Whatever happened to Christian Benteke?
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There was a time when no defender wanted to face Christian Benteke. His career has been on a downward spiral over the last few years, however. The Belgian has gone from being amongst the most sought after strikers in the Premier League to being something of a forgotten man at Crystal Palace. Whatever happened to the talismanic, physical striker who once tore up England's top flight?
Football is a funny old game, isn’t it? One moment you are on top of the world, the next you could be at an extreme low. Benteke could probably relate. The big Belgian used to be the darling of Villa Park, now his name barely brings a shrug around Selhurst Park.
If you had told Benteke just over three years ago that his stock would fall dramatically over the next couple of years, he’d probably have either laughed you to scorn or asked you to see a psychiatrist. After all, he was in the form of his life, easily being Aston Villa’s best player during his time at the club, and had just completed a £32.5m transfer to Liverpool; becoming their second-most expensive signing ever (at the time). Paul Lambert, the man who brought him to Birmingham, felt Benteke would go on to have a very successful career at Anfield.
“He is a brilliant number nine. He won’t need just crosses to come into the box. If he gets service, he’ll get goals,” Lambert told BBC Sport, in 2015.
“That’s the type of guy he is and on his day he’s a handful. I’m delighted for him. He’s earned that move and if he can do what I think he can do, he’ll do great for them.”
Benteke didn’t do great for Liverpool. But, to be fair, he was never really given an honest crack. He wasn’t a Jurgen Klopp striker and the German didn’t trust him much. Klopp didn’t hide it a bit either, often deriding Benteke in public – something he hardly ever does to his own players. Perhaps, if Brendan Rodgers had remained Liverpool manager things would have panned out differently…
The Belgium international made just 14 league starts all season, scoring nine goals. Benteke would probably not have expected to feature as regularly as he did at Villa, but I doubt if playing second fiddle was in his plans, either. Liverpool finished a miserable eighth that year. Benteke was made the scapegoat; a £32.5m flop.
After a year at Liverpool, Benteke had seen enough to want an exit. The Belgian joined Crystal Palace on a four-year deal. The Eagles would likely suit his style of play and with the likes of Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend out wide, he could count on decent service.
The stage really was set for Benteke to be Palace’s main man up front, and he had a chance to reinvigorate a career that had taken a hit in the last 12 months. He took his chance with both hands. Benteke went on to score 17 goals in his first season at Selhurst Park. He looked more like the power forward with supreme goal scoring ability we saw at Villa.
After a brilliant debut season with the Eagles, you’d forgive Palace fans for thinking Benteke was going to kick on now and become a real weapon in their arsenal. Not quite.
Benteke's second season saw him deliver his worst ever returns in terms of goals in the Premier League, finding the net just thrice in 31 appearances. His lack of strikes wasn’t the only worry as he often contributed precious little in other areas on the pitch and was becoming more of a burden up top. It saw him fail to make it to the World Cup in Russia, too. Again, things weren’t going so well, and there were whispers in the summer that he could be leaving.
Well, Benteke started the season pretty much as he finished the last with several unconvincing displays, before being sidelined with a knee injury in September that would see him out till the New Year. To be honest, Palace hasn’t missed him much. Goals have been coming with Townsend and Zaha leading the line, and even if Benteke was to make a return this month, you get the feeling he won’t be thrust straight in.
It has been a topsy-turvy last few years for Benteke, sure. But at 28 years of age, you’d be out of your mind to think he is done. He might have been below par, but if he can work on his way back into Roy Hodgson's side and start banging them in once more, then he could well get his career flying again.