Is Stoke City striker Saido Berahino a lost cause?

By Lewis Michie

Saido Berahino could have been on a plane to Russia this summer, looking to represent England in the World Cup. Instead, the 24-year-old is plotting his next career move.

The striker has not found the net since scoring for former club West Bromwich Albion, against Crystal Palace, in February 2016. Since then Berahino has played 13 times for Albion, fallen out with the Baggie’s then-Chairman Jeremy Peace, moved to Stoke for over 12 million pounds, played 31 times for Stoke, been suspended for a drug test failure, fallen out with ex-Potters manager Paul Lambert, banished to the youth side and still not scored in senior football in over two years.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it all went wrong for Berahino – in fact many pundits and former coaches of the footballer would say it was rather an accumulation of many aspects as opposed to one major incident.

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“He’s got a bad attitude” is a cliché often thrown around by managers and executives alike to shift blame in football. Many have written off Berahino with such claims used as reasoning but, without first-hand experience, who are supporters and journalists to judge a player’s endeavour?

At 24 the Burundi-born player is not a lost cause. Berahino may not be boarding a plane to travel to Russia for the World Cup in June but what’s to say he can’t be on a plane to Qatar in four years? To do so a serious reflection on what, in truth, is a career still in its early years is required.

The striker has always been thought of as a highly talented individual, right from the time he signed for West Brom’s youth system at 12 years old. Berahino’s talent, as well as his ability to draw controversy, has been evident since the early days of his first steps into senior football.

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Berahino was loaned to Northampton, Brentford and Peterbourgh respectively between October 2011 and December 2012 and struck six goals in 14 appearances for Northampton in League Two in the first half of the 11/12 season.

He then moved on to Bretford, a level higher in League One, for the second half of the season. It was with Uwe Rosler’s side that Berahino’s potential to be a polarising figure really emerged.

Four goals in eight games was an impressive strike rate for such a young player, especially at a difficult level such as League One. The ease in which Berahino stepped up from one level to another was also not lost on his parent club’s impressions. However, the youngster held parties in his hotel room throughout his loan, which was ended early by Brentford.

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The termination of the loan came about for multiple reasons. The partying was a black mark, which may have been overlooked, but Berahino’s twitter rant after being substituted at half time during a game against Leyton Orient was something Rosler simply could not let go.

The Daily Mail claimed West Brom even discussed sacking Berahino after the conclusion of the loan deal. This of course did not happen, as the youngster’s clear talent was likely the biggest factor in keeping him on. After all, he wouldn’t be the first 18-year-old to become overwhelmed with the sudden fame and fortune of playing professional football. Perhaps he would learn and he’d be better for the experience.

The Baggies would undoubtedly have been happy with their decision when Berahino burst onto the Premier League scene with a winning goal at Old Trafford against David Moyes’s Manchester United side in September 2013. He had made brief cameo appearances in three games prior and came on as a 13th minute substitute for the injured Scott Sinclair.

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Berahino would add to his headline-grabbing goal with four more Premier League strikes and a goal against Arsenal in the EFL Cup – after a hat trick against Newport County earlier in the competition – which was to make for a promising debut season.

Berahino became an integral part of Alan Irvine’s squad in the 14/15 season, and continued to be when Irvine was replaced by Tony Pulis shortly after the turn of the year. The striker played over 3000 minutes across all competitions, finding the net 14 times in the Premier League, five times in the FA Cup – including four against non-league Gateshead – and another goal in the EFL Cup. Berahino added to his game with an additional six assists showing his range of qualities.

As had already been suggested in Berahino’s short career however, success was always followed by contention. The forward was reportedly subject to four bids from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2015. It was rumoured these bids were in the range of £15 million – about £10 million short of West Brom’s valuation. A transfer request on behalf of Berahino was rejected and he was left out of Pulis’ squad for a match with Chelsea.

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Once again Berahino put himself in more hot water thanks to his use of Twitter. The striker tweeted “I can officially say I will never play for Jeremy Peace” and the player was subsequently fined for his outburst. However, despite his claims, Berahino was playing for West Brom again less than two weeks later.

A winner at Villa Park just a week after made it appear that everything was back to normal but the damage was done. He scored twice in the following weeks but could only manage one goal, the last goal he scored in senior football, after October 2015.

The following season can only be described as a disaster. While before Berahino may have been described as a difficult youngster, his talent and hope of an easier future certainly made having him in the squad more palatable. The 16/17 season however, was the breaking point for West Brom.

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Firstly, Berahino was dropped completely by Pulis. A striker who couldn’t score goals was bad enough, but Pulis claimed the forward was overweight and simply not fit for Premier League football.

Speaking in November 2016, the then-West Brom boss said: “Saido’s off at a fitness centre working with a fella I worked with when I was young in management

“He’s got a week to top himself up to a level where hopefully he’ll be not only sharp but at a level to sustain it.”

