Quite a few people have been asking me about Christian Benteke. This is in no small part due to the fact that Racing Genk have rejected an initial bid from Aston Villa believed to be around €6m upfront, with a further €1m in add-ons for the striker. Villa have gone back in with a bid of €7m upfront but it appears that this is not enough to make Genk play ball with the Premier League outfit ready to walk away. It began a few days ago with Benteke revealing that his agent had held talks with the club. However, the player himself at that point was striking an altogether more conciliatory tone. He admitted that he would like a move to the Premier League – and to a side who were not among the very best, in order to develop and grow – but that if no club reached an agreement with Genk, he would stay in Limburg.
Things began to get ugly once Aston Villa entered the race for Benteke, undoubtedly as a response to two insipid displays at the start of the Premier League season, which have seen their relegation odds slashed. The 1982 European Cup winners lodged a bid of around £5.5m for the Belgian international, which was rejected by Genk. Champions three times in the last thirteen years, Racing have no financial need to sell as they pocketed sizeable fees from Chelsea from the sales of Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois, not to mention Marvin Ogunjimi’s move to Mallorca.
Update 31/08 2215 BST: Aston Villa have signed Racing Genk striker Christian Benteke for a fee believed to be around £7m, which still represents a good financial package for the Belgian club.
Following that decision, rumours began to spread that Benteke had decided to go on strike. The official explanation was that he had picked up a viral infection (at a very convenient time it must be said!) and so had missed two consecutive days of training. Racing Genk confirmed earlier today that Benteke had not been included in the squad for Thursday’s must-win Europa League play-off second leg v Luzern (who won the first leg 2-1 against a terrible Genk). Genk coach Mario Been had the following to say at the pre-match press conference:
“I regret the situation. I was also a player myself and I had many dreams. I wanted to play in Italy and I also did it. First of all though what counts is one thing – the team. If a player wants to go about things in such a manner, then that is entirely up to Christian.
“I find it a real shame because Benteke can be unbelievably important for this team but I cannot change the situation and I work with the players who have trained. Christian is a very important player for us. Everyone knows that it is his dream to play in England. Whenever two clubs do not reach an agreement, then that player remains under contract with Genk. He doesn’t feel good (enough) in order to play and therefore was not at training for the last two days. I find it important to give confidence to those players who want to play. With players who do not, I’ve not much time for.”
Clearly, Benteke is a striker of some ability. He earned his spot in the Belgium starting line-up for the recent friendly against the Netherlands and justified his selection with a well-taken goal. Unfortunately for him, he was to be overshadowed by Romelu Lukaku, who has begun the season like a man possessed. Nevertheless, Benteke should already have started against England and before this whole transfer saga had begun to kick off, he was enjoying a good start to the campaign. His first three touches included a superb ball with the outside of his right foot to the left flank and a ball over the top to put Jelle Vossen clean through.
He already has three league goals to his name this term in five matches though in truth it should be more. And here we hit upon a weakness in his game, which could blight any potential career in England. Take the game against Zulte Waregem last weekend. Genk huffed and puffed but played no better than against Luzern. They eventually broke through but even with the cushion of a lead, Benteke squandered chance after chance after chance. To the casual observer, it may seem that it was just not his day but the lack of a killer instinct has plagued him throughout his career.
He joined Genk last year for €1.2m from Standard Liège and his departure was popular at the time much to my bemusement. When speaking to many fans they were all glad to see the back of him and felt that he just did not have the tools in his armoury to cut it even at the top level in Belgium. As a neutral, I pointed out that he has the attributes to score goals but it was a lone voice in the wilderness. Throughout his career at Standard, Kortrijk, Mechelen and Genk, he has been booed by sections of supporters who felt he was not up to the mark and who (perhaps with some justification given this latest incident) felt he had a somewhat childish and petulant attitude.
Even in his second spell with Genk he has been jeered and the player himself has come to accept that as a fact of life. It may not be the main reason pushing him towards a move but it may be a contributory factor at least. Mario Been stuck by Benteke despite the negative reactions echoing from the stands and despite Benteke being charged for carjacking, stubbornly refusing to cave in, so steadfast was his belief that Benteke would become a prolific goalscorer and thereby an integral part of his side in the post-Vercauteren/Courtois era.
Benteke has been blessed with a good build and he puts his strength and power to good use, being a powerful player in the air. Although he plays as a main striker ahead of Jelle Vossen, he has also shown himself to be adept at creating for his strike partner and as I previously reiterated, is able to find the back of the net without being clinical. Of course, it should be borne in mind that he is still just 21. He may be further along in his development than Romelu Lukaku (though he has less potential down the line) but he still has a lot to learn. And I say that as someone who has consistently backed him when many did not.
I believe that it would be best for Benteke to stay another season in Belgium in order to develop and begin to smooth out his rough edges. Aston Villa are a side who have been in decline since the departure of Martin O’Neill and while Paul Lambert worked minor miracles with Norwich, the atmosphere around Villa Park resembles anything but optimism. Villa already have their fill of young, inexperienced and ultimately unproven players. They need leaders in the dressing room and on the field. Benteke would not be going in to an environment conducive to blooding someone of his talent and potential. Fulham are also believed to be lining up a bid (though they have also been linked to Bafetimbi Gomis), however my view remains the same. Mario Been has done a lot for his career and he would be wise not to burn his bridges with the likeable ex-Feyenoord boss. It may already be too late for that but many an act in haste was soon to be regretted.