It’s a long time, 2,159 minutes. Exactly enough to fit in Beverly Hills Cop and all four Indiana Jones movies, plus the Godfather, Toy Story, Man With No Name and the original Star Wars trilogies.
Those of a more masochistic bent could spend it watching all the senior football Saido Berahino has played since he last scored a goal: 2,159 minutes and counting. By the time Stoke City take on Brighton in the Premier League on Monday night, 632 days will have passed since he celebrated one of his own. As statistics go it is shocking and must be a source of great concern for his employers. How many more movie marathons must we sit through before it is fair to label him another wasted talent with a great future behind him?
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in early 2015, Berahino complained that “people read about me and hear about me but nobody really knows who I am”. At the time he was best known as a raw but promising 21-year-old striker with West Bromwich Albion, but the interview sketched a picture of a more complex character, offering different aspects of light and shade. A refugee forced to flee Burundi for England alone as a 10-year-old, Berahino eventually joined his mother and sisters who had also escaped the civil war that claimed the life of his father. He came across as an apparently well-adjusted young man who clearly adored his mum and had a good understanding of the suffering those left behind in his homeland were forced to endure. Heck, he was even trying to help by setting up an eponymous foundation which he hoped would eventually raise enough money to build a hospital.
Which is not to say that butter wouldn’t melt in the mouth of a footballer who at that stage in life had represented his adopted country at every level from under-16 to under-21 and already featured in one senior England squad. Boys will be boys and he had encountered some pot-holes along the road. Photos emerged of him inhaling nitrous oxide, then, more seriously, he pleaded guilty to drink-driving after failing a breath test when he was caught speeding in his car. Berahino cited his religious faith as a crutch on which to lean during these difficult times off the field as he approached the end of his first and only 20-goal season. Here was a kid at a crossroads, but with God and goals on his side it seemed the world was his oyster.
So, 2,159 minutes. But at least his most recent goal was decisive. Still a West Brom player at the time, Berahino scored what proved to be the clincher in a 3-2 win over Crystal Palace on 27 February 2016. It had been three months since his previous one, but in the aftermath of that victory his then manager, Tony Pulis, spoke fondly of the striker and declared him the Baggies’ answer to Jamie Vardy or Harry Kane. It was a bold call and ultimately a foolish one. The Leicester City striker and his Tottenham Hotspur counterpart are England regulars who have scored 104 goals between them since Berahino last found the net. By contrast, the 24-year-old has just one top-flight assist and a missed penalty to his name. It constitutes extremely slim pickings for a player who holds himself in regard high enough to merit throwing a hissy-fit when a move from The Hawthorns to Tottenham fell through on transfer deadline day in 2015. On Twitter he announced he would never play for the club again as long as chairman Jeremy Peace remained in charge.
Berahino never did get his move to Spurs, who could be forgiven for thinking they probably dodged a bullet. After 21 appearances he has yet to score for Stoke City, for whom he signed last January for £12m. On wages of £70,000 per week with a contract that runs until June 2022, his is an expensive goal drought with which to saddle any club and it shows no sign of ending. “After a frustrating period he’s now desperately keen to reignite his career and we look forward to seeing him do that with us,” said Stoke’s chief executive, Tony Scholes, when Berahino signed his deal. Ten months, no goals and not much else later, his current thoughts on the matter are worth at least a penny.
Upon signing for Stoke, Berahino was forced to deny he had been too big for West Brom in every sense of the word. It emerged he had served an eight-week ban for testing positive for an unspecified recreational drug and rumours circulated about weight problems. He had previously admitted to “feeling depressed and struggling for focus” after a long spell on the sidelines. Despite his pleas for forgiveness at what was an obviously difficult time, the club cut him loose at the first opportunity and their fans were happy to see the back of a player they felt thought West Brom was beneath him.
While Berahino could be excused a slow start to his Stoke City career following his personal and fitness problems towards the latter stages of his time at the Hawthorns, his increasingly fleeting cameos suggest that Mark Hughes is losing patience with a striker whose scoring touch has completely deserted him. He has come on in the 86th, 78th and 80th minutes in Stoke’s three most recent Premier League games and while the England squad he was once part of prepared for their friendly against Germany, he suffered the indignity of playing all 90 minutes of a Checkatrade Trophy defeat for Stoke Under-23s against Bury at Gigg Lane in which he drew yet another blank.
“We have high hopes for Saido to be that striker who gets that 15, 20 goals, which makes a huge difference,” said Hughes towards the end of last season. In the interim, those minutes on the pitch have kept adding up and he has failed to get even one. He has, however, got engaged to his girlfriend and his Twitter feed shows no signs that he is plumbing the depths of despair he experienced at West Brom. We know he has overcome far worse traumas so he is clearly not a player beyond hope. Nevertheless, for all his regular talk about people not really knowing who he is, after 2,159 minutes without scoring, one can’t help but wonder if the striker even knows himself very well any more.
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