Baffling Benteke Pursuit Showing Up Ruffled Rodgers
Liverpool’s protracted pursuit of Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke is the clearest sign yet that Brendan Rodgers is buckling under the weight of huge expectations.
His apparent insistence on signing the Belgian, despite seemingly not suiting how his side generally plays, has left many Reds’ fans baffled – particularly irked by the £32.5 million being demanded by his club.
The underlying theme of the entire affair is confusion. The former Swansea manager arrived over three years ago under the guise of a “young and progressive manager” – a coach who instils a stylish brand of football based on passing and movement.
That has been, for the most part, a staple of how Liverpool have played during his tenure, particularly during the 2013/2014 season.
After arriving in the summer of 2012, one of his first major moves was to get rid of Andy Carroll, the £35 million target man. The move made sense at the time. Rodgers wanted a more fluid style of football and the England striker just didn’t fit.
It did mean, however, that he was left without a ‘plan B’ and last season’s signings of Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert – two strikers he clearly believed would offer such a remedy – did not work out.
Of course, Christian Benteke is an entirely different beast to those two. The Belgium international, on form, is one of the most feared forwards in the Premier League: unstoppable in the air, quick and powerful, great technique and a good finisher on both feet.
Added to the mix is that no player has consistently tortured the Reds individually more than him.
In seven games against Liverpool over the course of the last three seasons Benteke has notched 5 goals, dominating and destroying his defence on a number of occasions. You get the sense that that is why Rodgers is desperate to land him.
The Villa fan-favourite thrives on crosses into the box, though, and this is where the move to the Anfield club doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Liverpool were among the lowest crossers in the Premier League last season with a huge concentration on short passing and balls slid in behind.
Unless Rodgers plans on changing his ethos and building his team around Benteke – something that would go entirely against his philosophy – then it is hard to fathom exactly he is so reportedly set on splashing such a huge sum on a player whose main assets somewhat resembles his biggest transfer failures to date.
For £30-odd million, that money could be spent much more adeptly. Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette or Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain – strikers who would feed off Philippe Coutinho’s threaded through balls in behind defences – are far more suited to the strengths of this squad.
Despite not being able to offer Champions League football, bids in and around the aforementioned fee would surely be too much for their clubs to refuse and the comparably higher wages Liverpool could offer – not to mention the lure of such a historically huge club – could tempt both players.
You still wouldn’t back against Benteke being a success at Liverpool – he’s that good – but a move for a player who doesn’t immediately fit into his much-vaunted ideology smacks of Brendan Rodgers second guessing himself.
To his credit, though, this summer’s signings so far have been relatively decent with James Milner and Danny Ings arriving on free transfers and a bargain £12.5 million move for Nathaniel Clyne.
Roberto Firmino’s £29 million move is a risk, though, and undoubtedly overpriced.
The Brazilian has been a formidable talent in the Bundesliga for the last couple of seasons but the fee to bring him to Anfield is eye-watering and arguably only so inflated to snatch him from under the noses of Manchester United. He could yet be a costly flop.
A consecutive £30+ million move for another player who might not fit the Rodgers’ template is dangerously risky.
Last season’s underwhelming performances and the failure to replace Luis Suarez has left the Antrim man desperately reaching for a new route to success and it’s hard to argue there’s a lot of trust in him to get it right anymore.