Berahino's mentors reveal the story behind his rise
SAIDO Berahino could become the first outfield Albion player to be capped by England since 1984.
If so, he would become our first 'home-grown' player to be capped since Derek Statham some 31 years ago.
Head of Academy Recruitment STEPHEN HOPCROFT (pictured, left) and Academy Manager MARK HARRISON were instrumental in the opening chapters of the Berahino Story.
They tell us more.
Q: How proud are you right now?
A: (Mark Harrison):
"It will be a fantastic day for the Academy if Saido plays. A lot of hard work has gone into developing the Academy in the last nine or 10 years and Saido was at the beginning of that journey.
"The last (outfield)England player to represent this club was a long time ago and he hadn’t come through the system that Saido has come through.
"It will be a proud moment for everybody that works at the Academy but there are a lot of unsung heroes behind Saido’s development."
Q: How did you find Saido?
A: (Steve Hopcroft):
"Part of the attraction for me when I came to West Brom is that our academy is based not far from Birmingham city centre, near The Hawthorns, just off the Soho Road, in an area where there is mass migration from other parts of the world. Mark and myself are both inner-city boys – both Ladywood boys – so for us it’s vitally important that this club is reflected by our players in the area that they come from.
"When I sat down with Dan Ashworth (Albion's then Sporting and Technical Director), I told him what I wanted to do was work with inner-city clubs and support them in a way that no-one else does.
"I think we’re one of the only clubs who do that - I give one quarter of my entire recruitment budget to inner-city clubs, by the way.
"One of those clubs was Pheonix United – Lloyd Morrison and Wayne Henry, who are two guys that had an idea to engage kids from the Newtown and Aston areas of Birmingham.
"Saido was one of those players. Within a couple of weeks of me sitting down with Wayne and agreeing we would give the club a load of funding to enable boys to play without paying subs and for them to have a clubhouse and facilities that we would pay for, he rang me up. He said ‘we’ve got a terrific little player here, he’s scoring a million goals a week and can I bring him up’.
"He turned up and I remember watching him. Someone fizzed a ball across to him and his touch was impeccable and experience tells you that he has something. I wouldn’t say at the time that I knew he was going to play for England, and he hasn’t yet, but I knew he was a very good player.
"And he was a humble lad. Back then we knew our facilities were rubbish, but from where he’d come from it was an amazing step up. So he came, he trained, he played at the weekend and probably scored because he has scored at every level I can remember him playing at, and he was quickly signed."
Q: What was your relationship like with Saido given his background and what he experienced in Burundi?
A: (MH): "The relationship I had with Saido was quite a close one because he didn’t have a support network.
"His mum is one of the nicest people you will ever meet but she had no real concept of the football side, so we actually became Saido’s family. Me and one or two other members of staff would be picking him up and dropping him home among some other boys as well.
"Saido and the Nabi brothers lived around the corner from each other so often it would be a case of dropping them home as well.
"He was a happy young boy and when he was in the environment with us we gave him security and stability and some normality.
"We didn’t know originally quite the depth of what he’d been through and that came out in the following years as we built up that closer relationship with him. But Saido never brought it to our attention or expected anything different to any of the other boys.
"And it's ironic now when we read what Alan (Irvine) says about Saido being the last player off the pitch because he was no different when he was 11 or 12. I would be wanting to go home and he would be wanting to practice and I would have to say ‘Saido, we’ve got to go now, it’s getting late’.
"During last season it was quite difficult for Saido because there were things me and him were talking about and he was saying ‘Mark, I don’t want people to know’.
"He was doing extra sessions and I was quite disappointed in the way he was being portrayed. He had made mistakes and had been a little bit naive. But he also came up on a number of occasions and did extra sessions on our academy site without anybody knowing. He didn’t want anybody to know he was doing extra work with some of the younger players, which was brilliant for us. This was all during the time he was being reported on but he asked me at the time not to say anything.
