The Mystery of Christian Benteke

Man mountain Christian Benteke has been instrumental in Villa‘s recent turnaround in fortunes and has been the figurehead of a struggling side crammed full of youth all season long. Many believe the £7M Villa forked out to be a snip while others doubt his ability to make the grade should he move on to one of the bigger teams in the Premier League or beyond. Which one is really the truth?

Admittedly this article has been sparked by a very interesting debate on BBC’s online Match Of The Day 3 between Pat Nevin and Mark Lawrenson. Nevin highlighted the Belgian striker as one of the players destined to move on to greater things in his career. Lawrenson however cast doubt on his ability to succeed at one of the “top six” sides in the Premier League stating he is a good player in a side lacking quality.

It is so easily forgot that Benteke is only 21 and total light years away from reaching anywhere near his peak. Which is a scary thought for defenders as he already has the physical presence of someone like Didier Drogba. He is deceptively quick, his height obviously gives him a commanding presence attacking and defending set pieces, he is very clever with the timing of his runs towards goal and, overall, a very gifted footballer on the deck. In the Premier League Benteke has a very impressive return of 13 goals in 27 games, especially so considering his age the ‘first season syndrome’ that can be so rife amongst foreign imports needing to settle into a new way of life.

Could one of the ‘top six’ sides consider Benteke as a viable option? Without doubt. Looking at the big picture it is easy to imagine Benteke filling a gap in any top side in the Premier League at this moment in time. Tottenham are certainly striker-light with only Defoe and the misfiring Adebayor to call upon. The same could be said of Liverpool and Arsenal despite efforts by both sides to address their respective issues in this department (Coutinho and Sturridge are great starts but Liverpool need more options while Arsenal still need to recover from the loss of Robin Van Persie).

Manchester City may be on the lookout for a new striker with Edin Dzeko unhappy with his role this season and the Bundesliga seemingly offering an escape route while Carlos Tevez’s unpredictable nature means he could realistically leave during any transfer window and with Aguero failing to reach the heights of last season with only nine goals to his name. Could a Belgian partnership of Romelu Lukaku and Benteke work out at the Bridge? Absolutely if Chelsea move beyond their one striker formation next season ( a new manager could bring anything to the table when Rafa Benitez leaves come May). Perhaps Manchester United could arguably be the one club not needing Benteke’s services however Sir Alex Ferguson knows all too well how to rotate a huge group of strikers and signing the Belgian striker would not be the biggest shock of his United tenure.

Interestingly Benteke’s previously mentioned Belgian counterpart Lukaku has been the one receiving all the praise despite identical Premier League scoring returns (13). The reason? West Brom have been flying high all season and it is much easier to sing the praises of a striker in a successful team than a successful striker in a struggling team. Football can be a fickle business and if the tables were turned, it could be easy to see Lukaku’s glittering performances almost ignored because of a similar star in a team that has received plenty of attention throughout the season and the ‘No. 2’ experiment with Steve Clark.

Benteke has the talent, the potential and the statistics all to prove he has been a huge success for Villa at only £7M. While a top side would not build their team around Benteke in the manner Villa do he would undoubtedly have more opportunities and support of a different class. He could also benefit from a team with a variety of different attacking options, meaning a luxury of valuable periods of rest that is impossible in a Villa side who desperately need him.

Cash in over double the fee paid last season or continue to develop him at Villa Park should they survive? It’s a tricky choice, however that decision might be taken away from them should they find themselves falling through the trap door to the Championship come the end of the season.

Tomos Llewellyn @tomllew

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