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With most of the squad off on international duty, you can bet Messrs Levy, Pochettino and Mitchell have been meeting at Hotspur Way over the past week to hammer out transfer strategy for January.
Spurs are firmly in the hunt for the Champions League places, so the question will be whether to bring forward spending that may have been deferred until next summer had Poch’s boys been less feisty. There is a finite amount of money to be spent, due to the need to ensure the accounts are as rosy as possible as Spurs undertake the financing for the new stadium. But with the wage bill significantly trimmed after a summer of pragmatic player trading, and having recorded an £80 million profit in the previous financial year, there should be, in old football parlance, “money to get one or two in.”
In many ways, it’s a no-brainer. Spurs may not have a better to chance to crack the Top Four for seasons to come, but still remain a Harry Kane metatarsal away from a serious problem up front. Son Heung-min deputized well for Kane in one Europa league match, Clinton N’Jie not so well in another. That’s how lucky we’ve been.
Clearly, judging by the nasty Saido Berahino business on transfer deadline day, an attempt was made to bring in another forward in the summer. Meanwhile, the form of Eric Dier may have put an end to attempts to recruit an established defensive midfielder. Or, it may have highlighted the benefits of having someone playing a defensive role, and made Pochettino want a world-class one even more.
Several reports have suggested that the Berahino deal may be back on: Oh to be a fly on the wall for that first phone call between Daniel Levy and Jeremy Peace.
Since vowing to not play for Peace again, Berahino has exploited a loophole of instead playing for West Brom, to a modest degree of success, scoring three times in 10 games. Reports in local media suggest Berahino has neither been offered nor asked for a new deal, meaning his well-below-market-rate £15,000 per week deal has 18 months to run come January. If West Brom gained plaudits from some for standing up to Tottenham’s clumsy advances in the summer, they will be lucky to get a similar £25 million offer in January. Such are the choices clubs have to make when bigger predators coming hunting.
Berahino is a divisive figure in the game, a bit like Jermain Defoe was to a certain extent early in his career. Some see him as the sort of player Defoe would have been if he had come through the ranks now — a poacher who also has developed some ability to play from wide and with his back to goal. Others see him as a streaky forward who is living off one good season, who is overrated because of his nationality and whose personal baggage means he should be avoided.
I thought I’d take a closer look at his record and see if there is anything that can be taken from it. I’m not a Number Wizard, but there is a lot of data out there so I want to try and use it. I welcome any constructive criticism — special thanks to James Yorke of Statsbomb fame for taking time to offer detailed advice on my piece on Kyle Walker. People on the internet in doing nice things shock.
The first thing I wanted to look at is Berahino’s goal-scoring record. Last season, he scored 14 goals in 38 league appearances. This season he has three goals in his 10 appearances and in 2013/14 he managed five goals in 32 league appearances. So, while this season is still young, you can see how you can start spinning a “one-season wonder” line, as was thrown at our Harry not so long ago. But, a more detailed analysis paints a somewhat different picture.
I’ve taken data from Transfermarkt.com — it includes all cup and reserve appearances. Particularly early on in a career, first-team minutes can be limited, especially in the league — just look at how someone like Kane was required to prove himself in the Europa League and Cup teams before making the jump. You can see, aside from his first season of playing reserve football, Berahino has been very consistent in scoring goals in the minutes available. This season, while Berahino has played 10 times, he has only played 662 minutes — barely two thirds of what he could have done. He has averaged a goal every other game in three seasons, and in two others he is under a goal every 2.5 games.
I thought I would compare him to a couple of other players of a similar age, Kane and Danny Ings. All three have similar trajectories, in terms of requiring time in lower leagues before hitting their stride.
As you can see, Berahino stacks up very well. While he has never quite caught fire to the same degree as Kane did last season, Berahino was scoring at a faster rate than Kane in 2011/12 and 2012/13 as they were attempting to establish themselves outside the Premier League. Ings was red hot in 2013/14 as he fired Burnley into the Premier League, but went at less than a goal every three games in Burnley’s season in the top flight and was comfortably outperformed before that. Sadly injury has ended his first Liverpool season early.
Going a little deeper, here is a table comparing these three strikers in terms of shots per 90 minutes, using WhoScored statistics (which only includes Premier League data, not cups which is a touch annoying). I’ve also added shots outside box — just to see if they are padding shot numbers with long range efforts, which they aren’t really.
Looking at last season, Kane scored 21 league goals while averaging 3.9 shots per 90 minutes. Berahino scored 14 while averaging 2.6 shots per 90, and Ings 11 goals while averaging 2.9 per 90. If this is a reasonable measure of being “clinical” or “efficient” — someone, please help me back to the shallow end — Berahino is certainly ahead of Ings, and is exactly on a par with Kane.
I also added passes per 90 into this table. This is more my curiosity, just as an ultra simplistic measure of how “involved” they were. More than anything, I wanted to see if the “goal hanger” tag can be directed at Berahino — was he just waiting around for the ball to come to him? You’d say, he passes less than Kane but more than Ings. “Key passes” per 90 in the league last season showed Kane on 1.2 per 90, Ings on 1.0 and Berahino on 0.9. I’m not sure this proves anything, but I’m just throwing it out there.
