I think most Crystal Palace fans would agree that Christian Benteke is having a poor season.
Some fans are keeping the faith with him, saying he is a great player, that he’ll start scoring soon. Other fans say he is lazy, slow and doesn’t appear to be interested or up for the fight.
Both sides can’t be right, can they?
Second season syndrome
Benteke did quite well in his first season at Selhurst Park, scoring 15 goals in 36 league appearances. But that didn’t stop him from coming under a lot of criticism in the first half of the season, particularly away at Swansea where he was responsible for 3 of their 5 goals through poor marking at set pieces.
This season he has managed to score 2 goals in 22 league appearances. When most strikers have a barren spell fans give them a break if they are doing the legwork, running the channels and seeming to fight for the cause. But this hasn’t been the case for Benteke who looks like he simply isn’t up for the fight.
Some people say it must be tactics. That Roy Hodgson has instructed Benteke to not chase down opposing defenders, which, if true, is a strange tactic to employ.
Other people, particularly in the media, say Benteke has already been given the nod that he is in the World Cup squad and doesn’t want to get himself injured. If true that is shocking unprofessionalism.
Is it all Benteke’s fault?
In a word, no. The problem is that he is playing for a team with a style that doesn’t suit him.
It is somewhat of an urban myth that you can put a good player into a poor team and his quality will shine through. It is also an urban myth that you can put a good player into any good team and he’ll fit right in. This isn’t the case.
How many times have we seen a good player get snapped up by a top team and for whatever reason things don’t work out? There are a lot of variables that need to be right for players to flourish in any team and unfortunately for Benteke, we just don’t play a style of football that suits him.
Benteke isn’t suddenly a bad player, he just looks like one because we don’t play a system that suits him.
What team would suit him?
We all know that Jurgen Klopp showed Benteke the door at Liverpool and there are a lot of similarities between their style of play and ours. We both play fast counter attacking football, albeit less successfully.
Benteke clearly doesn’t suit the Liverpool system and for that, you can rule him out of being a success at Manchester City too.Come on, be honest. Do you think Benteke would be a 20 goal a season striker at City? He’d slow they attack down to a crawl!
Compare the forwards that City have to Benteke, they just don’t have that style of striker, they don’t play that way! They have and need the type of striker that Andrew Johnson was, and this is coming from someone who wasn’t a fan of Johnson’s when he was at Palace!
I think Benteke would fit in at Chelsea or Arsenal, however, it is interesting to note that Arsenal sold their player who was in the Benteke mould in Giroud.
Speaking of Andrew Johnson, he is a good example. He did nothing at Birmingham before coming to Palace when boom! His career took off. After he left Palace he did little at Everton, Fulham and QPR. The point is, he found his place at Palace. We played the style that saw him flourish and after he left he never got anywhere near that again.
Right place, right style at the right time. It means a lot!
So not all top players can play for the top team?
No, not in my opinion.
Do you think Zlatan in his prime would fit into Manchester City’s system or Liverpool’s? Do you think Adebayor in his prime would be able to? Ian Wright wouldn’t either. As good as Wrighty was he wasn’t a complete forward, he used his instinct rather than being tactically aware.
Sometimes, some players just don’t fit in. It isn’t a case of a player being a top quality player, therefore, he will fit into a top team’s style of play.
Christian Benteke isn’t a bad player, despite what I write occasionally out of frustration, but he is made to look like one in our team.
So what can we do about it?
We only really have 3 options.
- Sell Benteke.
- Built a team around Benteke.
- Do nothing.
This isn’t the easy option that it may seem to be. At the moment teams don’t seem to want the style of striker that Benteke, Giroud and Llorente are. They are seen as an option off the bench, a last resort when ‘football’ isn’t working.
You bring a big man on and hoof it up to him. The trouble is, defenders today can handle that type of player and it isn’t as effective as it was in times gone by, especially if they are a lone striker.
Given that just 18 months ago we paid £27m for Benteke what chance is there that we could recoup that fee? None!
Last summer Llorente joined Spurs for about £12m. Yes, he isn’t as accomplished as Benteke, he is older than Benteke (33) but he scored as many goals as Benteke in 3 fewer appearances. He netted 15 goals in 33 league appearances for Swansea and he didn’t take their penalties.
More concerning is the transfer of Giroud from Arsenal to Chelsea for just £15m in January. Again, he’s older than Benteke (31) but he is seen as a more accomplished striker. He scored almost as many goals as Benteke but whereas Benteke has started all of his games, Giroud has mostly scored after coming off the bench. His goals per minute ratio spanks Benteke’s.
Both the aforementioned players are 1 inch taller than Benteke.
I think we’d do well to recoup £20m (probably including add-ons) if we tried to sell Benteke in the summer. Who’d buy him? Teams who want that type of player have one already and anyone else who might want a player of that calibre can’t afford him.
My guess is he’ll be sold in the summer. The best we can hope for is that he comes off the bench for Belgium at the World Cup and grabs a goal or two to boost his price.
Built a team to suit his style
When we bought Benteke in the summer of 2016 then manager Alan Pardew was about to implement a more expansive style of play. Benteke was to be the kingpin in that system. We all know how that ended, don’t we? It wasn’t Benteke’s fault, we just didn’t have the players to play possession football.
Along came Sam Allardyce to get us out of the shit with his back to basics football, the DNA of Palace through the years. We relied on soaking up the pressure and hitting the opposition on the counter-attack. It’s what we do, ever since I’ve been watching Palace.
Next up came Frank de Boer who said he was going to play a more expansive style of football. We know how that ended up too, don’t we?
I don’t blame de Boer for what happened, any sensible Palace fan knew it would fail. Why? Because we didn’t have the players to play a possession-based game. How any chairman of a football club thinks you can go from a counter-attacking team to a possession-based team without spending money on players is beyond me.
The biggest joke of the summer was being fed the line that we had players in the academy to come through this season.
Ironically, had Pardew and de Boer been given money and time then they probably would have got the team playing in a style that would have got the best out of Benteke. The problem was the board never supplied the funds to overhaul the team.
It was like trying to turn a car into a boat with gaffer tape and plastic bags. You’d get so far but ultimately you’ll sink.
I don’t know what team Steve Parish was watching during that period but even the fan with the most rose-tinted glasses could see it would not work. I said at the time de Boer needed 3 transfer windows to get the team he needed, sadly he didn’t even really get the one he had.
If we are to change the style of play to get the best out of our record signing then we’ll need to spend a lot of money. It would be cheaper to sell him at a significant loss than spend the amount of money needed to change the team.
Ultimately if a team doesn’t stump up the cash to match our asking price we’ll end up keeping Benteke and he’ll continue to lose value through his performances and lack of goals.
Even if he strikes it lucky and nets 15 goals next season it will be a poor return for a player who cost £27m.
I can’t believe Benteke himself would want to stay at our club. He could earn more elsewhere and he needs to be banging in the goals if he has any ambition to become the first choice striker for Belgium.
But, maybe that is another reason he seems to have given up. The Belgium manager was Lukaku’s manager at Everton and perhaps Benteke knows he won’t be able to wrestle his way into being the first choice for his country.
At this rate, he is probably 4th choice.
All in all, it’s not a good situation for either party. With big transfers comes big risk, as we’re seeing with Mamadou Sakho also.
We need to learn that top clubs don’t ostracise top players for no reason. Liverpool did that to both Benteke and Sakho yet we knew better and bought both for almost £60m.
We’ve been burnt and it probably means we won’t be shelling out big money again any time soon.