Off the mark, now getting set to go: A year in the life of Christian Benteke

The Belgian striker netted his first goal for the Reds a year ago but is now desperate to secure a move away following 12 frustrating months that he never saw coming.

Liverpool-v-Sevilla-UEFA-Europa-League-Final

It is 365 days since Christian Benteke celebrated his first official goal as a Liverpool player.

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The striker, recruited from Aston Villa under the instruction of Brendan Rodgers, converted Jordan Henderson’s inswinging delivery past a stranded Artur Boruc at the back post to secure a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth at Anfield.

That poke, fired in on 26 minutes, should not have stood. Philippe Coutinho had motioned towards the ball from an offside position before Benteke could connect with it, thus affecting play.

The Belgian’s debut Liverpool goal had a gigantic question mark over it and so did the player’s year that followed. Unfortunate? Yes. Unforeseen? No.

Rodgers was convinced that he could marry the 25-year-old’s characteristics with that of the technicians at his disposal and made an all-out push to get him. Others at the club were not so confident that the former manager’s top target fitted within the framework, especially not with Villa demanding £32.5 million for him.

 

But Benteke became the Reds’ second-most expensive recruit in an effort to offer the Northern Irishman, who was under exceeding pressure and up against it with the fanbase, complete support.

Concerns were shelved over the fact that Rodgers had bombed out Liverpool’s record signing, Andy Carroll – a stylistic comparison to the Belgium international, as his qualities were alien to what the system required.

The worry that the club had already massively erred in their recruitment of strikers the summer before and could not afford another big mistake, meanwhile, was shoved underneath the sofa.

Benteke was brought in but Liverpool’s players just couldn’t figure him out. “The nature of how we work on a daily basis and as a coaching staff is based around a tactical idea on intelligent footballers, creative footballers with high energy and the ability to press the game and to make it really difficult for opponents with and without the ball. That notion hasn’t changed,” Rodgers stated when asked if the signing of the frontman was a departure from his ideals.

Yet his own explanation revealed just why it was such a struggle for Liverpool to relate to Benteke and vice versa.

The Merseysiders had to alter their approach; they were no longer aggressive on and off the ball but, instead, risk-averse. The football was poor, the poison around the ex-Reds boss ever-increasing and the need for change paramount.

The last goal that Benteke scored under Rodgers before his sacking was a stone-cold stunner: an acrobatic scissor kick that rendered David de Gea hopeless, but even that exceptional brilliance was overawed by a 3-1 defeat by Manchester United.

Not long after, Jurgen Klopp was roped in to re-energise Liverpool and it was clear quite early in his tenure that Benteke’s powers were like kryptonite to his full-throttle fundamentals.

Under the German, he started just 14 of the 43 fixtures for which he was in the squad last season. He did not feature altogether in seven of those, which included the League Cup final defeat by Manchester City at Wembley. He felt, as per an interview while away on international duty in March, “ignored”.

And yet, despite being so evidently incompatible for Liverpool under two different managers, Benteke ended 2015-16 with 10 goals; a tally only bettered by Roberto Firmino (11), Philippe Coutinho (12) and Daniel Sturridge (13). Of those, only the England international played less than him.

Benteke is undoubtedly a good goalscorer – a great one, even, in a team that is geared to feed his assets; Liverpool were never going to be that and will never be.

It is why the forward found himself on the periphery during pre-season and was left out of the 18 to face Arsenal. It is why he is hoping for a speedy resolution to his future, after Crystal Palace had a proposal of £30m rejected due to £7m in extras being deemed “wildly unrealistic” by the Reds.

Benteke wants to secure a switch to Selhurst Park and Alan Pardew’s side, who are in desperate need of a quality striker, are expected to restructure their offer without ridiculous three-tiered add-ons relating to Champions League qualification.

Liverpool know that, in Benteke, they possess an explosive goal threat who is very much worth the guaranteed £30m that they want but who is simply not what they need.

His spell on Merseyside looks likely to end with that contradiction, which is in keeping with the theme of his last year.

 

 

 

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