In a month which saw Paul Pogba and Jessie Lingard criticised for a having fun in a social media post and Raheem Sterling spotting doing something crazy like eating in Greggs or having a dirty car, it’s odd to think anything that happens to young footballers today would not be spread over the back pages or used as unadulterated “clickbait”. But until recently Saido Berahino’s 8 week drug ban went firmly under the radar. The former West Bromwich Albion striker tested positive for a recreational drug back in September 2016. Berahino’s absence was long thought to be part of his punishment for repeated attempts to leave the club and refusal to sign a new contract. However, days after his £12 million move to Stoke City, were the true reasons for his absence revealing in the Daily Mail.
The FA now treat players who have tests positive for recreational drugs as a private matter, allowing the player to seek help and potentially drug rehabilitation. I fully support a player seeking the help they need but what message does this send out about drugs in football? In 2003, Adrian Mutu tested positive for cocaine and was banned publicly for six months. The message there for other players would have been “stay away from drugs or face a long and costly penalty”. Does Berahino’s ban send that same message? Berahino’s ban is pathetic compared to Mutu’s. CSKA Moscow midfielder Roman Eremenko was banned by UEFA for two years for taking cocaine just last November. UEFA told the world that drugs are not allowed with that lengthy ban but the FA have acted irresponsibly by not banned Berahino for longer.
Berahino’s secret ban makes a mockery of what Mamadou Sakho had to face last year. Sakho was banned for over 2 months by FIFA after “failing” a drugs test after the Europa League game with Manchester United. His name was eventually cleared but not before seriously damaging his career. The defender subsequently missed Liverpool’s Europa League final and most importantly the 2016 European Championships held, of course, in his native France. Sakho faced much scrutiny with calls for Liverpool to be docked points, followed by a lengthy legal battle with FIFA and then losing his place in the Liverpool side. He has now joined struggling Crystal Palace on loan until the end of the season. The months of football lost by Sakho’s will never be returned. Sakho deserved anonymity, Berahino doesn’t.
It’s dangerous move by the FA, who, by hiding the ban, have kept fans in the dark. West Brom supporters, and indeed Stoke fans, have every right to feel misled. After fans of Sheffield United were so against the signing of Ched Evans, who at the time was recently released from prison, you have to wonder whether West Brom or Stoke fans would welcome a player who has faced a drug ban. A player with an alcohol problem, should have the right to seek help privately, but in Berahino’s case he has broken the rules, taking a substance he knew was banned. This should void his right to anonymity. Mark Hughes admitted recently that Berahino does not have a problem with drugs and would not need rehabilitation; freeing him to play for Stoke immediately. So why such a small ban, if he does not have a problem? He has broken the rules and should be severely punished. His ban should be longer, nearer the six months Mutu faced. Six months would be fitting punishment for a stupid and naive boy who took a banned substance. Only with lengthy ban, is the message loud and clear, take drugs and you face serious consequences. The FA have set a dangerous precedent.
Post by Tough Tackler – @thetoughtackler (www.toughtackler.co.uk)