Oct 6, 2017
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Stoke City: How to solve a problem like Saido Berahino?

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Strikers are judged on one thing and one thing only – goals.

They may come in many different shapes and sizes with various contrasting styles of play being utilised but the only statistic that truly matters is how often they can find the back of the net.

Thierry Henry would sprinkle magic dust to bewilder defenders, Alan Shearer would demonstrate power and sheer desire to batter through defensive units, Gary Lineker would operate as a fox in the box using his poachers’ instinct, whilst Peter Crouch simply uses his height and aerial prowess.

All four are, or were, completely different types of strikers that built their careers on a mutual ability to score goals on a regular basis. Which is more than can be said for Stoke City’s Saido Berahino at the moment.

The 24-year-old was once one of the brightest, most sought after young players in English football after he burst onto the scene with West Bromwich Albion during the 2014/15 season.

He found the net 20 times during the campaign and his raw pace, athleticism and trickery suggested that his career trajectory was only heading in one direction.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, just gone, and it is astonishing how times have changed.

Berahino trudged off the pitch at the Bet365 Stadium in the 70th minute having been substituted after producing an inconspicuous performance that was defined by a penalty miss during the first half.

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Once again, he had failed to impress, failed to have any real impact on the game and failed to break the goal drought that is surely threatening to end his career as a top-flight striker.

The statistics do not make for good reading.

Berahino has yet to find the back of the net in a Stoke City shirt in 18 appearances since his £12 million arrival in January. It is now 32 matches, equating to 31 hours and 48 minutes of football, since the 24-year-old last scored a competitive goal – a run that goes back to February 2016.

The man that Mark Hughes brought in to solve Stoke’s goal scoring conundrum is stuck in a rut that he shows little sign of escaping from.

How do you solve a problem like Saido?

Saido Berahino arrived at the Bet 365 Stadium in January engulfed in controversy.

His public fall-out with West Bromwich Albion and the subsequent news that he had been handed a suspension by the Football Association after failing a routine drugs test have all been well documented. However, ultimately his transfer to Stoke represented a fresh start and a new beginning. It was a chance to restart his career at a new club and put the turbulence of the previous eighteen months behind him.

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That kick-start to his career has yet to materialise.

Berahino looks a shadow of the player that burst onto the scene three years ago with West Bromwich Albion. His pace is non-existent. His movement is laboured. He lacks confidence, sharpness or any real signs to suggest that he is capable of rediscovering his previous form. In fact, he is a striker that does not even look like scoring.

The problem for Mark Hughes is that Berahino is simple not getting into positions to find the back of the net. A striker missing chances is one thing, but a striker who does not even have the opportunity to miss is nothing other than a grave concern. This is highlighted by the fact that Berahino has attempted just two shots so far this season, one of which was the penalty he missed on Saturday – characterising his impotence in front of goal.

So what is the solution?

Mark Hughes appears to have two options. First, he could persist with Berahino in the hope that a goal eventually arrives and reignites his career. However, is one goal really going to have such a dramatic impact that a player who has failed to find the back of the net in 32 matches will suddenly be converted into a goal machine?

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It seems implausible when you look at it from that angle. So, should Hughes admit that Berahino is simply a gamble that has not paid off and cut his losses? That poses the further questions of who will be willing to purchase the 24-year-old now and how much of the £12 million will Stoke be able to recoup?

There is no definitive black and white solution.

It should be noted that Berahino’s failings are certainly not down to a lack of effort or a poor attitude. On Saturday the striker certainly closed down and pressurised opponents and attempted to get into positions to receive the ball. There was no lack of running or work rate, yet he appears to have lost all of the sharpness and instinctiveness that is required to perform in the Premier League.

In addition to this, the Stoke supporters have shown remarkable patience and support for Berahino, with those packed inside the Bet365 Stadium willing him to break his drought.

Next up for Stoke City following the international break is a trip to Manchester City. Playing at the Etihad Stadium is unlikely to provide Berahino with an opportunity to score his first goal for The Potters and thus revive his career.

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Martyn Cooke

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.