Even though it probably won't do much to affect the end of this season, Aston Villa lost their most valuable summer transfer asset when it was announced that Christian Benteke would miss at least six months with a torn achilles. It was an especially bad blow because Benteke provided immense value to the club regardless of whether or not he stayed with them. While many fans assumed that a strong performance in the World Cup this summer would mean the end of Benteke's time with Aston Villa, we were at least able to take solace in the fact that he would likely bring in £30 million or more. With that kind of money, the club could find a strong replacement in striker and bolster other areas on the pitch. Heck, they'd probably still turn a profit when all was said and done.
Then there was the other possibility: Benteke could have stayed with Villa and continued to be the sides most important striker. Sure, we wouldn't have the extra cash, but Villa would be able to focus on improving the midfield and adding some defensive depth all while keeping one of the best players they've had in a while around. Either way you look at it, Benteke was a significant part of this summer's transfer dealings. He would either have been built around or built from.
Now the club have neither option. Instead, they must focus on areas that needed improving as well as find a Benteke replacement. The fact that they have to do it with no significant extra money will put a lot of pressure on Paul Lambert to make some smart moves this summer.
So what, then, becomes the big priority? Well, if Lambert trusts Nicklas Helenius, Gabby Agbonlahor, Andi Weimann, and Libor Kozak to fill in for Benteke, he should be able to focus on the midfield still. But that trust may be difficult. Gabby has been decent this year, and Andi has been often seemingly nonexistant. Relying on either for consistent production would be risky. Libor Kozak will cause headaches, but he certainly can find the back of the net if he comes back well from injury. And Helenius is an entirely unknown quantity, one that it is obvious Lambert doesn't trust right now.
That means I think we can expect to see someone signed at striker. Likely someone with some experience, and a proven record. Unfortunately, it'll be pretty hard to find that for under £5 million. That means Lambert is going to have to work on a pretty limited budget elsewhere.
The biggest impact in all of this may be to the chances of signing Ryan Bertrand permanently. Perhaps we've been overestimating, but given that Bertrand is an above-average, English-born left back, we can't see him coming here for under £8 million. If you figure that he will cost that much, it may be outside of VIlla's budget to bring him in. Instead, we could see Lambert turning to cheaper options - as he has done in the past - to fill the problems at left back. It could also mean a return to action for one or both of Antonio Luna and Joe Bennett.
There is one bit of upside to all of this though: next January. Benteke won't be returning earlier than October, and delaying that until around Boxing Day seems likely. That means that the club will be getting a top-rate striker added to their ranks right as the January window is set to open. It's precisely the type of move they made when they brought in Darren Bent, except this one will be effectively free. If Villa are doing poorly at the time, Benteke could very well be the boost they need to get out of a relegation fight. If, instead, they are playing pretty well, Benteke could mean a push for a spot in European play.
It stinks to lose Benteke now. And it'll be even worse once the summer window rolls around. But if VIlla can weather the storm, Benteke could prove to be an invaluable asset come next winter. Play the cards right, and this could actually help Villa in the long-run.
- Aston Villa confirm Benteke injury - no World Cup for Christian
- Aston Villa Podcast: Breaking Benteke news, and a preview of Villa-Fulham
- Mounting injury concerns will give Aston Villa difficulty in Fulham match
- More bad news for Villa as Agbonlahor joins Benteke on sideline
- Christian Benteke reportedly tears Achilles tendon