Christian Benteke was one of the surprise packages of the 2012/2013 Premier League season. Purchased by Aston Villa from Belgian side Genk, for just a £7million fee, the striker prized a starting spot at Villa Park away from the experienced Darren Bent, and went on to become the top flight’s fourth leading goal-scorer, only trumped by three players who were eventually nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award.
It’s all very impressive for the 22 year old, who could now be on his way to the Premier League’s summit after handing in a formal transfer request at Villa.
Make of Benteke’s careerist mentality what you will. Earlier in the season, the striker was alleged to have told reporters on two separate occasions that he planned to move to a bigger club whilst on international duty, preferably Arsenal due to his boyhood allegiance, and although the stories leaked into the British press, Paul Lambert and Randy Lerner insisted that the Belgium international’s words were lost in translation.
But now we are at a point where Benteke has made his intentions to leave Birmingham clear, which no doubt will hinder the Villa management’s leverage around the negotiating table. Perhaps it is rather cold and calculated, in taking advantage of a club that gave him a platform to impress in the best top flight in world football, but there is little doubt the 22 year old is destined for a higher calling.
We are yet to find out if Benteke’s wish to jump ship to one of the Premier League’s top clubs is reciprocated, but according to the bookies at least, Tottenham remain the standout favourites to meet Aston Villa’s £20million valuation of the forward for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the Lilywhites are keen to spend this summer, as a signal of intent and improvement more than anything else, and whilst £17million has been spent on capturing of Paulinho, the rest of the summer kitty will be dedicated to improving the strike force, with Emmanuel Adebayor effectively thrown on the scrapheap with a big ‘for sale’ sign around his neck as Daniel Levy tries to get the £100k-per-week waster off the wage bill, and question marks circling over the head of Jermain Defoe, mostly due to his age.
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Secondly, Benteke fits the price-bracket perfectly. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gonzalo Higuain may lay out of Tottenham’s reach due to their failure in attaining Champions League status at the end of last season, but the Villa forward, full of youth, ambition and potential, would have no quarms about a move to White Hart Lane, despite his adoration for the Gunners, whilst his reportedly desired £70k-per-week salary should be of little issue for Spurs.
The bookies and the tabloids believe Benteke ticks all the boxes, but does he still represent too much of a risk for Tottenham, as they hotly pursue their eternal target of breaking into the Premier League’s top four? The striker wants to see wheels in motion by Thursday, before he has to return for training with the Villains.
Just to reiterate, it really has been a stellar year for the 22 year old. He finished last campaign with 19 goals and four assists in 34 Premier League appearances, averaging 3.1 shots per game. It’s the kind of prowess in front of goal Spurs were in desperate need of last season, as Defoe’s form stuttered due to injury, and Emmanuel Adebayor put in a succession of absent performances. Furthermore, Benteke’s form grew as their survival campaign went on, and by the end of the season, his performances edged on talismanic, with a hat trick against Sunderland essentially sealing Villa’s fate of maintaining their top flight status.
But some Spurs fans remain coy over the prospect of signing the Belgian, on the grounds that he is simply the flavour of the month, last season’s vogue player, who still has a lot to prove before he is ready for a move to a European standard club. There is some weight behind the argument; for all his hot form, Benteke only has one year of Premier League football under his belt, and romping the sides at the foot of the English top flight, as the Villains have done this season, is a whole different ball game recording key results against the likes of Manchester United, City, Chelsea or Arsenal.
Similarly, although I do not wish to downplay Benteke’s goalscoring escapades this year, there is no doubt the presence of Andreas Weimann has played a crucial rule, highlighted best by their collective three goal haul against Liverpool in December. The 22 year old’s Austrian strike partner is very much the unsung hero behind Benteke’s rapid success, complimenting the 6 foot 3 forward well in his speed, pace, movement and creativity, with an on-pitch bond based on their contrasting abilities bringing the best out of both of them. It wouldn’t be the first time a Premier League partnership has lifted two players to the top of their game, only for them to falter as individuals upon their break-up.
