On July 4th, Aston Villa came a whole lot closer to keeping Christian Benteke with the club past this summer transfer window, and they didn't even have to do anything. Confused? I'll explain. To my knowledge, Benteke has only been seriously linked with four or five clubs: Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Atletico Madrid, and Liverpool. LIverpool is kind of the odd one out, because there's a perception that they could attract players Because They Are Liverpool. I can't imagine that actually carries much weight with Benteke, who was gestating in Zaire the last time Liverpool won a league title, but then again I can't imagine it carries much weight with anyone who isn't a middle-aged sports page editor that just can't believe what the game's come to these days. I digress.
First up, Borussia Dortmund signed the highly touted Gabonian striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Saint-Étienne. For what it's worth all signs point to this being an excellent deal for Dortmund, who have bought one of the top strikers in France for about £10 million less than the price tag that's been slapped on Benteke. On top of that, it looks like they'll be holding aspiring Bavarian Robert Lewandowski to his contract, which would make a splashy purchase on Benteke entirely unnecessary. Scratch them off of the list.
Next, it's being reported that Arsenal have very nearly almost completed their deal with Real Madrid for Gonzalo Higuain, who you may recognize as "That Guy Who Scores Lots Of Goals For Madrid That Isn't Cristiano Ronaldo" or "That Guy Who Scores Lots Of Goals For Argentina That Isn't Lionel Messi." This could be an amazing deal for Arsenal, for a number of reasons.
- Gonzalo Higuain is really good at football. Just excellent. The way I know that is because he scores lots of goals, just like Robin van Persie did (and still does, but Arsenal fans would rather not hear about it.)
- He will be an excellent complement to Olivier Giroud. You know who wouldn't be a very good complement to Olivier Giroud? Christian Benteke. The two are actually pretty similar players, as detailed by the Arsenal blog 7amkickoff.
- "Wait, why have you already gone to point 3," I hear you say. "Giroud?! As good as Benteke?! If that were true, why didn't Giroud have a better season than Benteke? He plays for mighty Arsenal and Christian Benteke had to play with schmucks like Barry Bannan." You'd think that's a fair point, if a bit harsh on Barry Bannan. However, the whole reason Benteke was able to have a better season than Olivier Giroud is because Aston Villa's tactical approach in the 2012-13 season was basically "Benteke Scores Or We're Fucked." However, as Ted Knutson (an Arsenal fan, in addition to being an excellent analyst) points out, Arsenal has a somewhat more nuanced approach to their attacking play. Giroud has had to adjust to this new approach, and has faced some growing pains this year as a result. I have to imagine he'll have a better season next year, and if he doesn't? Who cares, they'll have Gonzalo Higuain. So that's Arsenal off the list.
That leaves us with two serious clubs and also maybe Liverpool. If my earlier glib dismissal of their potential interest wasn't enough for you, I would note that he's being touted as a replacement for Luis Suarez. The problem is that Christian Benteke is nothing like Luis Suarez. They are two entirely different players who have little more in common than "being good at football." The disgraced Liverpool striker that Benteke actually has the most in common with is Andy Carroll, who you will remember was sold at an enormous loss because he didn't fit with the way Brendan Rodgers wanted Liverpool to play.
Atletico Madrid is kind of a wild card for me, not least because I can't watch La Liga in Canada (I'm pretty sure beIN sports owns the Canadian rights, even though beIN does not actually exist in Canada.) They've lost a talismanic striker in Falcao, they've demonstrated a willingness to splash tons of money on strikers in the past, and they're owned by lunatics. They also happen to be a pretty good team and they're in the Champions League. Fortunately, this link appears to have faded over the last little while, as they appear to be focusing on more established strikers like Alvaro Negredo and Mario Gomez. I wouldn't write off the idea that Benteke may well prefer to stay in the Premier League rather than attempting to adjust to a whole new league.
The rumours that have proven to be most persistent are those linking Benteke with a move to Spurs. Those have been pretty comprehensively addressed, both on these pages and from a Spurs supporter's perspective over at Cartilage Free Captain. It's the same refrain advocates of keeping Benteke around have returned to over and over, and it still applies: Aston Villa have no incentive to sell Christian Benteke, and Benteke has little incentive to leave a club at which he's guaranteed to be a star while his main competition for a starting place in Belgium's World Cup squad rides the bench at Chelsea. It's not an exaggeration to say that by this time next year, Benteke could be worth five times what Aston Villa paid for him. And that's when you pull the trigger. Not here, and not now.