The earlier stages of this summer’s transfer window were beset with rumours about who would be purchasing the signing of last season Christian Benteke– who cost Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa just £7 million in 2012.
The Belgian went on to have a more than impressive season in his first Premier League campaign. Often foreign players, especially youthful ones need a season or two to fully realise their potential. Players from overseas can be forgiven for taking time to adapt to the English way of life- nothing takes more adaptation than tasting the delights of English cuisine or even worse adjusting to the grim reality of English weather.
Judging by his performances in 2012-13, Benteke was immune to all of these teething problems. He scored a delightful 23 goals for the Villans quickly establishing himself as an indispensable player. The statistic that really presses his indispensability home is the fact that he was involved in some way in over half of Villa’s goals last season. Aston Villa simply would not have survived if Benteke wasn’t signed or even if he got injured. A dangerous over reliance on one player many would conclude, but this fact epitomises the genius behind Paul Lambert’s project at Aston Villa.
Lambert knew that signing young, inexperienced players primarily home grown from a diverse range of clubs in the Football League would throw up problems in the short term. Even he might not have anticipated struggling quite as much as Villa did in his first season at the helm but Villa’s youngsters will become better players for experiencing the harsh reality of the Premier League- Benteke included.
Benteke’s paradoxical form to Villa’s as a whole made his request for a transfer at the end of last season somewhat of an inevitable occurrence in this modern football world where loyalty to a team and honouring contracts seem to be in precious little supply. However, the fact remained that Benteke had probably already naturally outgrown the team he had signed for just a year previous. Whilst Villa’s other youngsters had taken time to become natural fits in the Premier League, he had virtually fast tracked himself to the attention of Champions League clubs around Europe. And who could blame them? Benteke looks to have all the attributes needed of a striker that will play at the very top level of the game. Mediocrity is not an option for big Belgian.
Perhaps one of the shocks as well as one of the signings of the summer came when Benteke and Villa announced the DR Congo- born player had signed a new contract in the second city until 2017 in July. This revelation came after intense interest from both Tottenham and Champions League runners up Borussia Dortmund. Immediately the media were hailing the work of Paul Lambert and Randy Lerner in persuading Benteke to sign on the dotted line.
The alternative for Villa would have been nothing less than £25 million for their star player. Some may see this valuation as a bit much for a player than has just one year of Premier League experience behind him. The reality is losing Benteke would have spelt disaster for Villa. Lambert’s summer would have been spent desperately trying to recruit a striker of equal calibre to Benteke. The truth is there are not many of them about, let alone striker’s that would want to join a Premier League club who more or less lived to tell another tale in the Premier League by the skin of their teeth.
Keeping hold of Benteke has done two things. Not only has it allowed the man in question to continue to develop his potential at a club where he knows he will playing every week, it has also allowed his Scottish manager to focus funds on strengthening other areas of the team that were far from assured in their play last season. Keeping Benteke sends a psychological message of ambition from Villa not only to their fellow clubs, but additionally players that may see themselves in the same position as Benteke. Young, ambitious European and British players anxious to make that breakthrough into Premier League stardom will take heed of Benteke’s success at Villa Park and believe they can do replicate it.
Paul Lambert is a highly intelligent manager, he knows that Villa can become THE club the best young talent turn to in order to develop their game and surge one of England’s most historic clubs up the Premier League table. All of this can be done for relatively small amounts of money in the era of ridiculous transfer fees and wages in the English game. Lambert set his stall out as manager by making the signing of last season, and he has continued this by retaining Benteke in what should be regarded as the signing of this season too- not only because of the retention of a potential world beater, but because of the message it sends to other players and clubs in this country and abroad.