"I said I wouldn’t but I think now is probably the time to make people aware."
"I wish I had 135 Saido Berahinos because if they were all like him during the process it would be an absolute pleasure."
Q: What stood out with Saido?
A (SH): "At the time I was an experienced scout - 10 years down the line I am even more experienced and I think you can just tell straight away.
"Some people need a lot of work on their individual technique, others need it on the tactical side of the game.
"Saido was just a natural footballer, he caressed the ball when he kicked it, we talk about skill and Saido had skill to start with, he could beat players, he could dribble with the ball. That's the thing I noticed straight away, a natural skilful ability to beat players.
"In Burundi he would probably have played a lot on bobbly pitches with socks rolled up into a ball and that's made him have a real nice touch and feel for the ball. He was always very clean the way he struck the ball.
"Me and Mark took a team up to Liverpool and watched Saido play against Andre Wisdom when they were 15 and we destroyed the Liverpool age group that night. From the minute he walked in I knew he was going to be signed and that he was going to be a good player but you never know at 12-years of age that they are going to be in your first team."
Q: What was Saido like as a youngster?
A: (MH): "He was a child that was loved, you could see that because he was happy. It's interesting now that Saido has got himself a new house and his mum lives with him as do several members of his family.
"When he went on holiday in the summer he goes with his mum...I haven't yet met a 21-year-old so-called Premier League superstar that takes him mum on holiday!
"Last season with Saido it wasn't always a case of an arm around his shoulder and 'Come on mate...', we talked deeply about these things and the kind of the things the club and academy did for Saido.
"We had a conversation with a player not too long ago who left us for one of the big clubs and when Steve said to him 'Do you ever regret leaving West Brom?' He said 'No, I am OK I have got my car outside'. I know which one I would rather have in this football club."
Q: Can you use Saido's relative success to help convince others to come to Albion?
A: (SH): "It's massive because it's very difficult nowadays to get anybody in your first team in the Premier League.
"I would suggest that almost anyone who plays in the Premier League is a world class footballer.
"And yet Saido will come and speak to our Under-13s centre forward about his finishing. He will come and work with our Under-15s. I looked out of my office window sometimes last year and I would see him working with one of our Under-16s centre forwards and Under-13s centre forwards. He is helping the generations of the future come through and he didn't have that himself. He has done that without having a role model in front of him and I think there are some more to come as well."
Q: Saido spoke to youngsters unprompted?
A (SH): "Yes, and he’s very good like that. Last season he’d just turn up on a couple of occasions and even this season already I have text him, spoke to him and he said ‘any time, it’s not a problem’. He’s a role model to the other boys. You can share experiences with the boys that they can touch and relate to as well. If you are talking about Wayne Rooney or someone else, they are a little bit abstract to them because they have never met Wayne Rooney. With Saido, they can touch and feel him, he’s in their environment. They see him and watch his finishing and they go ‘wow, is that the standard I’ve got to get to. I’ve got to work hard’. It’s a great vehicle for us to use, not only to bring players in but to keep those players that are within us motivated, challenged and stimulated."
Q: What did you make of Saido's comments about wanting Champions League football?
A: (MH): "I was delighted when he was quoted he wanted to play in the Champions League. You want someone like that at a football club don't you? Someone who is driven, someone who is ambitious. I want to produce Champions League players, world class players. That's our job. The fact Saido is stimulated by football ambition, not financial ambition is something that should be lauded."
Q: Steve, the same question to you...?
A: (SH): "I do a talk to all boys when they sign. I will sit them down. To each one I will say 'in front of you is an invisible ladder...and at the top of that ladder is England captain or to be a player who lifts the Champions League. I will say that to nine-year-olds because they dream of it. Wayne Rooney dreamt of it, why can't you? If you can turn us into a Champions League club then we can die happy and maybe even get a statue ourselves! But it will mean we have produced amazing players and the club have progressed as well. There is nothing wrong with players being ambition."