Guest writer Chris Francis weighs up the options for Christian Benteke, and sees North London as an ideal home for Villa’s want-away hitman…
It hardly came as a surprise when Christian Benteke handed in a transfer request earlier this week. In his debut season, he was comfortably the best player in an Aston Villa team that narrowly, although confidently, avoided relegation, putting to bed any questions as to why Paul Lamber had made the Belgian his focal point rather than Darren Bent.
Benteke scored 19 goals in the Premier League last season – 23 in all competitions – bullying defences at both ends of the league, and showing himself to be a dauntless force of goals and attacking composure, taking on the load of heaving Villa to safety across his young yet broad shoulders. Though he is still only 22 Benteke lead from the front like a hardened veteran with years of experience, driving on Villa’s other youngsters to follow his example.
Having shown the league what he can do with limited support, he now wants to play in bigger competitions in a side able to challenge for trophies in the immediate future. Unfortunately for Lambert and those on the Holte End, their’s is a project that will still take time despite the considerable improvement made by Villa’s potential packed squad as last season’s campaign matured.
This week’s transfer request indicates an understanding of the realities of his ambitions and needs, but there are of course a number of asterisk over his name that any potential suitor would need to consider before seeking to snatch him from Villa Park.
Reports suggest that Spurs are preparing a £25 million bid – the acceptable benchmark figure set by Lambert for his prize asset. Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool are also said to be interested in the inevitable transfer tittle tattle that is to come. There are also some more left-field reports that Atletico Madrid could see him as an option to partner their new signing, David Villa.
On the surface a number of these moves might seem like sensible options for Benteke, providing the striker with competitive games at a higher level and with greater chances of immediate silverware and glory. For the aforementioned clubs themselves they will be getting hold of a player with massive potential, and one with a burgeoning international reputation. The issue for Benteke is that this is a World Cup year. It is also a World Cup in which many expect Belgium to perform well in, as they have a number of outstanding players.
At Villa he has been able to cement his place at the head of their side, and has been the striker of choice recently for the national team where he has 6 goals from 14 appearances. Would he be afforded the luxury of starting as many games with any of the teams mentioned?
It would be an enormous shame to see him move to either Chelsea or Man City from a neutral point of view, both being graveyards in the past decade for players who impress one season, and are never seen again. Liverpool could be an option, but they seem determined to keep hold of Suarez, and with a promising partnership already taking shape there with Daniel Sturridge, and new signing Iago Aspas also taking up a forward berth, it would be a big surprise if Brendan Rodgers were to come in for him.
The two North London clubs look like great options however with both rivals suffering similar issues with their respective strike forces – the need for a better version of Emmanuel Adebayor (of the past for Arsenal and of the pre-permanent contract signing near-present for Spurs), and Benteke certainly looks to be able to provide that.
Arsene Wenger sold Adebayor and has never adequately replaced him with another leggy, strong and technically sharp goalscorer. Though the initial loss of such an option was masked until recently by the presence of Robin van Persie, the lukewarm signing of Olivier Giroud would indicate that Wenger wants this sort of figurehead to lead his attack, and the rumours surrounding Gonzalo Higuin’s protracted move to the Emirates would certainly be a high glamour upgrade on the current solution. It’s fair to say that so far Giroud has struggled, with the former Montpellier man not quite able to fulfil the multi-faceted role to the comprehensive degree desired. For a start, he is not anywhere near as mobile as his Number 9 Arsenal forebears.
Spurs signed Adebayor after an impressive loan spell from Manchester City in 2011-12. Although the Togolese striker has been nowhere near as bad as many have made out, he doesn’t seem to be the missing link Tottenham have been searching for either. An over-reliance on Gareth Bale to make striker-esque interventions to save matches is partly a symptom of the dearth of other opportunities beyond Jermaine Defoe, and a lack of true target man means that Spurs, despite playing some of the best football in the Premier League in recent years, often come up short.
Judging by the noises being made in the press (Suarez to Arsenal, Villa to Spurs), both clubs seem willing to spend the money, but again neither have shown a history of rushing their summer spending and they may wish to bide their time to get the best price (or panic buy in the closing hours of the window) before committing. After all, £25 million does seem like an awful lot of money for a player who, despite the relative success he enjoyed last year, could yet turn out to be another one season wonder.
There is a lot to consider for all those supposedly in the mix in this story. Who will make the first move? And who will get value for money?