“I think first and foremost his goals, if you look at his goals record since the time that he’s been in the Premier League he’s up there with the best in terms of numbers. So that was very important for us.”
We are two weeks shy of the anniversary of that quote from Brendan Rodgers and yet Alan Pardew could appropriate those words and they would still be true of Christian Benteke. Even after a disastrous season at Liverpool that reaped just nine Premier League goals, the list of footballers with the most goals in the English top flight since his arrival in 2012 reads as follows:
It should be extraordinary that one of that quintet is about to join a club that finished 15th last season, especially as the player in question is still only 25. It should be seen as a coup for Palace that a club of their limited stature could sign a Belgian international striker for around £30m in an inflated market in which Moussa Sissoko is apparently worth £5m more. And yet there is laughter. And there are banterous offers from Liverpool fans to drive him to London. And there are gifs. There are always gifs.
Benteke to Crystal Palace for 31.5m, surely you can't be serious… pic.twitter.com/h1l1L9HXTj
— Copa90 (@Copa90) July 4, 2016
We can indeed be serious because Benteke scored an incredible 42 goals in 89 Premier League games for an extraordinarily bad Aston Villa side that finished 15th, 15th and 17th. In those three seasons, Villa’s leading assist-makers were Ashley Westwood, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Leandro Bacuna; Benteke had to roll a lot of sh*t in a lot of glitter to emerge as a £32.5m striker worthy of Liverpool’s attentions. One season at the wrong club under the wrong two managers should not make him a punchline.
If Liverpool under first Brendan Rodgers and then Jurgen Klopp was the wrong club under the wrong managers, then Crystal Palace and Alan Pardew could be exactly the right club and manager for a player who thrived on being the fulcrum of attacking play at Villa. Chunky would not ask his £30m man to work the channels or to press high up the pitch; he would simply ask him to score goals. It certainly worked for Demba Ba, who became a Chelsea striker on the back of spectacular form for Newcastle.
Last season, Palace attempted more crosses than any other Premier League club, and yet no player scored more than five top-flight goals. In Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon and now Andros Townsend they are blessed with incredible pace, but in Connor Wickham they are hampered by an achingly average striker. That it took until February for a Palace striker to score a goal from open play is the kind of statistic that should make Benteke break into an insane grin. Even the worst version of Benteke would be the best Palace striker.
There was never a time when Benteke did not look like a terrible fit for Liverpool, like the best striker they could get rather than the right striker they needed. An awkward interloper in Brendan Rodgers’ attempts at ‘death by passing’ became the successful but plodding AOR in Klopp’s heavy metal playlist. It always felt wrong because it was wrong. At Palace, Benteke might actually be the bloody big shoe that fits.