Played For Both Sides – A pair of forwards from yesteryear, both Swan and Cat

Stephen Kennedy casts an eye over the players to represent both Sunderland and Swansea City

As we are now around a quarter of the way into the season, I’ve been keeping tally of how many times former players keep cropping up, and amazingly, the top spot going into the thirteenth game of the year is shared by three giants of our recent history. All on four each, we have Darren Byfield, Lee Camp and Danny Graham (thanks to his Swansea days). If I can remember to do it, I might even create a rankings table for us to be disgusted by at the end of the season.

However, another game and another goalless draw has passed us by, so in celebration of the lopsidedness of our current squad, I thought it would only be appropriate for us to look at a couple of players from the not-so-distant past who can both sort of play up front, but are also a bit winger-y, given that that’s what we’re currently relying on.

Fabio Borini

Before there was Yann M’Vila sitting on the airport floor, begging the club to sign him, the premier soap opera of transfer sagas at the Stadium of Light was very much the will-he, won’t-he of Fabio Borini in the summer of 2014, following his initial loan spell that saw him gain cult hero status amongst Sunderland fans.

Signing on loan from Liverpool in 2013, part of Roberto Di Fanti’s summer of madness with Paolo Di Canio, not many fans were expecting much from the Italian forward, as he’d barely pulled up any trees in the Premier League to that point. His first few games did little to change that view, having little to no game time or impact on any of his first four appearances, all of which we lost, including a 4-0 humbling away to Swansea. But then came 27th October 2013, the Wear-Tyne derby. With the game stuck at 1-1 into the final 10 minutes, the Lads make a quick break and in one of very few moments of (accidental?) quality, Jozy Altidore lays the ball off to Borini, and the Italian leathers it past Tim Krul from a distance that gets further out than Gordon Armstrong’s header every time you tell it.

As the season went on, out went Di Canio, in came Poyet, Borini puts the coolest penalty you’re ever likely to see past Krul at St James’ and we get to the League Cup final. As if the derby day heroics weren’t enough, Fabio gave us all a moment to remember, slotting the ball home at Wembley to give us the lead against Man City. For a fleeting 30 minutes or so, we were all allowed to dream that we were actually going to do it, until Yaya Toure accidentally killed us off.

To round off a remarkable season, Borini then proved to be one of the catalysts for the greatest of Great Escapes the Premier League has seen (sorry, Leicester, it’s not even close) scoring vital goals against Chelsea, Cardiff and West Brom as the Lads pulled off Poyet’s miracle. The season ended, and we spent the entire summer trying to persuade him to come back, only for Borini to try and stick it out at Liverpool. Only 18 appearances in all competitions followed, with only one goal to boot, and the very next year, Fabio was back on Wearside, signing for £8m in August 2015.

Borini struggled to find the form that made him a cult hero the first time around, and didn’t get his first goals back in red and white until December, consolations against Chelsea and Man City. But once again, as March came round, Sunderland kicked into action under Sam Allardyce and clawed their way to safety, with Borini scoring important goals against Palace, Norwich and in that incredible home win over Chelsea.

England came calling, David Moyes arrived and the preface to the bleakest chapter of Sunderland’s history began – down we went with barely a whimper, Borini only managed two goals all season (albeit one stunner at Old Trafford) and that was the end of his time on Wearside. A loan spell to AC Milan (a transfer that will probably never be repeated) followed, before being signed by the Italian giants permanently in July 2018. A brief stint at Verona followed before Fabio moved on to Turkey with Fatih Karagumruk (clearly another made-up Turkish club) in December 2020.

The spell that sparked Borini’s career in England (…Wales) was a 3 month loan from Chelsea to Swansea City back in 2011, where the Italian bagged himself 6 goals in only 9 games, so it’s fair to say they still see him as a bit of a cult hero, without the unbelievably amount of sadness that then followed for us.

We all loved Fabio, but as the adage goes… Never go back?

Joined Left League Apps League Goals
Sunderland 2013 & 2015 2014 & 2018 82 14
Swansea 2011 2011 9 6

Joel Asoro

It’s mad to think that Joel Asoro made his Sunderland debut in the Premier League, but back in August 2016, right before David Moyes declared us doomed after only 2 league games, the teenage forward came off the bench late on in a 2-1 home loss to Boro in what would be his only Premier League outing.

Once we landed in the Championship, Asoro got more of a chance to shine, mainly because our entire team was a steaming pile. But even then, his impact under Simon Grayson was minimal, it wasn’t until Chris Coleman came in that we ended up seeing anything of note from the young Swede, as he finally bagged is first goal in a 1-0 win at home to Hull.

Maybe it’s because we were so starved of any quality that season, or that we were just desperate for any young talent, but it’s somewhat surprising now to look back and see that Asoro’s only full season at Sunderland returned just 3 goals and 26 appearances – so awful were we that it felt he was a glimmer of hope at times. Blessed with incredible pace, the talent was there for all to see, and so naturally, he naffed off to Swansea for £4m as soon as we were relegated to League One in July 2018.

That promise and talent did not show in Wales, as despite some initial flashes, Asoro only managed 14 appearances in just under 3 years for Swansea, with no goals to show for it. Loan spells at Groningen and Genoa produced similarly empty returns before Swansea cut their losses and sold him to Djurgardens of Sweden in February 2021. Asoro’s form has kicked up again back in his homeland, he even gets to play in the European Conference Daft Lads league, where he’s played against entirely fictional teams such as Rijeka and Sepsi Sfantu (scoring 4 against them over 2 games).

I’m not saying we should write him off, mainly because he’s still only 24, but I am saying he will definitely end up signing for Fulham at some point in his career, before disappearing into obscurity again.

Joined Left League Apps League Goals
Sunderland 2016 2018 27 3
Swansea 2018 2021 14 0