Have a bit of sympathy for West Bromwich Albion fans. Not just, indeed, because they are West Bromwich Albion fans, but because they don’t seem to have the best of luck on ‘Deadline Day.’
The hoodoo began with Peter Odemwingie and his infamous trip down the M40 to Loftus Road in January 2013. Then came the Romelu Lukaku debacle in September of the same year, which saw a deal for the prolific Belgian fall at the final hurdle, leaving the Baggies with the not-so-prolific Victor Anichebe. Now, to top it all off, they must react to the chaos left behind by Saido Berahino’s public outburst following Jeremy Peace’s refusal to sell the England U21 star to Tottenham.
In a vitriolic tweet, the youngster expressed his dismay at how he had been treated by his club, indicating that he would never play for Albion again under their current Chairman after two zero-hour bids from the London club were snubbed.
Don’t get me wrong. Twitter’s great. It allows players to interact with their fans, share their views and, most importantly, show off their Nike Air Max collections. When used wisely and appropriately, it can be a fantastic tool. Regrettably, too many players find themselves in trouble with their respective clubs, and the FA, after posting dubious views, careless opinions, insults and controversial images.
It may not surprise you that Joey Barton is one of these players. The former QPR man has found himself consistently in hot-water with a variety of footballing authorities since the creation of his @Joey7Barton Twitter account. From calling Thiago Silva an ‘overweight lady-boy’ to labelling Neil Warnock ‘the new Mike Bassett’, Barton is a prime example of how footballers can use social media to put their feet firmly in their own mouth. That said, give him a follow, it’s remarkably entertaining.
Some of these lads are geniuses on the pitch. They aren’t the finest minds in Britain off it. The majority of their brains are in their feet. Unfollowing the @WBAFCofficial account on Twitter was downright braindead from Berahino, and, let’s not forget, he didn’t even construct that famous tweet properly. ‘I will never play Jeremy Peace.’ What do you mean, Saido? You’ll never play Jeremy Peace at Poker? I don’t blame you to be honest.
In defence of some of these young players, the agents and advisors pulling the strings behind the scenes aren’t any better. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Berahino was instructed to make the Tweet public in order to force another bid from Tottenham. It had the desired effect on Tony Pulis, who suggested to Peace after 5pm that he accept another offer for the striker from Spurs. The offer never came. And thus, at the click of a button, Saido Berahino joined the ranks of professional footballers who have been on the wrong end of a social media scandal. So what now for the want-away striker?
The easy part (and I use the word ‘easy’ in the loosest possible way) starts on Friday, with the striker set to hold talks with manager Tony Pulis. He will complete an extended leave of absence, returning to training on Monday morning, and will likely face a heavy fine. Then comes the tricky bit; not only integrating the youngster back into the dressing room, but re-endearing him to the Albion faithful. The latter may prove impossible.
This isn’t the first time Berahino has alienated his fellow players and fans. In March 2014 he was involved in a dressing room bust-up with long-time Albion servant James Morrison. After giving the ball away against Cardiff City, setting up a stoppage time equaliser and costing the Baggies three precious points, the Burundi-born forward’s refusal to apologise to his teammates was the final straw for a lot of the senior players at the club. An unnamed source at the club had grown tired of Berahino’s ‘big-time’ attitude after signing a lucrative new deal earlier in the season. ‘There was a long line of people ready to punch Berahino. As a pro when you make a critical mistake you hold your hands up. Berahino didn’t. It’s typical of his cocky attitude around the place.’ The recent image of the striker giving the thumbs up on a private jet during his leave of absence has done nothing to change our minds about his character.
This is a big moment in Berahino’s career. He is at a crossroads. Should he continue to sulk, he is unlikely to wear the famous blue and white stripes again. Next time the transfer window opens, will a club like Tottenham be as willing to throw £23m at someone who hasn’t played competitive football for three months? I doubt it.
It’s certainly not great timing to go on strike from an international perspective. With boss Tony Pulis insisting he was not in the right state of mind to play, the striker looks set to be frozen out the season before England’s Euro 2016 quest. The question is whether Saido is even in Roy Hodgson’s thinking at all. Having been called up for a Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia, as well as a friendly against Scotland last November, Berahino was the only member of the 26-man-squad not to feature. He hasn’t been in contention for any squad since. Did his arrogance rear its ugly head once again? Perhaps, I’m merely playing devil’s advocate.
One thing is for sure, Tony Pulis and Jeremy Peace are tough enough to deal with this. The former has already been prepared to leave Berahino out of the last three match day squads. With new signing Salomon Rondon off the mark, Albion are not as dependent on young Saido as they once were, or as he seems to think. There will be no concession to brattish behaviour at the Hawthorns.
He could do with taking a leaf out of U21 teammate John Stones’ book. Yes, he handed in a transfer request, but the mature manner in which the defender dealt with Everton’s refusal to sell him to Chelsea was commendable. It’s time for Saido to grow-up and show Hodgson what he can do on the big stage, not mope around in the reserves.
Should he issue a heartfelt apology (not his first, may I add) and knuckle down until January, perhaps even bag a few goals, he could get his career back on the right track. There is no guarantee, of course. Even after a public apology, Peter Odemwingie never represented the Albion again after his gaffe. After 30 goals in three seasons for the Baggies, he was shipped off to Cardiff, then to Stoke, and has only scored 6 times since.
If I was his advisor, I’d tell Berahino to get his head down, start scoring again and move on in January. Only time will tell if his career is to follow that path or whether it will go the same way as Odemwingie. I, for one, hope it isn’t the latter. It would be a shame to waste such an exceptional young talent, albeit a petulant one.