At White Hart Lane, Benteke would be surrounded by greater quality, but there will be no Weimann-esque whipper-snapper to make space and confusion for the Belgian to exploit. Rather than being the main man, he will be expected to put in a good shift, and do some providing of his own for Gareth Bale. Both the Villa striker and the Lilywhites will have to modify the way they play, with Benteke required to bring others in the game, whilst Spurs would need to adopt a more direct approach to get the best use out of their new striker, by providing more crosses and aerial balls. However, Benteke has already proved his utility on the break this season, which very much fits into Andre Villas-Boas’ current game plan.
That being said, even if Benteke were to struggle with teething pains upon a move to North London, and as a result his impressive goal to game ratio diminished, I disagree that it would be £20million wasted. Whether or not he can get on the scoresheet for Spurs immediately, the Belgium international has already displayed in abundance the raw skills required to be a leading Premier League target man.
His 6 foot 3 frame makes him dominant in the air (averaging 7.9 aerial duels won per game last season) and powerful on the ground, whilst despite such a heavy-built frame, Benteke remains light on his feet, and is all round a fine athlete. It allows the Villa forward to score from a variety of chances, be it a one-on-one, a cross in open play, a dead ball situation or finishing off a move created through an intricate build up.
Furthermore, he possesses enough strength to marshal the front line on his own and hold up the ball, as he’s done for the most part of the season at Villa, amid their rotten form for the first six months of the campaign. It does not guarantee he will finish up next season around the twenty goal mark for Tottenham, but it does suggest its only a matter of time before Benteke is considered as one of the best lone strikers in the English top flight.
But is a long-term solution what the Lilywhites need ahead of next season, as they revamp and re-master the squad in a bid to break the Premier League’s glass ceiling between themselves and fourth spot? You’d suggest Daniel Levy should look to bring in a more tried and tested candidate, and there are some alternatives to the big Belgian out there this summer.
Loic Remy could prove a wise addition, with six goals in his first 14 Premier League appearances, a notable feat considering it was done at QPR amid a high pressure environment, and the Frenchman could be available for just £5million due to a relegation clause in his contract. But there are obvious concerns over recent rape allegations, whilst it is worth pointing out that the former Marseille man failed to score more than 15 goals domestically throughout his seven years in Ligue 1.
Another potential addition is Roberto Soldado, who has been linked with the Lilywhites constantly since his early twenties, and seems to epitomise the class-bracket Spurs find themselves in. The Spain international is a natural goalscorer, with a career record of 193 goals in 397 appearances and plenty of experience at the highest level to boot, but there are doubts as to whether his 5 foot 7 frame, possessing no particular strength, height or pace, can hack it in the robust and physical English top flight.
Others that have been linked include Alvaro Negredo and Leandro Damiao, but the Spaniard is reportedly the first name on Manuel Pellegrini’s summer wishlist at Manchester City, whilst Damiao remains continually reluctant to move to North London, and for all the intense interest on Andre Villas-Boas and Daniel Levy’s part, he is still an unknown quantity in England.
The fact is, every name linked with Tottenham represents a level of risk. Either their reputation and quality comes with question marks, their age suggests inexperience and inconsistency, or there are doubts as to whether they can transition their skills successfully to the nature of the Premier League, which suggests to me that the Spurs management should take a punt on Benteke.
He already comes with a season’s worth of experience in England, during which time he maintained an impressive goal tally, but more importantly a consistently high level of performance. It may not pay off next season, and may not immediately get the Lilywhites into a Champions League spot, but Benteke’s abundance of potential, in addition to his proven worth, outweighs the benefits of signing him in comparison to his striking counterparts also in Levy’s contention. A few years down the line, Benteke’s potential acquisition could become an incredibly smart piece of business.
The Lilywhites have already missed out on David Villa this summer, and with more European standard forwards jumping ship by the day, it makes sense for Daniel Levy to claim his new centre-forward for next season as early as possible. That being said, knowing the Tottenham chairman, he will let the Villains sweat a little first, and expect a discount on the £20million price-tag.
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