At the start of this season, Marco Borriello seemed destined for an unremarkable career. Having turned heads as a youngster in the AC Milan youth teams, the proud Neapolitan from the neighbourhood of San Giovanni a Teduccio had conspicuously failed to live up to that early promise.
Blessed with technique, power (1.85m, 80kg) and two gifted feet, the old-fashioned centre-forward none the less had everything he needed to succeed in Serie A. Confidence issues alone appeared to be holding him back, as he found it difficult being shunted from club to club while still under contract with the Rossoneri.
The future looked bright for Borriello when he won his first Italy U-21 cap in 2001, but with so much competition for places at the San Siro, Milan's coaching staff opted to send their young striker out on loan to toughen him up. "We were a bit superficial in our judgement of him," admits one club official. "We perhaps could have given him a few more chances to express himself." Instead, the 25-year-old was about to embark on a long and dispiriting journey. In January 2001, he joined Triestina in Serie C2, where he scored one goal in nine matches, before firing 10 in 27 at Serie C1 outfit Treviso the following season.
Until his situation finally improved in 2007, Borriello's career was spent yo-yoing between Milan's training facility at Milanello and a long list of clubs where he struggled to make an impression. At Empoli he registered his first top-flight goal in 2003 and contested 12 matches in total, before making four appearances for the Rossoneri in 2003-04. That was then followed by 2 goals in 30 appearances for Reggina, 2 more in 11 games with Sampdoria at the start of the 2005-06 campaign and 5 in 20 while seeing out the rest of the season with Treviso.
After that, the much-travelled forward returned to Milan, where he was once again confronted with the eternal problem of attempting to make his mark in a squad brimming with attacking talent.
As if life were not already difficult enough, Borriello soon found himself embroiled in an incredible doping scandal midway through the campaign. His girlfriend, Argentinian model Belen Rodriguez, protested that his positive test results for cortisone were caused by a cream used to treat an infection, but the authorities ignored the pleas and imposed a four-month ban. Suddenly it seemed more likely than ever that his long search for stability would continue.
It came as some surprise then that newly-promoted Serie A outfit Genoa took the risk of buying half of Borriello's contract from Milan at the start of the current season. The local fans made little attempt to conceal their doubts about the former Sampdoria man, but the player himself was determined to turn his fortunes around. "I've spent too much time in the stands or on the bench," he announced soon after arriving in Liguria. "Now I want to play." Finally, his dreams were about to be realised.
'The next few weeks will be crucial'
Without making too much noise, Borriello began finding the back of the net on a regular basis, helping himself to two hat tricks as he earned the trust of his colleagues and became the darling of the crowd. He now boasts 17 strikes from 26 encounters, a total that includes just four penalties, and above all he has taken to attempting the kind of tricks and touches he had not dared perform since his early years.
Italy coach Roberto Donadoni could not ignore this late-blooming talent for long. On 3 February, he called up the Genoa ace for the first time ahead of a friendly with Portugal. Borriello came on for the last 20 minutes in place of Luca Toni and put in a worthy display in the 3-1 win. It was enough to merit another selection, this time for the warm-up game against Spain on Wednesday, when Italy will be making their last outing before Donadoni selects his 23-man squad for UEFA EURO 2008.
"It's useless to say I'm dreaming about the Euro," says Boriello, conscious of the fact he will have to prove himself yet again, and this time at the very highest level. "I've done well so far but the next few weeks will be crucial."
After that, it will be time to decide which club he hopes to be plying his trade with next term, even if he claims to already have the answer: "I want to stay at Genoa as they've known how to show faith in me."