Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke has been nothing short of a revelation at the club this season after moving to England from Belgian outfit Genk in the summer, providing a rare ray of light amid a torrid campaign for the struggling Midlands side, but having been linked with both Arsenal and Tottenham in recent times, is he good enough to secure a move to a club with top four ambitions? And how far can he realistically go in the game?
Paul Lambert’s side currently sit in 17th place in the Premier League table, just a solitary point ahead of Reading in the drop zone, looking nervously over their shoulders at both Wigan and QPR. As far as their top flight future is concerned, these are desperate times and the youthful revolution that the former Norwich boss has devised is not only a risky approach to take, it is seemingly completely self-inflicted.
Nevertheless, despite not all of Lambert’s summer signings working out so far or showing their worth on a consistent enough basis which has subsequently seen them dragged well into a relegation dogfight, the form of Benteke this season has been exceptional and with 11 goals in the league and 15 across all competitions in 28 appearances, it is understandable that he is attracting attention from the top flight’s larger clubs. Given that the side have scored just 25 times in the league in total this season, with only QPR boasting a poorer record, he is absolutely invaluable at the moment and key to their chances of staying up.
His striking team-mate Gabriel Agbonlahor was effusive in his praise of the Belgium international, telling reporters: “Christian is one of the players of the season for me so far. He’s going to get linked with the top clubs, especially because of his age. He’s young. He’s gifted in what he can do so he’s going to be linked with a lot of clubs.
“I think he’s good enough for even higher than them (Arsenal and Tottenham). He’s showed that by the way he plays with his composure for a big guy and he has quite a bit of pace as well. There are many aspects of his game that are at the top level.
“He’s still learning his trade here and enjoying his football so hopefully he stays here. We will have to wait until the end of the season to see what the club decides. It’s not for anyone else to decide, it’s going to be down to the club and what their plans are for him.”
If Villa get relegated, despite Lambert insisting that the £8m the club paid for his services in the summer has already doubled, they will struggle to hold onto him, let alone dictate terms with owner Randy Lerner really reigning in the club’s operating budget in recent seasons, but is he really capable of making the step up?
You only have to look at his performances against the bigger clubs this season to gain a true appreciation of his outstanding ability – he’s scored against Swansea (twice), West Brom, Newcastle and West Ham, which isn’t bad for a player enjoying his debut season in a new country and having to adapt to a different style of play and culture, but it was his doubles against both Liverpool and Everton this campaign that really affords a clearer picture, as he completely bullied both back fours with his strength and sharp movement.
It would be tempting due to his size just to write him off as a one-dimensional target man, but there’s more to Benteke’s game than that, and there’s a reason he’s been selected ahead of Darren Bent, a proven top flight finisher by any estimation, all season long. He brings others into play well, both on the floor and off his head and chest and his pace means he can play both with his back to goal or latching on to a through ball. He’s a very modern player in that he looks something approaching the complete package.
Given that Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud has only sporadically shown his talent and Emmanuel Adebayor has struggled all term at Tottenham, it would come as no surprise that the 22-year-old is interesting both clubs. Theo Walcott has impressed in a central striking role, but still looks just as effective out wide on the flank, while both Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner will surely be moved on permanently in the summer, and Benteke would represent a step up on what they currently have to offer.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side appear to be getting on fairly well without the striking reinforcements they were crying out for in January so far, but with Jermain Defoe showing himself up to be little more than a decent squad player again this season, despite the positive impact made by Lewis Holtby so far, a new forward will be right at the top of the agenda in the summer, perhaps even two. They have a very fluid attacking system which at times looks like it is lacking a real focal point and Benteke’s ability at bringing others into play would suit their 4-2-3-1 system very well.
With regards to Agbonlahor’s claim that Benteke can go even further than the north London duo, it’s still fairly early days in the grand scheme of what looks a promising career. He will need to repeat his antics this term again next season and remain consistent over a much longer period to even contemplate going beyond the interested parties. He looks a genuinely exciting striking talent capable of having an impact at a bigger club, but the lack of technical subtlety and tactical versatility inherent in his natural game will need to improve over time for him to stand a chance.
Nevertheless, before we aim to put the cart before the horse, we should celebrate the player before us today as one of real promise before casting aspersions on his ability to fulfil his potential in the future. Should either Messrs Wenger or Villas-Boas move for him at the end of the season, Benteke would represent a sound, long-term purchase.