Phonecalls, finishing and Nicolas Anelka: Chris Brunt remembers life with Sheffield Wednesday new boy Saido Berahino
There were times Chris Brunt would roll his eyes and scroll to Saido Berahino’s number in his address book. It was a scroll he would eventually come to know relatively well.
The former Sheffield Wednesday winger, promoted with the club from League One in 2005, was captain at the Midlands club throughout Berahino’s blistering Baggies career; through form that earned him an England call-up to an infamous deadline day meltdown and a doomed move to Stoke City.
“There were a few things he did at the time and I remember calling him and telling him he had to wise up, that he couldn't do these things,” Brunt said, speaking to The Star. “It was just turning up late and things like that.
“There are two sides to every story, that Tottenham stuff pushed him off the rails a little bit and he went to Stoke and picked up a reputation of being a bad boy.
“Any time I ever spent any time with him, he was a decent enough kid.”
‘That Tottenham stuff.’ A mooted deadline day move that saw reject a £15m bid for their star man’s services, that saw Berahino tweet that he would never play for chairman Jeremy Peace again and later admit he was playing for the Baggies simply to get a move to a bigger club.
Together with scrapes with the law and a viral monologue by his former Stoke teammate Glen Johnson that unfairly singled him out for unprofessionalism, these tales have painted a picture of Saido Berahino for people that do not know him.
But asked what the now 28-year-old is like, Brunt reaches not for a character appraisal or assassination, but simply for a description his talent.
“What an absolutely unbelievable finisher,” he said without missing a beat. “One of the very best I've ever played with, you gave him a chance and he would score. I remember having this absolute confidence in him.
“He got into the first team without setting the world alight for the reserves as I remember it, but hit the ground running, scored a couple of goals early doors and just never looked back in those first couple of seasons. That first season we stayed up and without him we wouldn't have been anywhere near it.
“He was a confident boy, you could always see that, always chirpy. With the finishing drills and stuff he stuck his chest out and knew he had something, but you need that in you.
“I remember once or twice some of the boys would end up trying to boot him up in the air at training and the coaches would be going spare. But to be fair that's pretty standard for a young kid. He coped with it all well and when he got that chance in the first team he was brilliant.”
He spent time in that first team playing alongside the legendary Nicolas Anelka – Berahino is a fluent French speaker – and would shuffle his belongings closer to the former Arsenal man’s spot in the changing room so as to listen in on any pearls of wisdom.
Brunt remembers: “Nico was a nice fella, he'd train really well and there was this superstar at West Brom who was doing everything right. Saido looked up to him and that was something that rubbed off on Saido I think.
“They'd do finishing and stuff together. If you took the time to speak to him he was a very clever guy and obviously a top, top player. As a striker you'd have been daft not to try to soak that up and Saido did.”
The overarching reaction to Berahino’s latest transfer, both in Sheffield and out, was one of surprise, possibly due to that unwanted reputation for controversy. But the fact is, undoubtedly talented, a late-20s Berahino seems to have matured in the last couple of years.
A nightmare two-year stint at Stoke saw him move to Belgium with Zulte Waragem and interviews he has done since have been revealing; a public apology to Peace and an acceptance he could have behaved better earlier in his career among the headline takes.
Now, he says, he wants to knuckle down and prove himself back in England. The chance to do that with Darren Moore, who was the first player a 12-year-old Berahino met when he shuffled through the doors of the Hawthorns as a youth player, could provide ideal circumstances.
Describing Moore as something of a father figure to the striker, Brunt said: “Mooro knows him really well and I'd imagine that's a big part of him coming to Wednesday, to work with someone who knows what he's like as a lad and won't judge him based on what he's heard or read elsewhere.
“It's a fresh start for him with someone who knows him and trusts him. He's a bit older now, he’s experienced football in a different country. That's important.
“Darren will look after him really well and football players should be judged on what they do on the pitch. For Saido the focus on his career has been on what's happened off the pitch rather than on it.
“He never really got going at Stoke and became public enemy number one. There was a price tag having over his head and he took a lot of stick.
“At the time they weren't performing as a team and were in a bad place as a football club. Wednesday will be one of the strongest teams in League One and will be fighting for promotion. All being well he can be the one to score those goals and get them out of that league.
“Wednesday have got themselves a top, top striker and he could tear that league up, he could score 20 or 25 goals if he gets himself going. At such a big club like Sheffield Wednesday, he's got all the tools to become an absolute hero.”