The summer of 2015 was an eventful one for Liverpool as Brendan Rodgers seeked to strengthen his squad following the departures of Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling. He responded by bringing in nine players, the pick of which appeared to be Aston Villa’s mercurial centre-forward Christian Benteke. Having spent three seasons in the West Midlands and scored 42 goals, Benteke was instrumental in keeping Villa in the top flight and was considered indispensable by the club’s supporters.
His ability and consistency in the Premier League drew interest from a host of clubs and following a highly speculative period in the summer transfer window, a £32.5 million fee was agreed by Liverpool and Villa for the sale of the striker. Benteke was the Anfield club’s second most expensive signing till date, only overshadowed by current West Ham United forward Andy Carroll.
In all fairness, the supporters’ reaction to this development was mixed. While some were pleased with the acquisition, given his Premier League pedigree, others were unimpressed by Rodgers’ decision to spend an enormous amount of money on a player who seldom struck fear into the hearts of defences. He introduced himself to the Anfield faithful with a goal against Bournemouth in Liverpool’s second league game of the season and scored an absolute belter against Manchester United at Old Trafford in a dismal 3-1 defeat. Rodgers knew Benteke’s strengths lay in his aerial abilities and tried to structure his attacking gauntlet accordingly. Despite his best efforts and a few flashes of brilliance from the Belgian, though, Benteke was never fully integrated into the starting eleven and found opportunities hard to come by, albeit at an early stage of the season.
His situation worsened drastically post the arrival of Jürgen Klopp for the beleaguered Rodgers. The former Borussia Dortmund coach propagated a pattern of football that bore it’s advantages in a superior work ethic, quicker movement off the ball and swift interchanges upfront. His reliance on lofted passes and lobbed balls was minimal to the extreme and that immediately worked against Benteke.
It did not take Klopp long to tweak his side according to his philosophy. Up went Phillipe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana and off came Benteke. The German was convinced the striker did not meet the requirements imperative to earning a place in his side, not because he was not fit or incapable, though. The striker’s profile and the brand of football on display just did not match and that ultimately proved detrimental for the Belgian.
Add this to the fact that Divock Origi found his feet in England with a couple of praiseworthy performances and Benteke was soon alienated from the very identity Jürgen Klopp had established at Liverpool. His goals against Chelsea at Anfield and Stamford Bridge were rendered fortuitous and crunch ties against Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal were a testament to the idealogies that made the Merseyside club such a joy to watch in the first place. Benteke did not play a role in either result and his exclusion looked premeditated by the manager.
Sunday afternoon’s 4-3 win against Arsenal at the Emirates provided a glimpse of things to come for Liverpool as the likes of Coutinho, Firmino and new signings Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane looked comfortable in their respective positions. With competition for places upfront heating up following the return of English duo, Danny Ings and Daniel Sturridge, Klopp appears to have identified and created a formidable team for the new season and looks set to disappoint a few players. Benteke is undoubtedly the first name on that list.
So far the club have rejected a £23 million bid for the player by Crystal Palace, amidst reported interest by West Bromwich Albion as well. Their aim is to recover the full amount invested in the striker and that may push Palace to raise their second bid to a margin close to £30 million. That may not be a major issue for the South Londoners though as they have earned a staggering fee from the sale of Yannick Bolasie to Everton. If the chain of transfers and exchange of money is a point of discussion at some stage, it would appear Everton are paying Liverpool for Benteke and that makes it all the more amusing.
The current set up at Anfield provides little scope for Benteke and he may feel urged to start afresh. A move to Palace, where he would automatically be drafted into the first team would benefit both parties.