don the red and white stripes.
The illusion of Fabio Borini is that he is some kind of a workhorse. It's that he tracks back. He gives us that edgy directness up front that causes defenders to think and work harder. The truth is, he rarely tracks back with any desire or effectiveness and his influence up front has been next to nothing this season. Defenders barely have to break stride to nullify his threat.
WhoScored list absolutely zero strengths for Borini, as in he does nothing better than average, yet go on to list three weaknesses including passing and holding on to the ball - two very key parts of building an attack.
What's all the more frustrating is that Borini does possess quality. The goal against the Mags, Wembley goal, Crystal Palace and even our consolation goal against Manchester United. He is absolutely capable of doing something special. He is even capable of being a focal point in attack, as he proved for Poyet as he took more shots and provided more key passes than any of our attackers. That season, Squawka rated him our fifth best player overall. Last term, they even had Dame N'Doye above him whilst they have also scored 13 other Sunderland players as better-performers this campaign. Consider that against how poor Sunderland are right now.
There are many statistics that when compared with the 2013/14 campaign highlight the point that Borini is a shadow of the player we loaned nearly four years ago. Below is a tidy graph which shows the considerable decrease in key attacking stats per 90 minutes;
It's not as if Borini has been less involved this season, in fact he has attempted more passes-per-game this campaign than his previous two for Sunderland. So, that suggests that he has been more involved than he ever has been. So why has he not produced anything?
David Moyes is not the most attack-minded manager, but neither was Sam Allardyce or Poyet. All three are very much defend first, attack later kind of coaches. I think I basically mean you can only attribute so much blame to Moyes for under performing players such as Borini.
I feel like Borini has been every bit as lazy, petulant and ineffective as the much maligned Adnan Januzaj. His petulance is so obvious, like he believes he should be paraded into the stadium in some golden chariot because we should all be so grateful that the Great Fabio Borini has 'chosen' to degrade himself by signing for Sunderland.
What chance have we got in attack if our two 'creative' footballers struggle to muster the effort to earn the massive wages they receive so willingly? For all of his own faults, Duncan Watmore at the very least has the endeavour of a footballer that could positively affect a relegation battle.
If we are going to survive, we need our attackers to all put in a shift. Jermain Defoe can't do it by himself. Our midfield is so weak in front of goal that they are not going to be much help. It's down to our wingers to do their jobs and create and score the goals to keep us up. Forgive my scepticism, but there is no substantial enough evidence for me to suggest Sunderland can stay up if we have to rely on Borini and Januzaj.