Thursday 23 May 2019

Berahino still falling as Stoke striker nears two years without a goal

Berahino: Goal drought. Photo: Getty
Berahino: Goal drought. Photo: Getty

John Percy

February 27, 2016. Saido Berahino spots a gap in the Crystal Palace defence and surges into the empty space. He sees Stephane Sessegnon clip an exquisite pass from 30 yards away. He waits for it to drop over the head of the desperately back-pedalling Scott Dann. Then, without breaking stride, he opens his body and guides a first-time, left-footed volley into the bottom right corner of the net.

It is the first time Berahino has scored a Premier League goal in four months, but such is the effortless quality of the finish, it suggests the striker has finally rediscovered his rhythm after he had threatened to go on strike earlier in that season following a dispute over a failed transfer.

February 24, 2018. Berahino's current team, Stoke City, travel to Leicester City.

If he fails to score again, it will be a staggering two years - and 44 appearances - since the striker once earmarked as one of the most promising of his generation will have found the net. It feels a long time since Berahino generated four failed bids worth up to £23 million from Tottenham in the summer of 2015, and when he was even deemed to be ahead of Harry Kane in Gareth Southgate's England U-21 side. In the 2014-'15 season at West Brom, he scored 20 goals and Roy Hodgson promoted him to the senior England team. Berahino, it seemed, had it all and his reputation was rising at a rate of knots. But since that goal against Palace, and his move to the bet365 Stadium in January 2017 - which came at a cost of £12m, after a lengthy pursuit across three transfer windows - his career has stalled.

Paul Lambert, the Stoke manager, insists that all he needs is a goal. "What happened previous to me coming in is irrelevant," he said. "It's only the now that I'm concerned with and since I've been working with him, he's been doing well in training. I tell you what, as a natural finisher he's absolutely brilliant. The boy just needs a wee bit of confidence and game time. He just needs that goal again to get going. Obviously I've worked and played with great strikers, his finishing on the training ground is right up there. The boy can score, there's no two ways about it."

It has become a familiar refrain for Berahino's managers, and Stoke certainly did not spend such a lavish amount just for him to score a few 'worldies' at their Clayton Wood base.

The feeling is mounting that there is a limit to the patience that can be afforded a player who, at 24, should be in the prime of his career. It is not simply his on-field record which is providing cause for concern. Berahino served a drugs ban while at West Brom, blaming his positive test on having his drink spiked but admitting the very fact that he had gone out was "irresponsible".

Shortly before Mark Hughes's dismissal, there were suggestions of poor training sessions and lateness - allegations which were frequently levelled during his final months at West Brom. The Stoke board then held a meeting with Berahino and his representatives in an attempt to find a solution, insisting they would not let him leave on loan in January.

"Saido was a big investment for us but we're still confident that we've got a very good player there," said Peter Coates, the Stoke chairman. "It is a strange situation and we're all desperate for him to come good. It's a challenge for him and us.

"There is obviously talent there and in fairness he's not had a huge amount of game-time. He just needs a goal and we all want it to happen as soon as possible."

Tomorrow against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, represents another opportunity for Berahino to end the long drought - but time is running out, both for him and his club.

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