Saido Berahino nears PL bow
West Bromwich Albion head coach Steve Clarke has hinted that Saido Berahino has played himself into Premier League contention with his Capital One Cup hat-trick.
The 20-year-old from Burundi capped a dream day that saw him named in Gareth Southgate’s first England under-21 squad by then scoring three times in the first half against Newport County at The Hawthorns.
Albion have failed to score in their opening two League games and have issues with some of their other forwards, with Nicolas Anelka pulling back from his plan to retire, Shane Long struggling for form, Matej Vydra doubtful for the weekend and Markus Rosenberg goalless in more than 12 months with the club.
"Saido has given me a lot to think about and I'm really pleased he has," Clarke said with an eye on Sunday’s visit of Swansea. “He can play in any position in the front three - in the middle or either side. He's very useful.
"Nobody else was getting the ball when we were awarded the penalty at 2-0. That tells you a bit about him. He’s a born goalscorer, hungry to do well.
"We tend not to nominate a penalty-taker but allow the senior players to decide on the pitch who will take it. When it was awarded, he sprinted over...you saw that!
"He was out at Peterborough last season and doing really well in the Championship, then he picked up a nasty injury and was out for seven months. But he worked hard and got himself in great shape over the summer.
"I’m not surprised he has taken his chance with both hands. He was the best player on the pitch in the first half."
Berahino, whose only previous first-team duty with Albion was as a substitute at Yeovil in last season’s competition, was an unused member of the England under-21 squad for the recent 6-0 slaughter of Clarke’s country and the coach added: "He told me he was really disappointed he didn’t get chance to score against Scotland - everyone else did!
"He has played for England at almost every age level. The talent’s there. He was just unfortunate to get sidetracked last year by injury."
The player has given the match ball to his mother Lillien, with whom he has continued to live since the family escaped war-torn Burundi.
He has even had a taste of life with former Albion boss Roy Hodgson, who took the under-21s at Sheffield recently.
"He took the training sessions and was in charge," he said. "We had a few chats, he’s always the same. It’s everyone’s dream to play for England. You want to keep progressing every day and one day I hope I can play for England as a full international.
"I just said to the lads in the dressing room that I could not have dreamt of this. I just thank the lord for this day. It was amazing the way it went, it was my home debut as well.
"My past is not something I like to talk about but it wasn’t a great experience and I just thank God for giving me an opportunity in life to come to England and have a different life.
"I had only been playing in England for about a year when I was picked up by West Brom and it has just been incredible. West Brom have played a big role in my life. They have looked after me from a young age and I owe them one.
"From a young age, my family was really into football, so it started back in Africa. And when I came here, that’s when I learnt more about football. In Africa, it was just playing for happiness. As soon as I came here, it was more like a job."
Berahino has been on the bench for Albion’s first team in the first two League matches of the season.