Reports yesterday indicated Aston Villa are looking to hold out for the full value of the release clause, £32.5 million, if they are to sell Christian Benteke this summer.
For now? That’s quite fine. It’s still early in the summer, and there’s still plenty of time for bids to come in.
But in a week and a half, on July 6, Tim Sherwood’s squad will report back for pre-season camp, and it would sure as hell be nice to understand a little more where our situation lies when that date hits.
But it’s not as simple as that. If nobody comes in with a bid in the next 11 days, and Benteke and his agent continue to refuse an improved deal, it’s going to hang over the club’s head as training camp starts. Which isn’t good.
Eventually, bids should come for the Belgian striker, and whether or not they meet the release clause, they should at least be considered.
Benteke is entering the final 24 months of his contract at Villa Park — thank goodness his deal two years ago was a four-year one, not a three-year one — which means it’s time for the club to sort out the player’s future. While we often look at whose contract is expiring in 12 months, it’s perhaps more important to touch base with guys that have two years left.
Villa played with fire with Fabian Delph by not sorting out his future early enough, and it looks as if Ron Vlaar is going to leave Villa Park for absolutely nothing, thanks to some great mismanagement.
I could harp for a while on it, but the fact is that a player who was a prized asset 11 months ago will leave the club for free.
It all comes from the basis that Aston Villa are not a destination club. If you do well at Villa, you’re more than likely going to move to bigger and better clubs. We’ve seen it over the years, from James Milner and Gareth Barry going to Manchester City to Ashley Young and Stuart Downing heading to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively.
If you stand out in this side, you’re probably too good for it.
And that’s precisely where Benteke’s at. Sooner or later, he’s going to leave the club. There’s no doubting it.
Thus, Villa, Sherwood and CEO Tom Fox must do whatever it takes to get the maximum fee possible for the Belgian’s services.
That number may not be £32.5 million, and that’s okay.
Reports earlier this week suggested Roma could be interested in trying to talk Villa down to half the value of the release clause — roughly £16 million — but that they aren’t interested at the high price.
Obviously, this ain’t gonna cut it. The club’s asking price for the player two years ago was £20 million, and his value certainly hasn’t declined since then.
There’s a certain price Benteke is worth to this team on a year-by-year basis, and taking into consideration the asking price for guys like Fabio Borini (£10 million) and Charlie Austin (£15 million), there’s a convincing case Villa would be better off letting Benteke walk than taking Roma’s offer.
But if Fox and Sherwood get that offer from Roma, or any other club in the same range, they have to at least consider engaging in negotiations.
If Villa could meet the Italian club in the middle, at £25 million, it’d be a deal you’d have to think long and hard about. The money could buy a long-term replacement at striker, as well as a move for a top-quality midfielder or defender, something this team is brutally crying out for.
Just because that number may be below where the club value Benteke, it doesn’t mean a move wouldn’t be in the club’s best interests.
Obviously, the calculus changes if Benteke is suddenly willing to accept a new deal, likely one that would increase his wages and add a third year onto his contract. It’d mean we’re back in this same spot next year, but the thought is that interest would still persist in Benteke. Even if not — say, in the event of an injury — there’d still be one more summer in which to get rid of him.
But if Benteke stays and doesn’t sign a new deal, it’s going to be a huge, huge gamble for the club.
The player has shown to be injury-prone — perhaps this is part of what’s keeping teams away at the moment — and another late-season setback, like he faced last year, could be catastrophic for the club.
It would mean we’d be entering a summer window where an injured player is in the final 12 months of his contract.
Good luck getting anyone to give you significant money for him.
Obviously, your best-case scenario is that he bags 20 goals, gets you back to the middle of the table, and caps it off with a great EURO 2016 for a Belgium side that has success.
But even then, the maximum you’re raking in is £32.5 million.
Fox, Sherwood and the rest of the club’s leadership need to weigh the risk against the potential reward.
If Benteke were to have a great season, it would probably put the club in the black against what they could get this year. In order for that to happen, though, there’d have to be multiple clubs interested; otherwise, there’d be no reason to trigger the release clause.
If those bids don’t come? It could mean he leaves for free in 24 months, with the club flushing a hell of a lot of money it can’t afford to down the drain.
How much would you put on the line for a few million quid?
In the coming weeks, we may get a chance to see how Villa’s brass would answer that question.