This time last week, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy was mulling over the opportunity to sign Aston Villa star Christian Benteke. The forward handed in a formal transfer request earlier in the summer, but put a self-imposed time limit on his availability, informing potential suitors that he wanted a decision before he had to return to training in Birmingham on July the 18th.
The bookies, the tabloids and the majority of football’s talking heads unanimously agreed that if anyone were to sign the big Belgian, it would be Spurs. The North Londoners have been desperate to land a new striker all summer, and come with enough finance available to cough up an alleged £25million transfer fee, along with Benteke’s £70k-per-week wage demands.
But last Thursday came and went, with no formal verdict announced tacitly declaring Levy’s nay-say conclusion, as Benteke agreed a new deal at Villa Park that has not only put him on an incredibly competitive £2.5million-per-yea salary package, but also rather shrewdly did not include a release clause.
With the 22 year old now tied down to a four year deal on a mega-salary, without a contractually binding exit strategy in the form of a release fee, will Daniel Levy live to regret the day he politely snubbed Christian Benteke?
It’s quite clear that the Spurs chief’s decision to abstain was based on Benteke’s age, inexperience and inflated fee. Daniel Levy is known for his negotiating skills, and would most likely have been able to shave a few million off the Villa forward’s price tag, but even so, in comparison to other deals that have already gone ahead this summer, the potential £25million move would hardly be judged as cost-effective by the Tottenham faithful, or Levy’s peers.
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Manchester City have signed two proven Champions League strikers in Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic for similar fees, Chelsea have acquired an established German international in Andre Schurrle for £3million less, whilst, earlier in the summer, the Gunners were on the verge of signing Gonzalo Higuain, a La Liga winner, European standard goalscorer and Argentina’s first choice centre-forward, for an equal price to Benteke’s, whilst Tottenham themselves have had a £26million deal for Valencia’s Roberto Soldado in the pipeline for some time.
Similarly, although Benteke rocked the Premier League last season, rising from relative obscurity with Belgian side Genk to net 19 domestic goals for a club dwindling at the bottom of the table, there is no guarantee that the 22 year old would be able to maintain his hot form at White Hart Lane. A single year’s worth of Premier League experience is not enough to assure consistency, and the Lilywhites would look rather blue in the face if they ended up with a £25million one-season-wonder on their hands.
Instead, Daniel Levy has opted to further pursue Spain international Roberto Soldado. The striker has been linked with a move to the Premier League from January onwards, and the possibility of him turning up in England this summer was further enhanced by a 30 goal haul for all competitions last term. The 28 year old has done the rounds in La Liga, totalling 193 career goals in 397 competitive appearances, with spells at Real Madrid B, Osasuna, Getafe and current club Valencia all producing a steady goal-to-game ratio. The only blemishes on Soldado’s career have been his two tenures in the Real Madrid first team, but he’ll hardly be the first or last youngster who failed to prove himself at the Bernabeu.
Compared to Benteke, Soldado is tried and tested, established and dependable, and capable of having a more immediate effect in West London. Daniel Levy is desperate to surround Gareth Bale with as much quality on the pitch as possible ahead of next season, as he attempts to break the glass ceiling between the Lilywhites and Champions League qualification, and subsequently tries to maintain the Welsh wonder’s status as a Spurs player for as long as possible. By the time Benteke finds his feet at White Hart Lane, Bale could be long gone, and so could Tottenham’s chances of a top four finish in the Premier League.
But I still have my doubts over the Soldado, who quite frankly looked out of place in a talented Spain squad at the Confederations Cup. My issue is whether the 28 year old can handle the physical nature of the English top flight, measuring in at just 5 foot 8 and presenting no particular pace or strength that would stand out in the Premier League. His technique on the ball is undeniable, and he has a rightful claim to being one of the most clinical finishers in Europe, but the Spanish league is favourable to players of a technical nature, and it will take a lot of adapting on Soldado’s part to modify his game suitably enough to maintain his standard of around 20 goals domestically per season upon switching to the Premiership.
At the same time, he won’t find too many tica-taca allies at White Hart Lane. Tottenham’s midfield, the likes of Sandro, Moussa Dembele and Paulinho is more an engine room rather than a creative hub, whilst Andre Villas-Boas’s current game plan is centred on fast-paced counter-attacks, rather than a technical passing philosophy. I have my doubts as to how well Soldado fits in to such a physically intense style of play.
Benteke on the other hand is very much an ideal fit for the Lilywhites’ current on-pitch ethos, who has already proved his capabilities and potentian within the reals of the English top flight. The Villa forward spent the vast majority of the season manning the line on his own, as would be expected of him at White Hart Lane, proving he could be as powerful and direct on the ground as he is dominant in the air. The 6 foot 3 striker averaged a whopping 7.9 aerial duels per game last season, whilst he also showed good technique and great composure to regularly find the goal with his feet, as well as his head. Benteke mustered up a strong understanding with Andreas Weimann last term, showing movement, anticipation and passing ability, represented best by their collective four-goal romping of Liverpool, with the Belgian providing a back-heel assist for his Austrian strike-partner’s successful effort on goal.
Similarly, where Levy clearly sees risk, I see potential. As previously stated, there is no guarantee the 22 year old will be able to maintain such a high volume of end product next season in comparison to his 19 goal tally last term, especially if his role is transformed from being the main man to a sideshow for Gareth Bale. But even so, there is little doubt Benteke has the potential to be one of the Premier League’s most talented target men a few years down the line. The raw skills are already there, with height, pace, power, movement and technique on the ball in abundance, and it’s more a case of when, not if, the Belgium international will raise his game to a higher level.
For next season and next season alone, Roberto Soldado remains the wise choice. He’s an established Spain international, with a proven record domestically and in Europe, and at the age of 28, can bring immediate improvement to the first team at White Hart Lane. It will keep Gareth Bale interested, for now at least, and despite my negativity surrounding the Valencia forward’s technique, it’s safe to assume he can improve upon Jermain Defoe’s and Emmanuel Adebayor’s goal tallies last term, finishing up with 11 goals and 5 goals respectively.
But looking to the future, Benteke has a lot more to offer Spurs in comparison to his Spanish counterpart. The Belgian striker has six years on Soldado, whilst he has already proved from his single campaign in England that he has enough raw potential in the right areas of his game to have an effect at the highest level. Perhaps his effect in terms of goals would not have been immediate, but there aren’t too many Premier League strikers, past or present, that have proved their capable of recording 19 goals in a season at such a young age.
It’s understandable that Levy feels the 22 year old is yet to provide enough evidence of his abilities, and it would be a huge risk basing a transfer decision on a single season alone, but I fear he will rue the day he turned down Christian Benteke in a few years time. The Villa forward can only improve, with so far no limits to his potential, whilst Soldado has already reached his maximum at the age of 28, and despite the £26million price-tag, will always be a means to an end at White Hart Lane.
Will Daniel Levy regret not going in for Christian Benteke?
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