After three years, 101 appearances, 49 goals and 13 assists, Christian Benteke’s time at Aston Villa has come to an end.
August 31st 2012, the final day of the summer transfer window, and Paul Lambert’s first at the club. Just as the deadline neared, it was announced that Villa had signed a 21-year-old Belgian striker named Christian Benteke. The fee was believed to be in the region of £7m, quite pricey for a relatively unknown striker, especially considering Villa had seen a reduction in investment over the summer.
Any questions raised over the transfer were quickly silenced however, when Benteke scored on his debut against Swansea. It was a goal of real class, in which the newly signed forward lifted the ball over Michel Vorm, before calmly placing the ball into the net.
Benteke ended that season with 19 Premier League goals, the highest any Aston Villa player had managed, breaking the previous record of 18, held by Dwight Yorke, and 23 goals in all competitions, becoming the first player player at the club to exceed 20 since Juan Pablo Ángel in the 2003-04 season. It’s without question that he saved us from relegation.
The following two campaigns weren’t as smooth for the player. There were injuries and there were dips in form. At the start of last season, Benteke managed just two league goals in 16 games. His confidence was low, as was the amount of creativity in Paul Lambert’s side.
However, the hiring of Tim Sherwood in February made a world of difference. The Belgian striker scored an incredible 12 times in this three-month period, including a monumental goal against Liverpool, to take the club to their first FA Cup final in 15 long years.
Sherwood built the side around Benteke, and changed the way Villa played. The inclusion of Leandro Bacuna at right-back, a player who’d seem better suited further up the pitch, highlighted this. The team pursued an attacking philosophy, one that would see Benteke receive the ball as often as possible, and it worked.
When it was announced a couple of months ago that there was a £32.5m release clause in the player’s contract, one which was signed in the summer of 2013, it was inevitable that there would be interest. Chelsea and Manchester United had been linked, but it is Liverpool where Benteke has found his new home.
Sure, I’m biased, but I do question whether or not it would have been better for him to have waited until after the upcoming European Championships before making a move. Change is hard, and a drop in form before this summer’s tournament could be disastrous. In turn, another solid season at Villa, and a continuation of this at the Euros could have seen Benteke garner interest from some of Europe’s elite, teams that have real aspirations of winning not only league titles, but also the Champion’s League.
Christian Benteke’s respectful departure is a far cry from the summer 2013 transfer request fiasco, and a complete contrast to that of Fabian Delph’s. In my eyes, he left Villa Park as a hero, and whenever he returns to our ground, he’ll be greeted as one.