Christian Benteke is quickly become the best storyline of the season. Plucked in a last-minute summer transfer move from the Belgian club Genk, Benteke has been showing improvement with every single match. He's had an enviable stretch of games in which he has scored or assisted in goalscoring, and he looks to be building confidence every time we see him.
What makes this more than just "hey, we've got a scorer!" is the fact that our other scorer - and record signing - Darren Bent has been relegated to the bench in favor of Benteke. Yes, there is the "injury," but even before that it was obvious who Paul Lambert preferred putting on the pitch. After the Belgian's good showing last weekend, he went into international play this week and did this:
At this point it's pretty obvious that Benteke has earned a spot in the starting XI, but that raises this week's question:
With Christian Benteke looking better every match, is there any reason to keep Darren Bent around?
As always, our answers are below, and we hope to find yours in the comments!
Andrew: I think the Darren Bent thing is going to be crazy fun to watch this winter. If Lambert hadn't made good on his pickup on Benteke (and it's safe to say that's been one of the best purchases Villa has made in a long time) people would be up in arms over the possible departure of Bent. Now it seems like a foregone conclusion and the question is how much can we get for him.
Matt: If we get the right price for Bent, then, yeah, sell him. But there's no one in the squad I wouldn't say the same thing about. But I'm not for selling him for the sake of selling him. It's not like he's been terrible this season, and managers and players have gotten over arguments before. Look at the Ferguson-Rooney situation from a couple seasons ago. If someone is willing to go somewhere around £10-12 million for him, then sell him. But if we get offers of like £8 million or less, then I don't see how get rid of him can be justified just because he's a bit pissed off at Lambert.
Gareth: First, we can say with absolute certainty that Christian Benteke has to start every game now, right? He's obviously Paul Lambert's guy, and he's proven enough to merit the distinction. That said, do we know if he and Bent can play at the same time? Have they logged any minutes on the pitch together at all? I'm genuinely drawing a blank.
Anyways, the problem with Darren Bent has little to do with his footballing ability and everything to do with his Darren Bent-ness (his Bentismo.) As a footballer, he is a talented poacher who can change games and will consistently finish the chances he gets, and that's a tremendously useful skill. If he leaves, Villa don't really have a direct replacement equal to that talent. Andreas Weimann is really improving, and I like him a lot, but he's not a better striker than Darren Bent. However, Darren Bent has a lot of baggage. As I've often noted, he is chronically one-dimensional, which limits a lot of Paul Lambert's options tactically. He's an aging injury risk who has a history of falling out with managers (ie: how he left Sunderland) and agitating his way into transfers (ie: how he got to Sunderland.)
While Darren Bent still possesses a certain utility for Aston Villa in a footballing capacity, I think it's obvious that he can be even more useful as a sellable asset. Reading and QPR are both likely to be in panic mode this winter and both clubs certainly have the ability to shell out over ten million pounds for a player like Darren Bent. Anything more than that would be a bonus.
Aaron: I just want Bent gone, and if we end up getting less than he's really worth then as much as that sucks I'd be okay with it. I've never been a huge fan of Bent's game, and with the kind of system Lambert is trying to install I'm even less of a fan. Christian Benteke is a huge upgrade in terms of passing, hold-up play and sheer physical presence, and though he's got a ways to go before he can match Bent's finishing ability I don't think there's a single skill that's more overvalued in football. If you're willing to believe Randy Lerner, Paul Faulkner and Paul Lambert, transfer fees aren't a huge problem but the wage bill is something that's been consistently mentioned as a major concern. Bent's almost certainly on the highest wages on the squad, and I think there's a pretty good chance that selling him would free up more money than just the transfer fee Villa would receive.
I don't have anything against Darren Bent. On the right team, in the right situation, he's a major asset. But that isn't this team or this situation, and I can't imagine at this stage in his career that Darren Bent is all that interested in taking part in a major overhaul and being far from guaranteed a spot. What's more, he and Benteke are clearly the best strikers on the squad, but they aren't an especially effective pairing. With a little extra money in the bank and a lot more room in the wage budget, I have little doubt that Lambert could find a more suitable strike partner for Benteke. Darren Bent has done a lot for this club in a fairly short and incredibly tumultuous period of time, but his being on this team just doesn't make a whole lot of sense for anyone at this point.
Robert: I think it's in the best interest of the club to sell him, and I really don't think they should worry too much about money. Put him up for transfer in January and take the best deal you can get. If that is only £7 million, so be it. We're never going to get the money back that we paid for him, because we paid a premium due to our need. But that money paid out is a sunk cost. If Paul Lambert is unwilling to play Bent regularly, there is no need to be paying his wages. Get those off the books and the club will already be in a better financial position. Anything we get in transfer fee on top of that is icing on the cake.
My one caveat is this: if Lambert does decide he wants to play Bent, then the club should be more picky. If he's actually getting used, Bent is an asset, both as a goalscorer and as depth should the Mysterious Villa Park Injury Plague strike again. But if he's not going to be used (if he's Warnock-ed, if you will) then get rid of him and use the money elsewhere.