Despite a superb spell leading the line for West Bromwich Albion last season, Saido Berahino’s footballing career is only just recovering from a rather rapid downward trajectory.
Since his breakthrough season, the 22-year-old found himself in a chaotic situation over a failed move to Spurs, tweeting that he would never play for chairman Jeremy Peace after four bids were rejected for the striker at the eleventh hour.
Whilst those with their heads screwed firmly on struggled to understand why Berahino couldn’t just get back to playing soccer, the forward’s season has effectively been cut 6 months short following an inability to focus on his fitness and form. Whether it was a smart cboice or not given the circumstances, Pulis made the decision, for the first half of the season at least, to reduce Berahino’s contribution to mere substitute appearances.
The embarrassing social media gaffe, the catalyst for his exile, caused the controversial striker to pause for thought during an interview back in February
“It is something I look back on and I really regret. I should never have said that. I am human like you know,” he said.
“I make mistakes and I hold my hands up and I say it was a mistake from me and I just apologize to all the fans out there that have always supported me and also the club that has always believed in me.
“I have missed a lot of football and I am just trying to get myself back into match fitness and sharper again like I was last season so my focus is mainly on getting back to what I was last season and really finishing on a high.”
In Pulis, Berahino gets the full on ‘Dad’ treatment, the rough with the smooth. The former Palace manager knows full well that his striker will be leaving the club as soon as the opportunity arises, yet still Pulis plays both the good and bad cop to ensure that everyone sees the best of Saido.
Talking after his side’s win over Crystal Palace in February, Pulis explained, “If he plays like he did today, everybody will start talking about him. His mind is clear and he is set on his football again. The most important thing is that he has a God-given gift and he should squeeze the pips from it, and have a great career. Everything will follow. If he is playing well he will get the recognition – and the move.”’
Pulis’ stout protection of the forward was beautifully summed up by an uncompromising backing of his man when he missed two penalties against Watford at the weekend. Despite the mishap, Pulis maintained their nominated penalty taker wouldn’t be changed.
“It can be a cruel game at times,” said Pulis afterwards.
“Since I’ve been here he’s always been the penalty taker and always been competent as well.
“The kid wanted to take a second one.
“If he lacked any confidence he would have walked away from it. You can’t have a go at him.”
Clearly, from the language used, you can tell Pulis has quite the soft spot for Saido. The England U21 forward started 5 games in the first half of this season. Whilst the West Brom manager maintains he had good reason (fitness, lack of form etc), the decision reeked of a character building form of punishment for a young striker far too big for his modest sized boots.
Previously such cockiness manifested itself after West brom’s 3-3 draw with Cardiff City back in 2014. After incompetent ball possession led to a late equalizer, his carefree attitude infuriated his team mates so much it was reported that James Morrison threw a punch at the young upstart.
It wasn’t an isolated example of childish naivety. He was pictured inhaling nitrous oxide, more commonly known as hippy crack in March 2014. Then in October, Berahino was stopped for speeding on a motorway in Cheshire, England where he was breathalyzed, and found to be over the limit. He pleaded guilty, was fined £3,400, then banned for 12 months.
Such conduct would stand to cause such an ‘old school’ management type like Pulis to have a coronary. In fact, Berahino’s mix of childish abandon and undeniable talent has seen Pulis become quite the mentor, and he has previous form in this department.
Speaking to an audience at ‘Street League,‘ a charity that uses soccer to help unemployed young people get into work, he explained
“We all get knocked down in life, the big thing is getting back up,” he says. “You have all had your knocks, but you are all here today and that shows there is something in you which wants to drive forward.”
And the love has been reciprocated;
“The manager has been brilliant,” Berahino told The S*n in an interview this year.
“Sometimes I would make him a cup of tea and we would sit down and have long chats about the direction of my career.
“He would put his arm around me.
“I am in the limelight, with a public profile and I needed to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a professional footballer.”
Modern soccer culture seemingly dictates that we show little faith in millionaire trouble makers, especially when on the pitch results are poor. However, perhaps as a one off, we can forgive the Baggies striker for his slow integration into adulthood.
During childhood, the striker lost his father to Burundi’s civil war. Having fled the war-torn country as a non-English speaking ten year old (traveling on his own), Saido was only reacquainted with the rest of his family after a brief stay in a care home. After his mother Liliane was traced, immigration officials had to administer a DNA test to confirm their relationship.
Just a year later, he was integrated into the West Brom youth system at the age of eleven.
Berahino’s manager knew from the moment the striker sulked at being denied a move away from the club, that keeping his young protégé onside would be vital to the rest of his career. His transformation from sulking goalscorer to willing runner highlights the man-management skills Pulis has used to effect.
“Saido’s impressed me immensely over the past month,” Pulis commented last season. “His quality as a footballer has never been in question, but the way he’s worked for the team, his running stats have gone through the roof, and he’s become much more of a team player. The players have now accepted him a lot more and that’s lovely to see.”
Editor’s note: Michael Golley writes for DispensableSoccer.
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