From Burundi To The Baggies: The Saido Berahino Story

Saido Berahino

Every now and then in the world of football, there comes along a player who just doesn’t strike you as being all that nice. Sometimes you sense they just don’t care about the club, other times it feels like they are only there to pick up a pay cheque. Sometimes it’s a great player, but he has off field antics that sours his reputation. I am fully aware that I am not the most benefit of the doubt fan, if a player bugged me in 2008 I will probably hold a grudge against him a decade on. Hell, sometimes I hold grudges against players because of their antics on a football simulation game like Football Manager – I’m looking at you Thiago Silva, for staging your mutiny against me at Aston Villa in the 2019/20 season on FM16… But of all the players that I’ve seen, heard of and read about in my time, there are few that I have found quite as loathsome as Stoke City benchwarmer Saido Berahino.

The player suffered a pretty atrocious start to life, and the fact that he has developed into a Premier League football is deserves credit. He is truly the star of a rags to riches story, and in his early Premier League days he was a player worth rooting for. He was born in the war-torn central African nation of Burundi in 1993. His father died in the civil war when Saido was only four years old, along with another quarter of a million innocent men, women and children. He was an energetic child who played football with anything that he could kick, and when he was just ten years old he travelled alone to Birmingham to be with the rest of his family, who had been granted asylum in the Midlands of England. He signed up for the West Bromwich Albion youth academy a year into his tenure in England, and over the next few years developed his skills to the point where he was offered a professional contract by the Baggies.

He signed his pro contract in 2011, still a very young man, and in those early days he looked like a promising star. He
went on a number of loan deals around the English lower leagues, spending short stints with Northampton Town, Brentford and Peterborough. He had relative success at these clubs, with an impressive scoring record for a young 18 year old. He score six goals in fourteen games for Northampton, four goals in eight for Brentford and a slightly less than impressive two in ten for the Peterborough Posh. He did play a game or two for the Baggies between loan spells, but this was primarily cup games in which the kids were rolled out.

Manager Steve Clarke had a lot of time for the young forward, highlighting his energy and power as a reason to make him their main man up top, rather than spending big to replace now departed loanee Romelu Lukaku. This faith was repaid by Berahino, who took the role in his stride in 2013/14, his first as a first team player for West Brom. His season highlight came at Old Trafford, where he scored the winning goal against Manchester United, the first time the Baggies had won there since 1978. The forward scored five league goals that season, but it was the following season that Berahino really hit it big. This spike in form proved to be the turning point for Saido, the bright eyed prospect that everybody was rooting for started to fade, replaced by an egotistical, arrogant, attention seeking man-child.

The signs of petulance were there from an early age. When on loan at Brentford he was sent back to his parent club early. He had been substituted off early in a match against Leyton Orient, an incident which led to the player venting his frustration on Twitter. He called out manager Uwe Rösler for his incompetency and as such, had his loan terminated. In an isolated incident, this could be attributed to the stupidity of youth, but after a number of years of misdemeanours and mishaps, it appears that Berahino is simply a deeply irresponsible man.

Off the field incidents have plagued his career, with substance abuse being a concerning problem for his managers. In the spring of 2014 he was filmed inhaling nitrous oxide, known as hippy crack, or laughing gas. To make matters worse, it was done in his car, with him slumping over the steering wheel after inhaling. He denied driving the car afterwards, but was reprimanded by West Brom for the incident, and regurgitated a well rehearsed apology soon after. While the police could not prove that he had driven under the influence of the nitrous oxide, they could prove that he drove under the influence of alcohol, later that year. In October 2014 he was arrested on suspicion of drinking driving on Wednesday the 22nd of October, being convicted of the offence in January 2015.

Even the best players make mistakes when they are young, and off the field offences are common. Wayne Rooney will go down in history as one of England’s greatest players, yet he isn’t exactly the definition of clean cut Mr. Nice-guy. But what separates the Rooney’s from the Berahino’s of the world is quality. Berahino showed it in flashes, and the year that he really went off the rails happened to be best year of his career, but while the goals waned, the shenanigans ensued.

