So Liverpool have signed Christian Benteke from Aston Villa for £32.5 million. He’s undoubtedly a great striker in the right team, but I worry that team isn’t Liverpool and it could be a gamble too far…
Three weeks ago, I wrote the following regarding Christian Benteke’s suitability as a signing for Liverpool. Don’t get me wrong, as a fan of 30 years, I’m naturally excited that Liverpool have spent £32.5m player who could turn out to be the answer. Yet when Liverpool have had players of a similar ilk, namely Carroll, Balotelli and Lambert it simply hasn’t worked out.
Before you slaughter me, I think Benteke is a better player than Carroll or Lambert could ever hope to be and also a finer player than Balotelli, talent notwithstanding, will ever turn out to be, I just think that spending basically the entire Sterling money – when you add up the fee, wages and signing on money – on a player who is not necessarily suited to Liverpool’s style could be tantamount to suicide.
That said, I hope that by Christmas i’m having this article shoved down my throat, that the big Belgian has reached double figures and terrorised defences, lighting up Anfield and bringing the best out of the little men behind him. I hope, more than anything he succeeds, but here are my worries…
Two summers ago, Liverpool’s erstwhile owner Tom Henry enquired as to which strain of weed the Arsenal board was smoking. Not only did his statement conjure up a surreal image of Wenger, Kroenke and Katzidis loosening their ties and blazing up in the boardroom, it also showed that a man who says very little and is seen even less was happy to play hardball. Unfortunately, it was also the last time he displayed the kind of mettle Liverpool fans desire from the man in charge.
Last Summer, Henry lent weight to the theory that he understands little about football by basically skinning up with the Suarez money and ultimately sanctioning an average bag of signings to add to the ones made the year before. We all know about the ‘profile’ Liverpool signings have to fit in terms of age and resale value, unfortunately just because they’re young doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get anything other than a pittance for a group of squad players who make Vladimir Smicer look like Maradona. Yes, Iago Apas, I’m looking at you, with your frightening mono-brow and face like a Donkey’s bunghole.
Before you tear into me, I obviously understand that he doesn’t decide signings personally. But let’s face it, if you own the club then you’d surely make sure that your biggest injection of self-generated cash was spent attempting to sign a player, or players, who allowed you to try and replicate the style of football that had very nearly won you the league. So, basically, not replacing a whirling dervish who opened up passing and dribbling lanes for everyone behind him and lifted the whole team’s performances by at least 30% with Mario Balotelli and Brickie Lambert. I’ve got no axe to grind with Balo, he seems basically a nice kid who has no idea how to act as an adult and has been deployed in a variety of systems that don’t play to his strengths. He’s also been sh*te, and I doubt we’ll ever know if him and Sturridge could’ve built on the promising performance in the Spurs game way back in August. Lambert I just feel sorry for.
All this, of course, is in the past, a past that also includes that 6-1 horror show away to Stoke. There is nothing that can be done about any of it except to ensure, above all else, that the mistakes aren’t repeated. This brings me to Christian Benteke. Now Brendan Rodgers has been given another season to show he is more than just a jockey who rode on the back of Suarez then Liverpool cannot, must not, spend £32.5 million on Benteke. And not only because the wages and signing on fee would send that figure sky-rocketing to somewhere near £50m, which is basically the entire transfer budget.
Benteke is undoubtedly a very good striker. He’s scored 49 times in 99 games for an Aston Villa side that have lingered around the bottom of the league for most of his time there. In that time he’s brutalised defences, wreaked havoc on Liverpool’s blancmange backline on at least three occasions, shown Skrtel up as the fake hardman he really is, and scored wonderful goals with his head, on the volley and when through on goal. In short, he’s a f*cking monster.
Yet he’s not the right monster for a Brendan Rodgers’ team. Despite the 10 game run playing 3-4-3 back when Sterling cared and teams hadn’t started to target Emre Can (the b*stards), Liverpool’s best football under Rodgers has been played when set up in a 4-3-3 that fluidly switches into a 4-4-2 diamond. It’s based on players rapidly interchanging positions and dragging defences out of position, players who can run in behind, come short, make out-to-in runs across defences, press like maniacs and all other sorts of dizzying sh*t that nearly ruined Arsenal and sent Everton wives running for their lives. It’s a system that, such was the ability of the front three or four to defend high up the pitch and also scare teams from pushing too many forward, lessened the burden or our prawn-cracker defence. It’s a system that needs players who are flexible and mobile.
For all of those reasons, Benteke simply isn’t the right man. All of the Villa teams he’s played in have basically been built around him. And whether that’s the Lambert style of hit him long and early and follow up, or Sherwood’s deployment of two 10s behind him, everything has been tailored to get the best out of him. At his best, he’s often been scintillating and Villa would’ve been relegated without him, yet we all saw how easy it was for Arsene Wenger to blunt his threat in the F.A Cup final and Liverpool simply cannot take a chance that he might be able to adapt sufficiently to be an interchangeable cog in a machine that has stuttered so badly this season.
There’s also the impact on other players. Jack Grealish is going to be some player, but it was sad to see him and Delph hit a stream of floated diagonal balls onto Benteke’s head from various points around the box on Sunday. Rodgers is never going to sanction a game based on crossing, and to have any hope of getting the best out of Lallana and Coutinho on a regular basis Liverpool need a fast, incisive striker who continuously changes the point of attack. Seeing Benteke terrorise defences in a red shirt would undoubtedly be a thrill, I just don’t think it’s a viable long-term option for a manager whose philosophy is based on the exact opposite of what is required. If he was going for £15 million he’d be worth a punt, but for Diego Costa money he’s simply too much of a risk.
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