Wesley’s record in Belgium suggests improvement is needed at Aston Villa

Back in the summer of 2012, then Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert brought a young powerful striker to the English game from Belgium.

His name: Christian Benteke.

The former Genk striker was a relatively unknown prospect. At the age of 21, he was brought to the Premier League in order to ease the goal scoring burden on Darren Bent’s shoulders.

During the course of that season, Benteke found the net 19 times in 34 league fixtures. It was a fabulous return from the youngster who had originally spawned questions over Villa’s transfer business when he arrived.

Lambert was forced to defend himself and the policy Villa put in place, saying: “How do you know that they are not good enough? You won’t know until you give them that opportunity. I like to do that.”

And lo and behold, Benteke was given an opportunity and succeeded to devastating effect.

Flash forward to the year 2019 and the Villans have conducted similar business.

This time the manager is Dean Smith and the young powerful striker he’s bringing over from Belgium is Wesley.

The Brazilian forward raised eyebrows when the club announced his £22m arrival, a deal that broke their transfer record.

Once again, he’s a rather unknown prospect but as Lambert said all those years ago, you won’t know if someone’s good enough until you give them an opportunity.

Wesley’s rise to the top hasn’t been orthodox. A father of two children by the time he was 16, he was working in a factory on a wage of £150 a month until he was 18.

Just four years later, he’s now in the Premier League. It’s a meteoric rise for the 22-year-old but that isn’t to say he still doesn’t have work to do.

The forward is still incredibly raw and despite being a year older than Benteke when he arrived at Villa Park, has a worse record in Belgium.

£15m separates their respective transfer fees but that’s more indicative of the times rather than the quality they offer.

In 133 matches in Belgium, Villa’s former goal-scoring hero found the net 46 times in all competitions. Their new arrival, on the other hand, has 38 in three fewer outings. However, he is a year older.

But perhaps what is striking about the pair of them before they arrived in English football is the number of assists they earned.

Benteke supplied 26 goals over his time with Genk, Standard Liege, Mechelen and Kortrijk, producing fabulous performances with his back to goal.

Wesley is no slouch when it comes to finding his teammates either. Although his record is far worse than one of Villa’s previous imports from the Jupiler Pro League, he did supply ten goals in the 2018/19 season.

Yet, it’s on the European stage where Wesley has flourished more than Benteke, finding the net five times in Europe. That included two strikes against Monaco in the Champions League last season.

In that regard, he has pedigree on one of the biggest stages. However, domestically, the 6 ft 3 striker still has work to do in order to live up to Benteke.

The latter arrived without the pressure of a large price tag. It’s unknown whether Wesley will have that in the back of his mind after making the switch from Club Brugge, but should he fail to produce the goods, he may well have many questioning why the Villans paid so much for his signature.

Although he netted 17 times last term, only ten of those strikes came in the league. It’s not the greatest of records and if he is to be Smith’s leading striker next season, he will have to find the net more consistently.

The job in his hands now, though, isn’t to replace Benteke. He’s long gone. Instead, it’s about picking up the mantle from Tammy Abraham.

Another young forward, he enjoyed a terrific 2018/19, firing Villa to promotion courtesy of his 26 league goals.

The 21-year-old was simply outstanding and perhaps was rather unfortunate to miss out on the shortlist for the PFA Championship Player of the Year.

He’s recently spoken about his excitement of the prospect of grabbing his chance at Chelsea next season so on that evidence it feels unlikely he’ll return.

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And with that in mind, Wesley will likely harbour the burden of scoring the brunt of Villa’s goals.

This isn’t a man who’s had things handed to him on a plate. He’s had a unique journey to this position and he may well relish the chance to prove himself in the Premier League.

The stage is set but he will have to improve in order to become a hit in the top-flight. His record compared to Benteke’s is evidence of that.

But like Lambert in 2012, Smith likes to give players a chance and the Brazilian may have no better manager to help him thrive.

It’s now over to him to prove his fee.

Article title: Wesley’s record in Belgium suggests improvement is needed at Aston Villa

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