The monumental hurdle that built Borrello for Bundesliga
Brandon Borrello recently became the 19th Australian to play in Germany’s top flight, but few have endured a similar road to earn a Bundesliga debut.
After establishing himself at Brisbane Roar FC and impressing at 2. Bundesliga club FC Kaiserslautern, the 24-year-old winger earned a dream move to Bundesliga side SC Freiburg last year.
But before the deal was done, Borrello had already begun tackling one of the biggest challenges of his young career.
In April 2018, after a verbal agreement to sign with SC Freiburg was already in place, the Australian attacker ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament while training with FC Kaiserslautern.
It was a massive blow for the Adelaide-born talent. But rather than seeing it as a setback, Borrello decided to use this potentially career-ending injury to become an even better player.
“I stuck it over in Germany and spent a lot of time in a rehab facility - just solely focused on the knee.
“I think that’s what kept me on track and kept me focused, because I had no desire to come back to Australia and do the rehab there.
“I thought, ‘you know what, I signed with a new club, I want to show them that I want to stay here in Germany and keep plugging away’.”
While Borrello demonstrated his commitment to SC Freiburg, his rehab also saw him improve his own physicality, and that proved essential in preparing him for the intensity of the Bundesliga.
“If you do (injure) anything to do with a knee, you lose a lot of muscle mass, so I spent a few weeks at the gym just trying to pump some muscle back in there,” said Borrello.
“But I think the whole body has benefited from that and it’s a lot better too because in Germany the league’s quite physical - even in the second division as well.
“So, to get a little bit bigger, a little bit more stable, I think it’s better for me and better for the knee too.”
Borrello’s training has benefited him massively at Freiburg, where heavy emphasis is placed on team work rate and intensity, as well as versatility of playing positions.
“First and foremost, especially with Freiburg you have to put in that work rate,” he said.
“He (Freiburg coach Christian Streich) wants to bring a high level of intensity, a lot of running in the deep, a lot of offensive actions - he always wants to go forward.
“As Freiburg, we’re always one team and we always stay compact and the fact that the front three can play in all positions.
“The striker can play as a winger, the winger can play as a striker, and also with a number 10.
“That versatility across the front three is what really gives us an edge and what’s important to the team structure.”
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Borrello’s new conditioning has allowed him to bring an extra level of intensity and versatility to the fore, one that saw the Australian feature in all of the club’s pre-season fixtures.
His pre-season grind was rewarded with a German Cup start on August 10, where the Modbury Jets youth provided the assist for the match-winning goal in SC Freiburg’s 1-0 extra time win over FC Magdeburg.
That saw Borrello earn a Bundesliga debut for the club’s opening day 3-0 win over Mainz. Taking the field in the Bundesliga as quickly as possible had always been Borrello’s goal from the moment he arrived in Germany, and when the moment came, he wasn’t nervous as many players might be.
Instead, he felt completely prepared.
“I hadn’t played in a Bundesliga match and in that type of environment yet, so it was like, ‘alright how am I going to go?’,” he said.
“But I train day in, day out with the boys that play every week and that’s what kept my calm.
“I felt cool and calm out on the pitch, I didn’t have any problems. I just really enjoyed the moment and that’s what helped the most.
“There was no nerves, I just wanted to go out and show people I can play football.
“I spent so long preparing for the moment that when it came it was just another game.”
Borrello went on to start SC Freiburg’s second game of the season – a 3-1 win over Paderborn, which has his side tied equal top of the Bundesliga ladder.
Now, the winger has been called up for his second-ever Caltex Socceroos camp – and he’s savouring the opportunity to build on his national team debut against Korea Republic last June.
“What I took away from that experience was that Arnie expects a lot from the boys,” said Borrello.
“He wanted to show Australia that we have depth as a nation and that’s a fact that we do, and we shouldn’t fear anyone out on the pitch.
“It’s a very strong characteristic in the team that Arnie and a lot of the staff have implemented to the players.
“It’s that winning mentality, that ruthless mentality and I think once that’s spread across all the players throughout Australia, not just the national team.
“I think it’s going to be very exciting the next few years with the World Cup, also the younger levels with the Olympics.“It’s those characteristics of the national team that I think will help us win a lot of games.”
And Borrello knows what he wants to add to help the Caltex Socceroos win those matches.
“I want to bring goals and assists,” he said.
“We want to win everything we play, so I want to be a part of that and at the front of all that to say, ‘I helped achieve that kind of thing with the Socceroos’.”
“I was unlucky with my age group, we never qualified for an Olympics, we never qualified for a World Cup, so to do that with the national team is something I would really look forward to.”
Borrello may yet earn his first opportunity to help Australia on the road to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 when the Caltex Socceroos face Kuwait on September 11.
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