Hand on heart, who thought they had Benteke’s number before he’d kicked a ball for LFC (raises hand slowly). My fears and expectations were another high profile, overpriced, EPL proven failure. I let preconceptions and misconceptions cloud my judgement, not just about the suitability of the player, but his overall ability. Although it’s still early days, I’m delighted to admit I was very wrong.
This summer I’d been dreaming of a elite striker. An intuitive player blessed with pace, movement of both mind and body, with the composure required to make it count at the business end. Essentially a player capable of filling the long overdue Luis Suarez void and to excel both with and without Daniel Sturridge. Players like Alexandre Lacazette, Luciano Vietto, even Carlos Bacca came to mind. But not once however would I ever have thought of Benteke.
It was clear after last season’s striking failings, we needed a dramatic change. A perpetually injured Sturridge, a demotivated Balotelli, a completely unsuited Lambert and a simply not good enough Borini, mustered just 8 goals in the Premier League. You can argue the how’s and why’s until you’re blue in the face, but that statistic is damning and highlights one of the main issues of last season.
Ultimately goals win games and a drop from 101 to 52, was far too detrimental last year. It meant no matter the other failings in the team, we were always going to struggle to compete in matches, let alone win games. We couldn’t get ahead in games, or battle back when our backs were against the wall. Going into into this season we simply couldn’t have that same weakness, it was a serious failing of last summers window, but I’m of the genuine opinion that we’ve righted those wrongs.
When we were first linked to Benteke, I was far from impressed. My words uttered are not those that could be repeated before the watershed. I saw the inevitability of the transfer, much like with other expensive EPL signings the season before. I made judgements on past mistakes, without considering why this transfer, like all transfers are different and need to be judged individually. The fee so reminiscent of another striker signed in recent years; with on the surface a similar skill set, made me extremely nervous. I couldn’t grasp why we wanted a player so adverse to the style that made us such a dynamic, fluid attacking juggernaut in 13/14.
Three games in and I can see I was wrong. I’m honest and admit, I’d succumbed to the mounting pressure of others. I’d let myself get carried away with the negative influence and failed to see a talented player, with potential to adapt and integrate successfully into the side. I saw a mistake waiting to happen, I made a judgement before he’d kicked a ball, which is something I never do. I am happy to say I was wrong and surprised to say I love watching Benteke play.
I knew he was powerful and could hold up the ball; plus he could score goals with most coming from his aerial threat. But for the fee paid, I had thought that wasn’t going to be nearly enough. I was concerned he’d be unsuited to our style and disconnected with the key players in our side, particularly Philipe Coutinho. We’re only 3 games in, but he looks at home and his connection with his team mates is growing naturally and far more quickly than I’d expected, particularly with our star man. He’s a very intelligent player, with incisive movement and a far greater level of natural ability than I ever gave him credit.
His raw power whilst a major attribute, would be nothing without the players desire to utilise his physical strength. He loves a battle and for too long we’ve been a team who shy away from a physical contest. Opposition centre backs now know they’re in for a game and we’ve needed that presence for many years. It also gives the team the opportunity to go long, which I don’t want as a first option, but some variety in our game is vital. His touch is excellent and he has the ability to bring others into play, which is a very effective tool for this team.
What impresses me most is the confidence in Benteke’s game. He’s never afraid of driving at an opponent and gambling at a near or far post, eager to make that telling impact. Whilst he may not have blistering pace, he’s quick enough and will trouble many a defender this season. He also isn’t fazed by being a Liverpool player, he wears the shirt with his head held high and looks a natural fit in the side. In recent years many strikers have come and gone, with some not rising to the demands of the supporters and club. But Christian believes in his own ability, he knows his strengths and seems desperate to develop and evolve his game. Of course he’ll be judged on goals, for the fee paid he needs to guarantee a significant return. But I honestly have every faith he’ll deliver. It’s a facet of his game that’s always been consistent and his record is fantastic.
The thought of him, alongside Sturridge and Firmino with the magician Coutinho providing the ammunition, is a mouthwatering prospect. I respect the season has just started, but I see no reason why not to be positive. I’m happy to say my judgements were wrong. I misjudged not only Benteke, but the man who was so desperate to bring him to the club, Brendan Rodgers. Clearly a risk at £32.5 million, but one that I can already see was worth making. Time will tell whether he’ll repay that fee, but at just 24 time is certainly on his side. With the level of ability he has and the confidence in his game, he’s got every opportunity to succeed and I for one am happy to keep on eating my words whilst he does.
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