This season so far, Berahino is averaging just 1.3 shots per 90 minutes. That is way lower than in previous seasons and speaks to the misery of playing in this West Brom team.
I had a play with Paul Riley’s dashboard of analytics tools to see if I could illustrate how much more fun it is to be Harry Kane than Saido Berahino at the moment.
First, this is shots on target contrasting Spurs and Kane (above), to WBA and Berahino (below). Kane is getting loads of shots on target from inside the box, Berahino not so much.
Second, I thought I would contrast the key passes and assists, especially from the key creative players in the team, of which a striker is likely to be the main beneficiary. For Spurs, this is Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela (Mousa Dembele, despite all the recent positivity, really doesn’t create much). For West Brom, I struggled to even think who the creative players could be in a midfield of James McClean, Darren Fletcher, Stephane Sessegnon and Claudio Yacob. In terms of numbers of arrows into the box, the main creators appear to be James Morrison, who Pulis no longer starts, and Chris Brunt, who is being forced to play out of position at left back. Yeah.
As you can see, it is grim.
Spurs have created 143 chances this season, ranking them 4th, while West Brom are rock bottom with just 86 chances created. West Brom rank second bottom in total passes — behind a direct but fun Leicester, playing what Andre Villas-Boas might like to call “vertical football”. West Brom’s percentage of shots within 6 yards is the highest in the league at 14 percent. I’d imagine this points to a fair number of the chances coming from crosses. Berahino is 1.79m (5ft 10) — his strike partners are Salomon Rondon (1.86m) and Rickie Lambert (1.87m). We can guess where the crosses are more likely to be aimed. I’ve watched this West Brom team a couple of times, they are more like the late Pulis era Stoke than the fiercely competitive Crystal Palace team he coaxed out of relegation trouble. They’ve tightened up a little defensively, and three 1-0 wins against fellow strugglers Villa, Norwich and Sunderland have given them a flattering league position. But West Brom are just plain horrible — if I was Berahino, I’d want out of there on style alone.
I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from the data presented above. However, there is certainly a case to be made that Berahino is a consistent goal-getter, who would score more on a team like Spurs who create plenty of chances.
The dreaded bit on character
The other side of the Berahino dilemma is the more intangible stuff — baggage, attitude, or whatever vaguely offensive term you want to use to describe it.
There have been a few incidents — inhaling nitrous oxide, an arrest for drink driving, his petulant tweet on deadline day — that have been used to paint a picture of a potentially bad character. By contrast, aged 22 he has already set up a personal foundation aimed at improving lives in Africa, and is a devout Christian (which doesn’t mean you don’t err once in a while).
His personal story is extraordinary. This is his “Early Life” entry from Wikipedia:
Born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, Berahino played football as a child with a ball of plastic bags tied up with laces. His father was killed in 1997 during the Burundian Civil War. He travelled to England alone at the age of 10, fleeing the ongoing war to join his mother, brother and sisters who had already been granted asylum in Newtown, Birmingham. He could not locate his family on arrival, and was put in a care home. After his mother Liliane was traced, immigration officials had to administer a DNA test to confirm their relationship.
By contrast, as far as we are aware, the most traumatic thing that happened in Harry Kane’s childhood was being photographed in an Arsenal shirt.
Once you are tarred with the “bad character” brush in the media and by ex-pros, it is very hard to shake it off. So far this season, Pulis has criticized Berahino for being out of shape due to being distracted by a move in pre-season, and suggested he was a wimp after his missed header against Manchester United. This isn’t exactly helping his chances of a move, which I suspect Pulis knows full well.
This may be a concern for Spurs. Under Pochettino there has been a ruthless rooting out of players who aren’t willing or able to live up to the head coach’s demanding training and tactical requirements. Talent hasn’t been the only factor in who stays, and who goes. The word “character” is sometimes laughed at due to its excessive use by the Proper Football Men, but you can’t look at what Spurs have done in the past 18 months and ignore the importance of this particular issue in the club’s decision making. Tottenham’s head of player identification, Rob Mackenzie, acknowledged exactly the importance of character recently.
My snap judgement is that the criticism of Berahino is on the harsh side. Young men do daft things. But if, say, something as silly as an inappropriate tweet is held against Berahino among Premier League recruiters, that could create an advantage for Spurs in trying to find value in an inflated striker market. Either way, you can bet Spurs would be doing comprehensive due diligence before spending big on Berahino — as they will on every player after the Bale money debacle.
We’re in a fortunate position at Spurs in that we have already discovered a leading front man in Harry Kane. What we need is talented forward players who can provide cover if Kane is hurt or in need of rest, and also contribute when playing alongside him. We lack punch off the bench in tight matches — for example in the draws against Everton and Swansea.
Scoring goals for West Brom isn’t easy — only Romelu Lukaku and Peter Odemwingie have hit the 15-goal mark in the past five seasons. Averaging a goal less than every 2.5 games for this lot is nothing to be sniffed at. Berahino may be a divisive figure, but for the right price he feels a good bet.
Thanks for reading. For more random musings on Spurs, please follow me on Twitter — @spurs_report