After being released by Stoke City and eviscerated by a former colleague, Saido Berahino scored for his new team Zulte Waregem at the weekend. But is this just the same as we’ve seen before, or is he finally sorting his career out?
You’ll probably have seen or listened to the clip by now.
Glen Johnson’s evisceration of Saido Berahino certainly made for entertaining radio, when he was invited by talkSPORT last week to offer some opinions on just what had gone wrong for his his former Stoke City teammate.
“I’ve worked with loads of players who may not have been up to the level, but they’re nice people and they work hard and try,” Johnson said. “He wasn’t at the level and he didn’t try, so it’s hard to accept.
“He had the wrong mentality and attitude from day one…If I was a manager or club owner, I wouldn’t take him if you paid me.”
Strong words. You could either view it as refreshing honesty from an ex-pro, or a needless attack from someone attempting to create an image of a no-nonsense pundit. Some certainly believed the latter, most notably Ravel Morrison who accused Johnson of “trying to destroy careers”. If anyone would know how much impact a bad reputation can have on your prospects, it’s Morrison, but in the end he need not have worried.
⚽️ Henrik Bjørdal (0-1)
⚽️ @SBerahino (0-2)
— SV Zulte Waregem (@ESSEVEELIVE) August 11, 2019
Berahino signed for Belgian side Zulte Waregem last week, an unusual move perhaps, but you suspect just the sort of transfer that he needed. At a relatively low-key club, away from the toxic atmosphere he seems to have left in England. There he can refocus, concentrate purely on the game and do his best to ignore former teammates chipping off on the radio.
“The past month I have regained my confidence and regained my pleasure in football,” he said when he signed his two-year contract. “Similar when I made my debut with West Bromwich in the Premier League. I’m looking forward to discovering this new competition and giving the best of myself.”
He certainly lived by those words in his debut at the weekend, not only starting but scoring against defending Jupiler League champions RC Genk. The strike took a heavy deflection, but it wasn’t just the goal that was impressive.
“He was man of the match, and you can see he has quality,” Belgian football journalist Kristof Terreur told Tuesday’s edition of the Totally Football Show. “If he keeps his feet on the ground and keeps his head in football it can be a brilliant signing for them.”
By now, most of us who have followed his career think we know Berahino. He was a talented youngster who arrived in England as a refugee, scrapped his way to the Premier League with West Brom, nearly got a big move to Tottenham but then went off the rails. He joined Stoke in 2016 but managed just five goals in that time, all of which came last season and he infamously went 913 days without scoring, problems both on and off the pitch meaning that talent we saw in his early days barely flickered.
In 2016 he served an eight-week ban after failing a recreational drugs test, although he claimed the contraband found in his system came from a spiked drink. He’s been convicted of drink driving three times, and the last of those led to the termination of his contract at Stoke. The statement confirming his release was 15 words long.
But there have been some promising signs since then. Earlier this year he was appointed captain of the Burundi national team and led them in the Africa Cup of Nations this summer. They lost all three of their games in Egypt, but then again few expected them to do anything else.
“A lot of people don’t really know who I am in England and it’ll probably put me in a different light,” he told Nick Ames for ESPN before the tournament.
“If this role does not give me more discipline, then I don’t know what ever will. I believe this will keep me humble and disciplined. I’m leading by example now; everything matters now. Every second, whatever I do, there are eyes on me and it matters. So I’ve got to stay on top of my game.”
He knows something has gone wrong in recent years...We live in a society where people are fast labeled for life for their mistakes.
Those that have given Berahino chances and have been burned a number of times will naturally be sceptical that this is the start of a glorious redemption story, but there is very rarely such a thing in football as a lost cause.
“The Zulte Waregem manager Francky Dury is quite strict and good at guiding troubled kids, so that might help,” Kristof Terreur said. “He’s the guy who launched Thorgan Hazard. He was unknown, just Eden’s brother, nobody believed in him but the manager found something to trigger him, and now he’s playing for Borussia Dortmund.”
“He knows something has gone wrong in recent years,” Dury said after Berahino’s arrival, “so I did not have to ask 101 questions about his past. We live in a society where people are fast labeled for life for their mistakes.”
Berahino has made more mistakes than most, and perhaps this is another false dawn in a career that can’t be salvaged. Or perhaps it’s the start of a revival, of a player who frankly achieved remarkable things to even reach the professional ranks, delivering on his potential.
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