His on field antics saw him take some real flak from his own fans, and most notably, his own players. In an enthralling 3-3 draw against relegation rivals Cardiff, West Brom scored in the 94th minute of the game. Rather than running the ball down to the corner, he selfishly went to the box, looking to make it 4-2. He was dispossessed Cardiff equalised with the last kick of the game. His arrogance and nonchalant attitude led to a bust up in the changing room between him and midfielder James Morrison, with Scot allegedly punching the striker, causing a rift in the squad.

In January 2015 he played in an FA Cup match against non-league side Gateshead. In a routine 7-0 win at home to Gateshead, Berahino bagged four. He angered his own fans by not celebrating any, leading to some questioning his commitment to the club. He was evidently insulted at being selected to play in what should have been such an easy game, but this was the moment that new manager Tony Pulis must have realised what a torrid time he was going to have with his troublesome striker. Pulis laughed it off and insisted that Saido was fine, with the player himself coming out stating that he was “just handling business” and that he was merely “acting professionally.” It came across as more arrogant than anyone would care to see, the player may see it as a mark of respect, but it comes across as though the opposition and game weren’t worth his time. Fans rolled their eyes when Mario Balotelli pulled the same stunt some years before.

Despite all the problems both on the field and off it, it is easy to forget that Berahino was actually having the season of his life. West Brom sat in 14th towards the end of January 2015, and Berahino was in scoring form. He had piqued the interest of several European chasing teams, Berahino’s head being turned all over the place at the prospect of a bigger move. He was clearly unhappy at not being allowed to move to another team, and even gave an interview with Sky Sports News detailing his current motive to play well – to get a transfer to a “bigger club.” West Bromich Albion fans will be perfectly aware that they are not the most attractive team in the world, but for their own player to so openly admit this did him no favours, becoming a bit of a hate figure amongst the fans who once sang his name. This interview, along with his growing list of problems, had led to West Brom abandoning contract talks with their academy graduate, the West Brom chairman deciding to instead sell in the summer, if the price was right.

He finished 2014/15 as the clubs player of the season, and with the summer came a new wave of transfer speculation. Fellow drug abuser and Sky Sports transfer deadline day talisman Jim White would have been in his element come the summer of 2015. A number of bids came in for the Burundi-born striker, but none met his perceived valuation. On deadline day, a final bid from Tottenham was rejected, prompting Berahino to revert back to an old vice of his -Twitter. He tweeted saying “Sad how i cant say exactly how the club has treated me but i can officially say i will never play Jeremy Peace“. He essentially said that he was going on strike, an act which would be a breach of contract and could lead to some serious problems for the troubled young man.

This incident was a nightmare for West Brom. Nobody came out of the situation looking good. West Brom were seen as denying the want away striker his move, the player was seen as thoroughly unprofessional, and poor Tony Pulis had to clean up the mess. In fairness to the Baggies, they were just trying to get what they valued the player at, with neither Newcastle nor Tottenham meeting the £25 million valuation. They stuck to their guns and held out. For Berahino, however, there is no defence for his actions. He was right to be unhappy, but to go on strike was a violation of contract, and to flash this through Twitter was sheer infantile petulance. It was barely acceptable as a teenager at Brentford when he acted this way, but years later, he should have known better.

To Saido’s credit, he did apologise some months later. He talked things out with Pulis, as well as Jeremy Peace, the
chairman, and eventually the striker was admitted back to first team training. He may have been forgiven by officials at the club, at least publicly, but the fans take a little more convincing. His strike also meant that new signing Salomón Rondón had usurped him to be the starting striker. They booed Berahino in the warm ups, when he touched the ball, when he came out of the tunnel. They had given a great deal of time to their still-young striker, only to be let down time and time again.