Of course, it wouldn’t have been Berahino without a social media rebuttal. He posted a photo to snapchat, showing himself shirtless posing in the mirror, with the caption “Fat boy”. This wouldn’t help with the bad attitude claims.

Instead of returning with a fitness level suitable for Premier League football, Berahino returned with a drugs ban.

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Revealed after his move to Stoke, by his new manager Mark Hughes, it became apparent Berahino’s near four months out of football was partly down to an eight-week ban due to the drug test failure.

Berahino claimed the failure came as a result of a spiked drink – confirming the drug was of a recreational nature.

In an interview with BBC’s Football Focus in April last year Berahino said: “To be banned for something you really haven’t done is hard to take.

“You go on a night out, you don’t know who you are around and there are people who are out to get you.”

Nonetheless, that draws an end to the West Brom chapter of the Sadio Berahino story, and before moving on to the Stoke side of things, it’s perhaps of use to take a look at Berahino’s early years.

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Born in Burundi capital Bujumbura the future Premier League star would play football with a ball of plastic bags tied together with laces. Caught up in civil war, Berahino’s father was sadly killed in 1997. Berahino had to wait before joining his mother and siblings in England at the age of 10, as they fled the war torn country of his birth.

A source speaking to the Daily Mail earlier this year speculated that the loss of his father at such an early age still impacts the player. The source said: “It has been about trying to find that anchor.”

Arriving in England at 10 years of age and only speaking French was not an easy transition for the youngster and football was his escape.

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After coming from such a challenging start to life, it begins to become more obvious why Berahino was so outraged at the failure to make the move to White Hart Lane a reality. Potentially life changing money for Sadio and his family, it appeared to be a once in a life time opportunity and Berahino’s form since only serves to make sure that opportunity is that, once in a lifetime.

Steve Hopcroft was the head of academy recruitment that brought Berahino to the Hawthorns in 2004, he remarked: “A shy but happy boy who over time made some very poor choices” when speaking to the Daily Mail.

The confidence knock that is his current goal scoring draught appears to be a weight pulling the striker down, leading only to more bad decisions – a spiral that is evidently near impossible to stop or even slow down.

Berahino’s stint at Stoke may not have had as many high profile incidents as his time in Birmingham, but it’s a season and a half that shows a player devoid of confidence and without the proper motivation or encouragement to change his circumstances.

 

To act like Berahino is the only issue at Stoke would be a complete lie. The footballing identity of the Potters has changed significantly and the fact that they were the first team to be relegated from this year’s Premier League sums up just how well that has gone.

There has been a huge overhaul in playing staff, with more of a focus on technical ability, so players such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic have been seen arriving in the Potteries.

Berahino was brought in as a player believed to be in a similar ilk – charismatic, versatile, pacey and skilful. You wouldn’t throw a long ball from one box to another, for Berahino to chest it down into the path of an onrushing Bojan, that simply wasn’t Stoke’s aim.

Stoke spent millions upon millions of pounds on players Mark Hughes felt would progress his side. Berahino has plenty of competition for the title of “Worst Stoke signing of the Mark Hughes era” but the fact he’s yet to score a goal makes him a real contender for that award.

The 24-year-old striker is not the only player to experience issues at Stoke. You can accuse him of picking the wrong club to move to, and Paul Lambert has certainly accused him of failing to impress, turning up late and failing to apply himself properly.

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But has Berahino been unfairly singled out as a scapegoat in this Stoke side? Entirely possible. Does Berahino receive a greater degree of criticism from both journalists and supporters because he’s English? He wouldn’t be the first player to feel as though he has.

In a lot of ways has been portrayed in the media as exactly the kind of football player that the British public love to hate – a well-paid athlete who wants more and will be outraged if his current club dare to get in the way. A party animal who makes excuses when caught and doesn’t put in the effort his large pay packet would suggest he should but, of course, it’s never that simple.

Have previous mangers attempted to put an arm around the strikers shoulder and help him out? Has a real role model and advisory figure offered to show Berahino the path to putting his career back on track? Without having been on that training ground it’s impossible to say, but at 24 years old, Saido Berahino is not a player to give up on.

Suggestions early in the transfer window are that Stoke would like to loan the goalless striker out to another club – likely knowing there won’t be clubs queuing up to offer a transfer fee. Potential destinations are yet to present themselves but it’s speculated they will likely be in the Championship or abroad.

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Whatever the future is for him, it’s likely to be a clean slate. If there is anything the British press love almost as much as a celebrities decline, it’s a good comeback story.

Berahino is young enough and talented enough to make that comeback and should that happen, the Burundi-born footballer could finally fulfil his dream of repaying the country of England for what it has given him.

 

Nothing represents that more than what Berahino said regarding his allegiance to England in 2013 to the Daily Telegraph: “I want to play at the best level with the best players at the best tournaments.

“I will always be Burundian regardless of what happens…

“Playing for England is totally different. They have given me a second chance in life, provided my family with a different type of lifestyle. I feel very, very grateful to what England have done for me and my family.”

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