Should Tony Pulis' first act be to cash in on Saido Berahino?
The pace at which hype and rumours gather speed in the world of football rather gives it something of a mob mentality feel. Fans quickly get ahead of themselves when a player starts to show signs of life. Peers hear of some imminent deal, games of Chinese whispers ensue and before you know it, fan furore convinces the England manager to call the player up and the papers are slapping a £23m price tag on his head. Or something like that.
Saido Berahino has been hugely impressive since coming onto the scene at the start of last season and few would have begrudged Roy Hodgson calling the striker into his squad for the November internationals against Slovenia and Scotland, but the extent of the wave of hysteria surrounding his rise is rather baffling.
Berahino the latest promising English youngster
It is always exciting to see a young English player break on to the scene with a flurry of goals. Wayne Rooney made the grade after so much promise but many, many more have fallen by the wayside after bright starts.
Francis Jeffers, Matt Jansen and Luke Moore, to name but 3 examples, all fell from grace after promising youth and teenage careers, and there still remains the distinct - though one would hope rather improbable - possibility that Berahino will not go on to be a superstar striker for whom £23m at the age of 21 turns out to be a bargain.
From the point of view of potential suitors, pushing to sign a striker who has just 9 goals from open play in 52 Premier League appearances carries a noteworthy level of risk. For new West Brom boss Tony Pulis, the lure of a war chest might make cashing in on Berahino worthwhile.
Pulis has been brought in with the hope that he can galvanise a team that are in a similar position to the Crystal Palace team he saved last season. Palace were 19th when took over last November, and with Albion now 17th but only 1 point above second-from-bottom Burnley, both inspiration and a change of tack is needed.
Alan Pardew has been named the new boss at Selhurst Park, but while there isn't a truly obvious playing style that you get with the former Newcastle manager, when it comes to Pulis, there are no mistakes to be made about what exactly the gameplan will be.
With two deep banks of four he makes his sides extremely difficult to break down before looking long to his front men. Pulis' training and match day warm-up will always include a drill in which the midfield line up in their four and players on either side of the line have to try and pass the ball between them. The lesson to be learned is to be compact and make it nigh on impossible to play through the midfield, thus forcing opponents to go long or wide, and Pulis then selects big centre-backs for whom crosses and long balls are bread and butter.
How will Berahino fit into Pulis’s plans?
In the likes of Joleon Lescott, Craig Dawson and Gareth McAuley, Pulis already has the right kind of defenders at his disposal. Up front, however, Berahino arguably isn't the kind of forward that Pulis would be after and, presuming he doesn't spring any surprises and sticks to what he knows at the Hawthorns, it could be that Berahino isn't best suited to Pulis' system.
The former Stoke and Crystal Palace boss prefers a forward who holds the ball up as his team break, and generally that is a physically imposing player. At Stoke his strikers of choice were the likes of Ricardo Fuller, Mamady Sidibe, Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome, the latter of whom shared responsibilities up front at Selhurst Park last season, primarily with Marouane Chamakh.
All of these players' greatest strengths are in their hold up play, and in bringing others into the game; Chamakh (3.5 per game) and Crouch (3.4) both ranked in the upper echelons of the Premier League last season for layoffs completed and are even higher up this term. Berahino, meanwhile, made just 1.3 per game last season and is making 2.1 per game this.
This is not for a second to say that Pulis won't appreciate Berahino's talent. Quick and technically gifted, he has a great eye for goal and is one of the most exciting young players in the Premier League at present. He has 8 goals already this season, ranking him joint seventh overall, while he is at least 3 goals younger than anyone with as many or more goals as him. His 17.8% conversion rate is better than the likes of Charlie Austin (16.3%), Falcao (14.3%) or Chamakh (12.5%) or Crouch (12.1%), but Pulis requires more of his forwards.
Chamakh only managed 5 goals across the whole of last season, while Jerome scored only 2 in 28 appearances, and yet both were integral to Palace's incredible surge. Consider the 5 aerial duels Chamakh won per game last season and his precise contribution is that bit clearer.
Berahino reconciled to transfer
In Berahino he has a player that - if reports regarding his lack of celebration against Gateshead are to be believed - might well have had his head turned by those circling above, and as we have seen so often before, keeping players against their will can be far from beneficial.
It is unlikely that hearsay alone has significantly affected the youngster's Premier League form, but given that his goal at West Ham ended an eleven game drought stretching back to October, the Baggies wouldn't be losing a great deal in terms of goals and it isn't entirely clear that he offers enough otherwise to warrant his retention.
Tony Pulis is a master of extracting the best from his players, and is famed for constructing outfits that are greater than the sum of their parts. That is exactly what is required of him to save West Brom this season and after the club's summer of lavish spending they won't want any more wasted money. He has a proven track record when it comes to making shrewd signings, and if the opportunity arises to cash in on Berahino and better the squad with what would be a sizeable windfall, it might well be best for Pulis to take it.