Why Saido Berahino Is the Type of Forward Tottenham Need to Aid Harry Kane

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2015

Saido Berahino and Harry Kane together during England's European Under-21 Championships qualifier against Moldova. Between them, they scored all the goals in a 3-0 win.
Saido Berahino and Harry Kane together during England's European Under-21 Championships qualifier against Moldova. Between them, they scored all the goals in a 3-0 win.Getty Images/Getty Images

Saido Berahino's late, injury-enforced withdrawal from the European Under-21 Championships was a big blow for England. Their top scorer in qualification, his absence led to a selection issue in attack never quite satisfactorily resolved.

Striker Harry Kane suffered as much as anyone from it before the country's group-stage exit. Service from attacking midfielders Tom Carroll, Jesse Lingard and Nathan Redmond was patchy, while he was unable to click with fellow front man Danny Ings. Without the foil of Berahino operating on his flank, the Tottenham Hotspur man was left to bang his head against successive continental brick walls.

Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino may have been frustrated by the West Bromwich Albion attacker missing out, too.

Reports throughout 2015 have linked the north Londoners with a move for Berahino. Seeing him play alongside Kane could have been the confirmation the Argentinian needed that the 21-year-old is the type of forward his team needs to aid its 2014-15 top scorer.

Berahinho proved a particular handful for Tottenham's defence in their 1-0 defeat to West Brom last September.
Berahinho proved a particular handful for Tottenham's defence in their 1-0 defeat to West Brom last September.Julian Finney/Getty Images

Berahino to Spurs was a story frequently touted in and around the January transfer window. According to the Mirror's James Nursey, recently installed Baggies boss Tony Pulis was willing to sell him to fund a revamp of his inherited squad. Nothing did occur that month, but Mail Online's Rob Shepherd suggested the England youth international was Spurs' if they wanted him this summer.

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If a deal is to happen, it may come out of the blue. Spurs have not been mentioned in relation to Berahino in a while. More recent talk about the player's future has different media outlets in slight disagreement about the exact factors his availability rests on (see examples in the Daily Star and the Mirror).

The Daily Mail's Laurie Whitwell reported in May that West Brom want to offer Berahino a new contract. The club's seemingly impending change in ownership should certainly have some influence on all of this.

West Brom fans will be keen their team retains the services of a player whose 20 goals helped ensure an initially worrying season did not end with them losing their hard-earned Premier League status. Berahino's form tailed off (netting just three times in the last three months), but Pulis should be a happy man if the summer window shuts and one of his squad's best young talents is still at the Hawthorns.

The excitement around Berahino and the other young English strikers to push on in the Premier League last season—including Ings and Kane—has to be tempered with an acknowledgement of each man's fledgling status. There is undoubted promise, but sustaining it as top-flight performers is subject to factors both in and out of their control.

Could Berahino have said goodbye to the Hawthorns for the last time? For the moment it looks more likely he will remain a Baggie entering 2015-16.
Could Berahino have said goodbye to the Hawthorns for the last time? For the moment it looks more likely he will remain a Baggie entering 2015-16.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

For Berahino, joining Tottenham would bring different expectations than what he would face moving forward with West Brom. Between the likely sizable transfer fee, playing in Europe and battling to get back there, and the greater general focus on life at the capital club, it would be even harder to hide if things did not go well (though he is already well familiar with the spotlight, as per the Guardian's Stuart James).

With the publicity surrounding Kane in the wake of his 30-plus goal haul last season, two of the country's brightest attacking prospects teaming up in club football would place them under further scrutiny. But there is plenty to suggest they can handle it and flourish together.

The Burundi-born player gave a good account of himself in his two appearances against Spurs last season, especially in West Brom's 1-0 win at White Hart Lane in September.

Engaged in a running battle with Younes Kaboul, Berahino was a near-constant nuisance chasing down and getting among the home defence. It helped keep his team off the back foot, laying the groundwork for James Morrison's header to secure their first league win of 2014-15.

Berahino holds off the challenge of Federico Fazio during West Brom's 3-0 defeat to Spurs in January.
Berahino holds off the challenge of Federico Fazio during West Brom's 3-0 defeat to Spurs in January.Stu Forster/Getty Images

Berahino was unable to stop his team being turned over 3-0 by a much-improved Spurs in January. However, he did give Federico Fazio as tough a day as the centre-back had all season. The younger man's pace and clever running turned the defender inside out, leading to some of the Baggies' best chances on the day.

Before even directly considering what he would offer in tandem with Kane, Berahino the individual would make an exciting addition to the Tottenham striking ranks. Or, as would likely be the case, he'd be a replacement for one of Emmanuel Adebayor or Roberto Soldado, the experienced front men so overshadowed by the precocious Kane.

Of similar stature, if not natural athleticism, Berahino definitely offered more to West Brom's attack than Soldado did Spurs' last season (albeit he played more and in a team where his contributions were even more necessary).

More expansive as an overall participant in his team's work—his pass success percentage (83.2 per cent) and dribbles per game (0.7) were comfortably better than Soldado's, per WhoScored.com—his penalty-box prowess was also much more notable than the underwhelming Spaniard's. Though Berahino went on extended runs without scoring, on form he demonstrated sharpness from close range and imagination from tougher angles.

