Saturday 24 March 2018

Christian Benteke must ensure he doesn't go same way as former Liverpool flops

Christian Benteke celebrates after scoring the second goal for Liverpool
Christian Benteke celebrates after scoring the second goal for Liverpool

Chris Bascombe

While Jurgen Klopp’s Anfield arrival has seen some players thrive, for £32 million striker Christian Benteke it has brought only uncertainty.

Benteke moved from Aston Villa billed as the goalscorer who could transform the fortunes of beleaguered ex-manager Brendan Rodgers. Indeed, during an era when every purchase was scrutinised as to whether ‘it was a Rodgers pick’ or an enthusiastic recommendation from his scouts and data division, there was a clear distinction made when a fee was agreed for the Belgian.

 Rodgers had pleaded for a clause in Benteke’s Villa contract to be met, despite the initial reservations of the club on such a valuation. There was no ambiguity when determining who was chiefly responsible for Benteke’s move to Merseyside.

That’s why there is a degree of sympathy for 25-year-old’s current plight as he toils under a new manager.

Whatever Rodgers had in mind for Benteke, whatever system he thought would get the best from him, was never apparent in those first games – not helped by an early injury for the striker.

By the time Klopp arrived fears were already being expressed that a target man who tends to be more static - wishing to patrol the penalty area awaiting crosses and long, diagonal balls – is the antithesis to everything the new coach demands from his forward men.

Klopp’s game is based on energy from front to back, the number nine required to give nightmares to centre-backs when they have the ball.

Benteke is not the first Liverpool player who shone playing one way only to demand he radically alter at Anfield. There have been several occasions when it has seemed a player has been asked to compromise the skills that made them such an attractive purchase in the first place.

Twenty years ago, another expensive signing – Stan Collymore – found himself in a similar predicament and irked the club when complaining he was been ordered to work on his weaknesses because the side was not going to change style to play to his strengths. Benteke might feel the same way.

Collymore did reasonably well despite his well-publicised reservations, but inconsistency ensured his Liverpool career ended after two erratic years.

In 2004, it was a similar tale for Djibril Cisse – pursued for years by Gerard Houllier and recruited for a then club record £14 million from Auxerre. A deal was put in place prior to Houllier’s dismissal and new appointment Rafa Benitez’s hope the transfer could be scrapped proved forlorn. The Spanish coach considered Cisse too one-dimensional – more pace than technical ability – and was trying to sell him within months of becoming Liverpool manager. Cisse was eventually moved on after two years having failed to justify the hype and cost, never established as a first choice striker.

Such stories will resonate with Benteke, he must already realise adaptation is the only way of ensuring Klopp is not already thinking of a new striker ahead of next season.

Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi have found themselves more ideally suited to carrying out Klopp’s instructions, although even the Brazilian has struggled recently despite a man-of-the-match performance at Manchester City in November.

Leicester City’s arrival at Anfield on Boxing should present Benteke with another opportunity, but just a few months into his career at Liverpool he has plenty to prove to ensure he does not join the ranks of expensive strikers who wilted on Merseyside.

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