Marco Borriello is the very definition of a journeyman footballer. Despite not staying with a club for more than two seasons, Borriello has accrued a cult following of Italian football fans that have been cheering every one of his 16 goals this season.
Born in Naples in June 1982, the Borriello family was struck by tragedy when the 11-year-old Marco lost his father to a Camorra assassination. Signed to the Milan youth academy after a scout spotted him playing football with friends, the player later said that the sport helped him deal with his father’s death.
After rising through Milan’s ranks, Borriello’s career started with a series of loans to lower league clubs Triestina and the Treviso, where the forward impressed scoring 10 goals. With slightly more experience to his name, the Napoli native’s next loan moves were slightly more illustrious at Empoli, Reggina and Sampdoria.
It was during his spell in Calabria that he met Belen Rodriguez, the first in what was to be a long list of high-profile girlfriends. Belen, now a famous socialite and television personality, was at the time the less famous of the two. Regardless, the four-year relationship marked the start of Borriello’s infamy in the gossip columns.
A return to Milan lasted barely three months before he tested positive in a random drug screening, earning a three-month ban. Belen, in what is now an infamous story, claimed that the results were due to her boyfriend’s exposure to the creams she was using to treat an infection, something that Borriello has since denied.
Milan finally lost patience with the Neapolitan forward, and sold him outright to Genoa, but following a season in which Borriello scored 19 league goals, the Rossoneri immediately bought their former player back in a €10 deal.
Despite finding his feet in his second season in Milan, Borriello was again deemed surplus to requirements due to the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A move to Roma saw a modest haul of 10 goals in his first season, however the arrival of Dani Osvaldo saw the forward once again short in game time.
Borriello’s subsequent loan move to Juventus failed to bear fruit as he quickly fell down the pecking order, with the fans branding him a ‘mercenary without dignity’ for failing to join them a year earlier.
Despite a year without regular football, Borriello’s next loan in the summer of 2014 saw him end the season as Genoa’s top scorer with 14 goals. Even so, the following three years saw the striker bounce from club to club with ill-fated spells at West Ham, Genoa (again), Carpi and Atalanta. Fans and detractors alike believed this to be the end of the road for a striker once considered one of the hottest prospects in Italian football.
At this point Borriello’s career seemed destined to end as a relatively standard story of a player who failed to live up to his true potential. Former fans questioned his commitment and suggested he was more committed to nightclubs than football clubs, citing his ever-changing haircuts as evidence (take note, Paul Pogba).
Enter Cagliari. Having bounced straight back from relegation, the Sardinian side was in desperate need of reinforcements upfront. Obtaining Borriello on a free transfer was considered a calculated risk for Cagliari. Many joked he only accepted the transfer to spend even more time on the Sardinian coast than he already did, being a professional partier and part-time footballer.
Legendary Italian forward and fellow journeyman Christian Vieri saw his long-term friend’s chances as so slim that he offered to pay for Borriello’s summer holiday if he ended the season with 15 goals.
Fast-forward seven months and the risk has paid off. Not content with winning his bet with Bobo, Borriello is sitting at eighth in the Capocannoniere charts with 10 games yet to play.
It is hard to say whether this is an Indian summer for the player or a late resurgence, a la Luca Toni. Regardless, Borriello has pledged his future to Cagliari, joking that the warmer climate helps his ageing body. Moreover, his agent has reaffirmed his client’s ambition to return to the national set-up at the age of 34. Clearly the drive is still there.
Borriello’s form in Sardinia should perhaps not come as much of a surprise, as the forward’s best spells were at clubs that build their team around his talents. Playing second fiddle to the likes of Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti never really seemed to suit the forward who relished the spotlight.
As Borriello is learning in Sardinia, there are benefits to being the big fish in a small pond.