Roberto Soldado's goal against Fiorentina was a rare sight last season. His numbers, both scoring and otherwise, fall well short of what Berahino was offering at West Brom.
Roberto Soldado's goal against Fiorentina was a rare sight last season. His numbers, both scoring and otherwise, fall well short of what Berahino was offering at West Brom.Tim Ireland/Associated Press

You could argue Adebayor's greater size and its influence on his occasional use as a focal point make him a difficult comparison. But the 31-year-old's best displays often see him getting involved in non-target man aspects too. Rare, though, were the times last season he could be described as a fully functioning part of Spurs' attack.

With just seven goals between Adebayor and Soldado (and just one in 2015), the increasingly prolific Berahino seems a better bet, even if bringing him in would require spending more than £20 million. Harder working, more motivated and more productive, he is someone who could lead Spurs' line without Kane and there not be concern the team did not have a goal threat. That's something that sadly became the case as 2014-15 progressed.

Berahino would rightly not leave a good gig with West Brom just to be cover for his England Under-21 team-mate at Tottenham. He would only head to north London because he is someone who can work with Kane within the parameters Pochettino set out for his team in the head coach's first year in charge.

Playing alongside each other on a full-time basis is a different story, but for Gareth Southgate's team, the two forwards worked well enough together. They both scored in England's Group 1 qualifying win over Moldova, as well as the first-leg play-off victory against the more formidable Croatia. Had Berahino not got injured, he was set to play just to the side of Kane at the European Championships.

England's Under-21s unfortunately did not get to see how Berahino and Kane would have fared together at the European Championships they played such big roles in getting the country to.
England's Under-21s unfortunately did not get to see how Berahino and Kane would have fared together at the European Championships they played such big roles in getting the country to.Getty Images/Getty Images

In the 4-2-3-1 formation Spurs predominantly used this past year, Berahino would occupy a similar role. His responsibilities would be to provide service to Kane but also to get close enough to reap the benefits of the central striker's occupation of the opposition defence, not to mention being on hand to take opportunities created by others.

The left wing would be the more obvious fit. Berahino likes to run at defenders and then cut inside. Like Victor Anichebe and Brown Ideye do for West Brom, Kane would then be able to create further space for a shot or assist for him by pulling defenders out of position.

In this scenario, Spurs would lose the aerial threat of Nacer Chadli (unless he is moved out right). But in those instances when they were attacking from the right, it would be easy enough for Kane to momentarily drift to the back post for crosses while Berahino switches inside to take on knockdowns or even get direct chances stepping into the room created by the taller striker.

Berahino could work well out right, too, offering a more direct threat than Erik Lamela. The natural inclination there to drift outwards and assume more out-and-out winger duties may not be the best use of his forward instincts. Then again, the latter may just be too prominent to quash.

Kane's ability in the air would compensate for Berahino's lack of it.
Kane's ability in the air would compensate for Berahino's lack of it.Alastair Grant/Associated Press

Ensuring Berahino is not too preoccupied by defensive concerns would possibly lead Pochettino to tweak things. One option here is a 4-3-3 where the extra man in midfield could provide cover shuttling out to the flank (not to mention providing more room to breathe for those further forward, in certain situations anyway).

With any one of Chadli, Lamela or Andros Townsend joining the two strikers, Spurs would certainly have a front three with the legs, creativity and energy to cause any defence problems.

Moving to a 4-4-2 or even a 4-3-1-2 to accommodate a more straightforward strike pair of Berahino and Kane would have its merits, too, at least in scenarios where Spurs feel they can afford forsaking a man elsewhere on the pitch.

Unlike last season when playing alongside Soldado or Adebayor meant Kane sometimes being forced into a deeper role (where he played fine but was nowhere near as dangerous), Berahino could happily be the one dropping off. The two's flexible styles could even make for a more natural, and therefore successful, give-and-take; a real old-fashioned partnership.

Mauricio Pochettino came to rely heavily on Kane last season. This time around he would ideally prefer his star striker has some help.
Mauricio Pochettino came to rely heavily on Kane last season. This time around he would ideally prefer his star striker has some help.Ian Walton/Getty Images

It is all well and good suggesting how the Berahino/Kane collaboration would work on paper or how the former is primed to be an alternative to the latter based on past performances. Other factors elsewhere in the team, off-pitch chemistry or something as unpredictable as injuries could all have unforeseen consequences.

As noted earlier, Berahino joining Spurs may not even be in the offing, for one reason or another.

But if the interest is there, certainly from the club, the current West Brom striker is as obvious a realistic option to helping Kane out as there is, certainly within the Premier League.

Both are in decent positions to carry on where they left off last season. There is room to improve, too, and striving towards this together (with the aid of others in the team) could be their making.

Kane cannot be expected to carry as much of the scoring burden at Tottenham as he did in his star-making campaign again. Barring either Adebayor or Soldado enjoying a dramatic resurgence, more than one new striker is likely to be needed too. But signing Berahino would certainly be a good start here.