Summer 2015 is shaping up to be the summer of the Englishman in the Premier League, especially in terms of transfer fees.
Twelve months ago, the top flight spent £158million on 50 English players; this year, £116million has been shelled out on just 23 players, with nearly a whole month of the transfer window still to go. That of course includes Raheem Sterling’s £44million move to Manchester City – a new Premier League record for an English player.
Indeed, whether you’re Liverpool or Leicester City, English players are in vogue once again; in no small part due to the void created by the many Three Lions stalwarts who have said goodbye to international or Premier League football or both over the last year – the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe and Ashley Cole.
With Chelsea and Manchester United reportedly lining up bids for John Stones and Harry Kane respectively, we could see even more Three Lions-oriented super-spending before the summer deadline on September 1st.
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One English starlet that’s perhaps received a little less attention this summer, however, is West Bromwich Albion’s Saido Berahino. He’s been linked with Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham to name a few, yet in comparison to some of the aforementioned names, there’s greater uncertainty surrounding his capacity to perform at one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs.
The 21 year-old is very much at a crossroads this summer; whilst some of his suitors are reportedly prepared to pay in excess of £15million for his services, Baggies boss Tony Pulis hopes to tie him down to a wage-doubling long-term deal. So which route should Berahino choose? Or perhaps more importantly, is he actually ready to be competing at the top end of the table?
Premier League goalscorers are worth their weight in gold and there’s no question the Burundi-born striker knows how to hit the back of the onion bag. He exploded onto the Premier League scene in 2013 with that sensational strike against Manchester United and last term recorded a one-in-two strike-rate for the Hawthorns outfit, starting in all but one of their league fixtures. His international youth record is equally impressive; only Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers trump Berahino’s ten strikes for the U21s throughout the age group’s history.
Comparisons between former greats and young players are often tedious. Throughout my time with Football Fancast, I’ve seen hundreds of ‘next Zidane’, ‘next Ronaldo’ and ‘next Gerrard’ youngsters amount to absolutely nothing.
But if I were to compare Berahino to a more established name, it would be Jermain Defoe; they’re both out and out poachers with great pace, dribbling and finishing ability, capable of creating chances of their own from virtually nothing – albeit in a fashion that could be perceived as greedy – and are lethally instinctive around the box.
Yet, there’s no debate that Defoe’s career failed to hit the heights it could have. He’s the Premier League’s eleventh all-time leading goal scorer and has represented England on 55 occasions. But he’s also spent more of his career on the bench than in the starting Xi, throughout his spells with West Ham, Spurs, Portsmouth, Sunderland and the Three Lions, and at this point I fear Berahino could endure a similar fate.
Whilst Defoe has always been a great goal scorer, his supersub status developed from the fear of the rest of his game being too limited. I see similar issues with Berahino. At 5 foot 11 he’s never going to offer much power or height, whilst his link-up play leaves a lot to be desired – perhaps epitomised best by his struggles when deployed as a winger, rather than an out-and-out centre-forward, by Tony Pulis last season.
Of course, every player has their natural limits and like Defoe, Berahino’s could be quickly found out at a higher level. But the prodigious poacher stands a much better chance of improving his all-round game playing regular football at the Hawthorns than stuck on the bench at Anfield, The Etihad or The Lane.
Likewise, he’s still burdened with the inconsistency of youth. One week, he’ll be the best player on the pitch, the next he’s completely anonymous and unable to control the ball. It shows in his goals; seven in his first nine Premier League appearances last season followed by a ten-game barren spell. Later in the campaign he endured an eight-game goalless run, but ended it with a brace against champions Chelsea.
Do I think the sheer confidence provided from a big money move could bring Berahino’s game to a higher level? Perhaps. Manchester City seems a little beyond his station at this moment in time – he could easily endure a similar fate to Scott Sinclair or Jack Rodwell at the Etihad. But for Liverpool and Spurs, two sides expected to be competing in next season’s top four race, the 21 year-old could enjoy a more prominent role.
That being said, it’s still a massive risk and the fact of the matter is that, providing current standards are maintained, the situation won’t change much in a year’s time – he’ll still be one of the most promising home-grown goal scorers in the division who plenty of clubs will want to get their hands on. And whilst a move now could essentially end his career at the Premier League’s summit before it’s even begun, Berahino would lose little from another year with the Baggies.
If he’s that good, the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham will come calling again.