Early in the evening of February 27th 2016 – a crisp and clear winter’s day that was perfect for football – Saido Berahino latched onto a pinpoint Stéphane Sessègnon cross before expertly side-footing a volley straight past Wayne Hennessey in the Crystal Palace goal.
It put West Bromwich Albion 3-0 up with just 31 minutes on the clock, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Berahino lifted his hands to the heavens. It was only his fourth league goal of the campaign, but it would prove to be an important one in the Baggies’ fight for survival.
It would also prove to be the start of an incredible goal drought that has left the 24-year-old looking a shadow of his former self.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting how highly rated Berahino was just a few years ago. A magnificent 20-goal haul across all competitions in the 2014-15 season led to a first call up to the England senior side and a £23m bid from Tottenham Hotspur.
It also resulted in the youngster infamously refusing to play for West Brom after the club denied him a move to north London, starting the beginning of the end of his time at the Hawthorns and a damaging period in self-imposed exile.
That refusal to play saw him limited to 17 starts in the league the following season and, after a troubled opening to the 2016-17 campaign in which he was sent to a training camp in France to work on his fitness, eventually led to his transfer to Stoke City in January 2017.
Berahino himself admitted that the constant speculation surrounding his future had resulted in him losing his way at West Brom, leaving him unfocused, unfit and worryingly depressed. Fans who once adored him for his goalscoring exploits were instead making their anger towards his perceived lack of effort well known. In a dark place, it was inevitable that his performances were going to suffer.
Despite the undoubted talent he possesses, many raised an eyebrow at the £12m, five-and-a-half-year deal that took him to Stoke. It nonetheless offered Berahino the chance for a fresh start; something he desperately needed after a turbulent season and a half at West Brom in which his progress had badly stalled.
Tony Pulis, the manager with whom he had butted heads during his final year with the Baggies, wished him well but said the striker, who had been with the club since the age of 11, needed to “get his act together”.
Berahino himself thanked Stoke for having faith in him, admitting that he had some regrets over how he had handled himself at West Brom during a difficult situation that had left him “very lost”.
If his move to the bet365 Stadium was meant to represent a chance to get his career back on track, it’s proved to be anything but. Almost 15 months since he joined Stoke, Berahino is yet to find the back of the net, and a severe lack of playing time has resulted in a nightmare situation showing no signs of ending any time soon.
Concerns with poor performances in training sessions, lateness and a general lack of effort has left him on the fringes of the action, limiting him to just three Premier League starts this season and 15 largely bit part appearances. The man who was once dubbed England’s next goalscoring sensation now finds himself behind 18-year-old Tyrese Campbell in the Potters’ pecking order.
Paul Lambert, brought in to replace previous manager Mark Hughes in January, has said that all Berahino needs is a bit more confidence and game time to get him going again, but it’s clear that all is not well between the two.
The striker has been handed chances to impress with the U23s over the past few weeks but has now been banished from the senior side after turning up late for a youth game against Aston Villa on Easter Monday. It resulted in him failing to make the substitutes’ bench for Stoke’s clash against Tottenham last weekend and has increased speculation that he may be sold in the summer.
A miserable and damaging period in Staffordshire has only made things worse for Berahino, who, at 24, should be in the prime of his career but instead looks off the pace and totally bereft of confidence.
Far from the energetic youngster who wowed with dazzling attacking displays three seasons ago, he is now not even good enough for one of the Premier League’s main strugglers.
No Stoke fan would ever say that relegation could be good for their club, but it certainly may prove to be advantageous for Berahino. Whether or not he stays with the Potters, a spell in the Championship now seems crucial for the striker.
With so few games under his belt, he desperately needs to spend as much time on the pitch as possible, and a difficult few years has left him requiring to take a step back if he’s ever to hit the heights many feel he’s capable of.
He’s unlikely to be handed a regular starting spot in a Premier League side any time soon, but a spell in the second tier offers him a chance to focus his mind and rediscover his scoring boots.
If he doesn’t soon show at least glimpses of the talent that was on display in that magnificent 2014-15 season, it’s difficult to see any way back for the man who once kept Harry Kane out of the England U21s.