When Paul Lambert brought in young Belgian striker Christian Benteke from Genk over the summer, plenty of people expressed skepticism. The 21 year old didn't have enough experience, they said. He's not proven. It's too risky to make him the focal point of the attack.
In his first match for Aston Villa, he replaced Darren Bent in the 70th minute. His first touch was troubling and the youngster did, indeed, look out of his depth. Fortunately, he managed to score a lovely goal in the 88th minute, or the Villa supporters may have quickly turned on him.
After that fateful day against Swansea, Benteke started the next four Villa matches, although he scored no goals in that time. He then went on to start for Belgium in both of their World Cup qualifying matches, scoring against both Serbia and Scotland. Benteke wasn't perfect in those matches -- he missed a rather easy header against Serbia, for instance -- but he performed quite well, well enough to establish that Lambert might be on to something.
So perhaps, if you didn't know what was going on behind the scenes at Villa, it may have been surprising that Benteke was dropped to the bench against Fulham. But there's still the little matter of Darren Bent, and how to appease the club's biggest signing.
For now, there's no conflict: Bent is "hurt" and Benteke will continue to start. But when Bent miraculously recovers, Lambert should feel no qualms about keeping him on the bench. Benteke has more than earned his right to start.
The Belgian was back in the starting XI against Norwich, playing in front of Marc Albrighton, Brett Holman and Gabby Agbonlahor. He scored the opener in that match, but the fates and Joe Bennett conspired to result in a draw. Then came the League Cup match against Swindon, where Benteke scored the winner in the dying moments.
But it was against Sunderland, of all sides, that we saw our beautiful Belgian really begin to come alive. Albrighton and Holman were dropped, Barry Bannan and Andreas Weimann added. The winning goal may have been Gabby's, but it was Benteke that rose up to head the ball down, allowing Agbonlahor to pounce.
The dynamism in the attack wasn't quite on full display, seeing as the Villa were stuck trying to show it off against Sunderland. Against Manchester United, though...well, the result may have been gut-wrenching but the play was fast and fluid. Lambert's finally found his best combination of attackers, and that absolutely includes Benteke. We've already drooled over what he's done, but just a reminder: for Weimann's first goal, Benteke made Chris Smalling look like a fool before placing a perfect through-ball in the path of the Austrian. For the second, his cheeky dummy allowed the ball to find its way to Stephen Ireland, then on to Agbonlahor to be finished by Weimann.
Out of curiosity, when was the last time you saw Bent create goals?
Now we come to the most recent Belgium match, their friendly against Romania. And who's scoring but Benteke? On a team of ridiculously talented attacking players, it was he who scored the only goal for his country. He pounced on an error by the Romanian defense, maintained his composure, and put a low shot in the back of the net:
It would be foolish to say Benteke is perfect. But, damn, it'd be even more foolish to argue that he's not good enough to be playing in the Premier League. He's here, he's ready and he's ours. Gee, it's nice to finally have something to smile about, isn't it?