The next year or so was relatively quiet, by Berahino’s stupid standards at least. He went through periods of playing,
followed by long spells for being far from the first teams plans. It was evident that he wasn’t flavour of the month by
anyone around the club, and the goals dried up. By January 2017, the forward finally did everyone a favour at the Hawthorns and left. Two years on from being valued at £25 million at least, Stoke City paid £12 million for him, potentially raising up to £15 million. Stoke certainly wasn’t as glamorous a move as the failed transfer to Spurs that was proposed 18 months previously, but Stokealona certainly had its draw – primarily because it was somewhere different, a fresh start.

Stoke City was meant to be the reinvention of Saido Berahino, but one year on and it has been a disaster, on the field and off. It came out shortly after his move to Stokealona that while at West Brom, he was partaking in an FA ban for drug abuse. The reports were mixed for this incident, news outlets initially claimed that he took illegal substances to battle depression, though a month later he did a report with the BBC’s Football Focus where he claims he was spiked in a nightclub. There were traces of MDMA in his system which showed up during a drugs test. He did hold his hands up and say it was unprofessional of him to be at a club during the season. The apology is noted, but it doesn’t excuse him from going out.

His problems continued off the field. As recently as last week it transpired that the troubled forward had cheated on his fiancé with a prostitute in his own home. He is not the first professional football to cheat on his partner, and he won’t be the last. Truth be told, there is probably a footballer cheating on his partner this very minute! While this is not a unique issue to Saido, nor a legal issue, it is yet another hit to the strikers ever decreasing reputation. Ryan Giggs gets an easy ride for his sordid affair some years ago, but it is far easier when your playing style speaks for itself. But for a player like Berahino, off-field instances speak louder than on-field occurrences.

Although Burundi born and bred, he turned his back on his homeland early on in his career. He believed the hype surrounding himself and claimed that he aspired to play football at the very top level, feeling that he had more chance of playing at World Cup and such like with England. This might be a harsh criticism, bigger and better players have forgone their place of birth. The great Patrick Vieira won a World Cup with France, despite being born in Dakar, Senegal. He was fairly successful for England youth levels, playing from Under 16 level up until Under 21. His antics off the pitch meant that he never got a game for England, although Roy Hodgson, who had overseen his development at West Brom years before, called him up to the squad. In 2015 Burundi again approached Berahino, throwing him an international lifeline, but the striker once again declined, opting to spend the international break getting drunk in nightclubs and inhaling legal highs rather than representing the country of his birth.

That concludes my barrage on Berahino, I am sure that I have missed one or two of his indecent incidents, and fell free to comment what these are. As I said earlier, I am not the most forgiving of football fans and the list of players and managers that I dislike is long, and largely unjustified. When it comes to Saido Berahino, however, the justification is far to abundant. He is just a thoroughly horrible man. A petty child, rather, who’s antics to being denied what he wanted resembled an infant throwing his toys out of the pram. To a basic extent, I can sympathise with Berahino. He had a heartbreaking start to life, growing up in a war-torn nation and losing his father at such a young age would derail even the most together person, not to mention the hardship of moving to a different continent to rebuild his life. As earlier stated, his story was one which people so sorely wanted to root for, but now is a player that many so fervently hope fails. Shane Long and Saido Berahino both have become quite renowned for their goal droughts lately, but the difference is this. People like Long, and when he scored it was applauded, a real good for you type reaction. With Berahino it is hard to imagine a similar reaction, he simply isn’t likable.

He hasn’t scored a league goal since February 2016, and I for one hope that drought continues for a long time to come. I think the most pertinent thing about Berahino was a quote from Tony Pulis, once Saido had left the club. “He is not my problem anymore.” Problem, that is exactly what he is. A problem, a hassle, and with his strike rate recently, an expensive pain in the backside of all that associates themselves with him. This, along with “I fear Crouchy more than I do Saido” says a lot. He is a troubled young man, and as much as I dislike him, I hope he sorts himself out. He has real quality, albeit hidden deep within him, and it would be a shame to see that wasted. If he knuckles down, cuts the crap and simply focuses on his football then there is every chance he quality may shine through once more. Until he makes that change, he will remain the ignorant, self-centred wage-thief that he is. Fair play to West Brom for getting rid of such a repugnant individual for any money at all, and to Stoke City… well, good luck!