In the 1920s, the most feared striker in England was a burly fellow named Mickelson Chopwood. In one season alone he scored 94 league goals, all headers. Famed for his incredible strength and brutality, it’s rumoured that he could smash a snooker table in half with his face.
Not true. But, there was a time, more recently than the days of the great Mickelson Chopwood, when clubs would recruit their centre forwards based on nothing more imaginative than their ability to jump, snarl and be generally bigger and more appalling than the big and appalling defenders marking them.
Things are different nowadays, largely due to a certain Argentinean goblin – fabled to be no bigger than a small child’s spoon – but nevertheless capable of scoring goals that could instantly invert any grown man’s nipples.
Apparently though, Liverpool haven’t received this message and have duly emptied their coin purse into the boot of Tim Sherwood’s Subaru in exchange for the, undeniably massive, Christian Benteke.
Does He Have What It ‘tekes?
And yet, despite the arrival of a £32 million new striker, some Liverpool fans could not be less impressed if Kenny Dalglish wrote a musical called ‘It’s All Been Shit Since Molby Got Fat’.
But do they have a point? Benteke, at a distance, is a muscular, plundering figure up front. His goal record for Aston Villa, while never quite reaching 20 league strikes in a season, has seen him provide at least 40% of the Villains’ total league tally in two out of the three campaigns he’s been with them.
And yet, the doubts aren’t so ludicrous that only Phil Neville would say them out loud. A Benteke fan would tell you that the big man can score any kind of goal, from soaring bullet headers to crashing in unstoppable strikes from 30 yards (whatever a yard is these days). Sadly, he’s also quite capable of missing any kind of chance, while his ability to stay onside could politely be described as worse than a tramp pooing into a crisp packet and throwing it at your nan.
Doubters will also suggest that Benteke offers nothing from a defensive point of view. As fair an observation as this might be, those same doubters will say precisely the same of any forward who runs less than Luis Suarez – a man who would still cover several miles while trapped in an old man’s mint tin.
What Liverpool fans are probably struggling with is which Christian Benteke they’ll actually see. Will it be the Benteke that late last season smashed through the Sunderland and QPR defences the way Jack Grealish smashes through four Turbo Shandies and an Atomic Malibu? Or will it be FA Cup final Benteke who was more likely to grow a beard made from lobster claws than create any meaningful opportunity?
Beast or Biscuit?
The truth is, when you buy Benteke you are getting a player who, at his best, is an unstoppable beast, while at his worst he may as well be made from Hob Nobs.
Admittedly Liverpool fans could be forgiven for dreaming their Raheem Sterling windfall would be eagerly flung in the general direction of someone like Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette. Hoping for one of Europe’s brightest strikers and ending up with a player apparently not inspirational enough to propel Villa higher than 15th is, conceivably, like waking up on Christmas morning to find that bike-shaped parcel is actually 200 bottles of Joop.
But isn’t this all a bit gloomy, not to mention unproductive? Benteke has scored 23 league goals in his last two injury-interrupted seasons. Sturridge, with his thighs made from chewed ham, scored just two more over the same period. And do remember that the majority of Sturridge’s goals came from a partnership with possibly the world’s greatest centre forward. Benteke, meanwhile, had to make do with Gabby Agbonlahor and his seven good games per decade.
So, yes there are reasonable doubts about Benteke being the very best striker Liverpool could have splashed £32 million on. But, for a team whose astonishing 2013/14 three-pronged attack has in turn left, physically collapsed and effectively drop-kicked Bill Shankly in the windpipe, it makes sense for Liverpool to look for something different.
Benteke, in the right spirit and in the right team, could score more goals than Danny Mills has shouty opinions. Yes, he could be the Man-Biscuit that we saw crumble so timidly in the FA Cup final. But that’s what signing a striker all is about. You’ve just got to dunk them and hope for the best.