Christian Benteke was worth upwards of £25m should another club come calling for him in the summer, but these kinds of absurdly inflated prices serve no purpose than other to frustrate fans and make them sigh at their manager’s myopic nature and it’s an irritating diversion tactic that has to stop, for the sake of all our sanity.
The Midlands outfit has finally climbed out of the bottom three in the Premier League, where they sit nervously in 17th, three points above Wigan having played two games more. Their top flight fate still hangs in the balance, but that hasn’t stopped Lambert making preposterous claims about the value of Belgium international Benteke in an attempt to warn off any potential suitors.
Lambert told reporters on Thursday in the build-up to the club’s crucial clash against Fulham at home: “He is hot property. If you wanted to prise Christian away from here you would want a sizeable cheque, that is for sure. He has the potential to be fantastic. If you look at modern day figures then £25m is probably a good start.”
A good start? Who is he trying to kid? A 21-year-old striker with one season of top level experience in one of Europe’s five biggest leagues is suddenly worth £25m? It’s a bizarre strain of bravado, but I’m not even entirely sure who it’s aimed at; is it for the Villa fans? The ‘well the manager’s got our back over this matter’ viewpoint? Because any club currently operating at the top level will be acutely aware of the club’s finances and what sort of offer they’ll be tempted to accept. Undisclosed transfer fees are fed to the public, but when it comes to budgets, there are no secrets in the modern game.
That is not to say that Benteke isn’t worth a significant hike on the £7m they paid to Genk in the summer for his services. After 15 league goals in 30 games in his first season in England, with the potential he’s shown at international level with four goals in 2013 for Belgium, he’s certainly a talented player capable of stepping up a level or two. Nevertheless, with Villa in such a perilous position, Lambert’s stance is fooling nobody. It’s just amateurish mind-games gone horribly wrong and there’s a question mark over whether he’s even the best young Belgian forward in the Premier League, with on-loan Chelsea man Romelu Lukaku looking the more complete player at West Brom this season.
Next up on the inflation wall of shame is quite possibly the most misplaced example of nepotism committed to the public sphere since Francis Ford Coppola cast his daughter Sofia in The Godfather Part 3, with Blackpool manager Paul Ince going off at the deep end about what his son Tom is worth.
“If you’re talking £15m for Zaha, Thomas has got to be £25m. If you compare the two, Thomas should cost more. Zaha is a fantastic player, don’t get me wrong. Zaha’s a stronger runner and does a lot of tricks, whereas Thomas is more direct, he makes things happen and he scores goals. You’ve got a kid playing in the Championship who has scored 18 goals. When you look at the leading scorers, they’re all strikers, and he’s there amongst them.
“Potentially, I think he can reach that value. If Palace want £15m for Zaha who has scored six goals, it makes you wonder what price he’s going to be. You’re not going to get it because he’s not proven in the Premier League, but if United are paying £15m for Zaha, on the stats you’d have to say Thomas is worth a lot more than that. That’s my opinion.”
That my be his opinion, but Ince has shown himself to be little more than a cliche-happy ‘football man’ during his time in management, which translates to roughly ‘has no real knowledge of how the world actually works’. Given that his son’s contract expires at the end of the season and Blackpool are unlikely to figure in the play-off mix, as they sit just four points above the drop zone in an extraordinarily congested table, once again he is in no real position to set the agenda or any sort of terms, let alone ones as bonkers as that.
The 21-year-old has done extremely well in the Championship this season, hitting 18 goals in 39 appearances in the league, but he lacks top level experience and it’s very telling that Liverpool weren’t willing to go above the £6m mark for him in January, despite retaining a 30% sell-on clause which would essentially see them pay around £4m, given the state of his current contract.
What is clear, though, is that a player’s valuation isn’t judged by similar players around them playing for different clubs – so what if Ince has scored more goals than Zaha? They’re different players with different strengths. Boiling it down to a simple statistical debate, bereft of any sort of context, is not only misleading, it’s downright moronic. Zaha cost Manchester United £15m because he had a long-term deal still in place at Crystal Palace and they could still feasibly be promoted to the top flight next season, and ignoring those sorts of determining factors is just a brain-dead comment of the highest proportions. The silly season is well and truly upon us.
Managers will obviously always seek to use the media to ramp up a player’s price, particularly when the team they are in control of is struggling while the footballer in question is performing well. It’s a natural technique that’s been used for years, but the sheer cheek of both Lambert and Ince is just baffling. They’ve gone too far the other way and in trying to promote a position of strength, they’ve only succeeded in showing how weak their hand really is.