Buyer beware. In demand Benteke not ready for the big time.
By Oliver Wilson
There’s a tense atmosphere around Villa Park this summer.
While the delight of Premier League survival before the last day of the season may have been a sweet success, it’s one that hasn’t lasted at the Midland side, as Paul Lambert and his backroom team prepare for a summer fight that might be more difficult then the 38 game season the preceded it.
Four names are striking fear into the claret and blue’s supporters and are sure to continues to haunt the fans throughout June and July before the August transfer window opens.
Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Copa del Rey winners Atletico Madrid and Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund are all in the hunt for the Villans’ most prized possession, Christian Benteke and all have a formidable amount of pulling power, both financially and with their footballing pedigree, to drag the talented striker away to pastures new.
The young Belgian was, without a doubt, the reason Paul Lambert will continue to be a Premier League manager next season, as the 22-year-old notched up 19 league goals in his first year in English football, an impressive feat when you consider it took Didier Drogba until his third season in England’s top flight to reach the 20 goal mark. Benteke incidentally, cost Aston Villa roughly a third £7-8 million) of what Chelsea paid for their star striker back in 2004 (£24 million).
Benteke not only proved this season that he could score goals in the Premier League, he also showed he could shake and unsettle some of the England’s best defences. Liverpool’s back four collapsed at Anfield as the youngster’s driving runs ploughed through the sea of red shirts, while Chelsea, on the second to last day of the season, struggled to contain the forward as he won every header, lose ball and 50/50 challenge he was tasked with and dazzled the home fans with his fancy footwork and intricate control, possessing a touch and poise that few forwards of his height and strength possess. The former Genk forward has certainly produced enough quality in the second half of the season to attract his suitors this season, all of which would love to have a forward to replace their departing stars (Robert Lewandoski of Dortmund, Falcao of Atletico Madrid and possibly Luis Suarez of Liverpool) or rejuvenate an attack that hasn’t quite found it’s target man yet (Olivier Giroud of Arsenal and Emmanuel Adebayor at Tottenham).
Like many in the Belgium national team, Benteke is being tipped for greatness at both club and international level. The country has, arguably, never had a young group of players with the potential talent that the current generation has, with Benteke being joined by 20-year-old Romelu Lukaku and 21-year-old Kevin De Bruyne in the Belgian attack, while a midfield of Zenit Saint Petersburg’s Axel Witsel, Tottenham’s Mousa Dembélé, Everton’s Marouane Fellaini, Chelsea’s Edin Hazard and Porto’s Steven Defour – all of which are 25 or under – have the creativity and skill to give the national team an intimidating attack.
They are all, however, young and Benteke has shown signs of his age in the first half of his debut Premier League season, as well as dazzling us throughout 2013.
The forward struggled to find his feet in the early part of the season, and had many in the press box preparing an early obituary as they waited for Paul Lambert to see sense and bring Darren Bent in from the cold and back on the pitch. The former Genk striker scored in his first league game for his new club against Swansea in a 2-0 victory in mid-August but scored just twice more in the League before his ‘come-out’ game against Liverpool at Anfield in mid-December.
He looked clumsy and rushed on occasion, taking his time to fit into Aston Villa’s struggling side, and looked wasteful in front of goal, averaging just over tree shots per game but just one goal every four fixtures. These performances have been forgotten in the whirlwind of praise he received at the season’s end, but must be looked at by any side looking to secure his services.
He is not a proven talent in one of Europe’s elite leagues yet, and half a season of success can often be followed by four seasons of mediocrity if situations behind the scenes are handled poorly by either his club, agent or the player himslef. He is a big gamble if Villa ask for big money and if the Midlanders have the guts to dig in their heels and not compromise on his asking price, or any requests by the striker may put in to leave his current employer, potential buyers should remind themselves that they are basing their purchase on a player who produced half a season of excellent football and scored in just two games against top six opposition.
Is a 22-year-old, who came to the Premier League unknown to many, ready to dive into the top end of topflight football? His 19 goals say yes but four and a half months of confident quality footbalshould have many saying no, not yet.