By this evening, it seems almost certain that Christian Benteke will no longer be a Liverpool player.
The £32.5m Belgian international, the then-second (now third) most expensive signing in the club’s history, leaves with a somewhat indifferent record of 9 goals in 29 Premier League appearances.
By the end, he was the Plan B, the last resort by Jürgen Klopp thrown on to generally be big and try to force a late goal. Sometimes it paid dividends, but the implication was clear – Benteke was never going to be the main man in this Liverpool team.
The temptation, then, is to brand Benteke a flop, another for the graveyard of failed Liverpool strikers that includes (to name a few) Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, Fernando Morientes, Djibril Cissé and Andy Carroll.
However, evaluating the player’s ability as a whole because he supposedly failed to make the grade at Anfield would be an unfair assessment of the player’s strengths.
It didn’t work out for him at Liverpool but that doesn’t automatically mean he is a bad player – it just means that he’s not a Jürgen Klopp player.
51 – Christian Benteke has scored 51 PL goals since his debut on 15/09/12; only 4 players have scored more. Eagle. pic.twitter.com/4i4ncZMBhs
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 18, 2016
He wasn’t even a Brendan Rodgers player. Few saw the logic in the former Liverpool boss spending that much money on a player who was never going to mesh well with the players around him. The 25-year-old is at his most comfortable with the ball is played directly to him in the box, and though it would somewhat unfair to label him a simply a target man, that is his primary strength and that’s why Aston Villa valued him so highly.
The fact that he had scored the most headed goals from his arrival in England in 2012 to his transfer to Liverpool, and had also won the most aerial duels in that time, it was obvious even to the most casual of observers how to get the best out of him.
– 2014-15 Crosses per game: LFC joint fewest
– 2014-15 Benteke: Most aerial duels won (188)
– Benteke most headed goals (14) since 12-13
— Alex Shaw (@AlexShawESPN) July 16, 2015
The fact that his new side had put in the lowest amount of crosses the season before he arrived, plus Rodgers’ dogmatic love of playing the ball along the ground, it was patently never going to work unless one party seriously compromised.
Whom, exactly, of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino or Adam Lallana did Rodgers think would supply the crosses?
To borrow a phrase from Rafa Benítez, they needed a table but they bought a lamp.
Rodgers may have felt some obligation to play Benteke due to his price tag, but that was not a problem Klopp was burdened with. As far as the new manager was concerned, he had not spent a penny on any of those players – this was not his team and he would simply use the tools that fit his system in the best way regardless of what they cost.
Sometimes that meant Divock Origi started, sometimes Daniel Sturridge. There were times when even Roberto Firmino was utilised as the lone striker, such was Klopp’s belief that Benteke’s use did not correspond with what he was trying to implement on the pitch.
And so he was benched. In all, he made started just eight Premier League games under the German manager, and only three of those were in 2016.
Again, it is nobody’s fault (apart, perhaps, from whichever member(s) of the infamous Transfer Committee greenlit the move in the first place), but we have seen countless examples of players not working out in certain systems only to flourish in others – the ‘square peg in round hole’ philosophy.
The commonly-held belief that good players should be able to adapt to any system simply does not ring true in the real world.
One of the most famous examples of this was Juan Verón at Manchester United. Verón was a supremely gifted player who simply couldn’t adapt to England, and when Alex Ferguson tore into the media by bellowing “Veron’s a great fu**ing player. Youse are all fu**ing idiots,” he was right. Verón was a fu**ing great player, but the Premier League wasn’t the place to showcase that.
To that end, there’s a good chance he will flourish at Crystal Palace should they play to his strengths. In many ways they already do, as can be seen by the manner in which Alan Pardew is using Connor Wickham. Benteke is a massive upgrade on Wickham, so to be able to play the same system with a much better goalscoring outlet will almost certainly pay dividends for the Eagles.
Indeed, one of the reasons why Liverpool and Klopp were so insistent on the £32m asking price was the fact that they recognised what an asset Benteke could be in a tactical set-up that suited him.
And so, Benteke heads to South London in a deal which suit everyone involved. Benteke gets to rebuild his career away from the relative spotlight, Liverpool pretty mush get their money back and Crystal Palace get a proven Premier League goalscorer.