Stoke City striker, Saido Berahino: “Always put God first”

Dubbed as a future star of English football, Saido Berahino has all the ability to become a prolific goal-scorer at the highest level. With a career surrounded in promise, we sat down with the man himself to talk about life as a footballer but also as a Christian.

Who was your footballing role model when you were growing up?

“Zinedine Zidane. I fell in love with him watching the 1998 World Cup back in Africa and I just adored him as a footballer. I remember his two headers in the final and I’ve still got a picture of myself wearing the French shirt from back then. What a footballer – it was a pity how his French career ended in the 2006 World Cup but he was still named Player of the Tournament despite that sending off in the final. I haven’t liked Italy ever since!”

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Were you surprised when West Brom came in for you at the age of 11?  How did it come about?

“To be honest, I didn’t really know what it was all about when they came in for me. I had only been in the country a year and when Steve Hopcroft (West Brom’s Head of Academy Recruitment) invited me on trial I had no knowledge of what was to come. But it was great for me in all sorts of ways – my English really started to improve and I began to enjoy my football with the academy. I was living in Aston just a short distance from the Villa ground at the time but I had never been to a Premier League game. I remember my first big match was at The Hawthorns when I was about 12 and went to see Albion v Spurs which Spurs won 1-0. A penalty I think.”

What’s the best thing about being a pro footballer?

“The best thing? That’s easy – doing something that you love to do day in, day out and it’s never the same. It’s not like an office job where you might have a routine. In football, it’s like every day something different is there to challenge you. Really, you should challenge yourself every day.

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Sometimes you are flying, sometimes you go through tough weeks. You just never know. But you can go to a game feeling great and expecting to play well and play badly while at the same time, go into a game not feeling at your best and you play well. But every game is a thrill for me. I am lucky, I know I am to have this as my job.”

As a Manchester United ‘supporter’, what was it like scoring against them in the Premier League?

“I’ve spoken about this before and my answer never changes.  I blanked out. Honestly, when I look back at the celebrations I think to myself ‘That isn’t me!’ It was my first Premier League goal as well. It was only when I got home to watch it on ‘Match of the Day’ that it actually sank in. That’s when it dawned on me that I had scored a winning goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford.  After the game, Rio Ferdinand gave me his shirt and gave me some advice; ‘keep working hard’ he said.

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Who is the best strike partner that you have played with?

“Now this is difficult and could get me into a lot of trouble with my team mates! Honestly, I am grateful to everyone I have played alongside; they have all had an influence on me and my game. I suppose, because of his status in the game, I was really grateful to have a few months alongside Nicolas Anelka. I also have to mention the England Under 21s, I enjoyed playing next to Harry Kane. But really, I appreciate all the team mates.”

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Best player that you have ever played against?

“Oh that’s difficult, who do I choose? Jermain Defoe is a great striker and Samuel Eto’o, but I’d probably say Sergio Aguero. He is the complete forward, so clinical, so strong and a nightmare for defenders.

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Tell us, what drove you to create the Saido Berahino foundation?

“Well, that all comes from my background, my start in life. Even from my youngest days I always had something at the back of my mind that said to me if God blessed me in some way, I would try to help the less fortunate around me. It is as simple as that really. I wanted to give kids hope. The Foundation now is focusing on the huge number from my homeland in Burundi who have taken refuge in Rwanda. I am making plans to go to Africa this summer to see the work for myself. My mum went out earlier this year to see things for herself and my Foundation has supported the building of a school which opens in Gambia this summer and I want to go there for the opening.”

Saido tell us your testimony of how you came to know God?

“For me, coming from Africa, loads of people believe in God; God is a place of safety. My family have always had that belief and that drove me to find out who God is, to ask for His protection. But my first real direct experience of feeling this was after I suffered a bad knee injury a few years ago and I went through a very tough, tough period in my life. Only God could have witnessed what I went through and only God could have given me the strength to go through that and turn my life around. From that moment my faith has become stronger.”

How does God feature in your match day routine?

Massively. The moment I wake up on match days I will read a verse from the Bible. No particular verse, something I will just choose and when I go to the game, just before it starts I will pray on the pitch. I cannot play without doing these things. If I score, you will always see me point to the heavens as part of my celebrations.  I always look to the heavens thanking God for this blessing”

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Are there any fellow footballers or team mates that you share your faith with?

“Yes, me and Victor Anichebe will sometimes talk about our faith.”

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What has God taught you through being a professional footballer?

“To be humble – if you humble yourself before God then there are greater things ahead. It’s sometimes hard with the positions and situations you find yourself in as a professional footballer but you have to try to not get carried away. Only God can make it possible although obviously you have to make the journey yourself. Recently I went through a difficult time which has been well publicised when a lot of people were trying to help me but it was going in one ear and out the other. Until I came back to my senses and realised myself where I was going wrong, I couldn’t change my path.  God doesn’t allow you to do bad things but the devil can get in there and take you down the wrong path and it is God that brings you back. It comes from inside and you pray for forgiveness and direction.”

Do you believe that prayer affects performance?

“Yes, of course. You don’t pray for hat-tricks or great goals – you pray for guidance, for protection, to stay healthy.”

What advice would you give to young Christian footballers starting out in their careers?

“Always put God first – whatever you do. Live right, eat well, train well, train hard, play and enjoy but always with God in mind.”

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