News Analysis

Benteke will have his work cut out filling Sterling's big shoes

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is a long-time admirer of the striker Christian Benteke
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is a long-time admirer of the striker Christian BentekePHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

The spectre of Andy Carroll looms large over Liverpool's proposed deal for Christian Benteke. This is not so much because the Aston Villa striker is likely to be as uncomfortable and out of his depth as the record signing of four years ago, but because the swoop with the proceeds from the Raheem Sterling sale is similar to the almost indecent haste with which the club parted with the income from Fernando Torres.

There are differences. Benteke is a player Brendan Rodgers has admired for some time and Liverpool were attempting to persuade Villa to sell for less than the £32.5 million (S$69.2 million) buyout price. Though assuming alleged interest from Manchester United was a red herring, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that what triggered the Merseyside club's policy change was the Sterling money landing in the bank account.

Given that Queens Park Rangers have earned in the region of £10 million from Sterling's £49 million sale to Manchester City, it could be argued Liverpool will spend virtually their entire chunk on a replacement, leading to the inevitable questions about whether Rodgers might have used the money more wisely.

This is an argument the manager can never win. He was criticised a year ago for spending Luis Suarez's proceeds piecemeal, on a number of players, few of whom proved instant hits. Now the manager is under attack for blowing all the money on one player, seemingly the best he can afford.

The real problem is that Sterling, like Suarez before him, is almost impossible to replace on a like-for-like basis. There is no one else like him around and, although Benteke ought to be a considerable improvement on Carroll, whether he turns out to be an improvement on the player he is replacing is another matter entirely. Some Liverpool supporters have the feeling that once again they are having to settle for what is left on the market, when other, richer clubs are buying up the best talent.

Largely because of the calibre of the players they are having to replace - imagine losing Torres, Suarez and Sterling in the space of five years - new recruits at Liverpool come under more intense scrutiny.

Rodgers said this would be a quiet summer of spending after the £116 million outlay of last year, though that was before he realised he would be losing Sterling. He also said when moving Carroll out that Liverpool did not play in a way that suited an old-fashioned big man up front and, although Benteke is not quite that, he may find it as difficult as Mario Balotelli to fit into the way Rodgers wants his side to play.

Balotelli is surplus to requirements now, along with Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini, and Daniel Sturridge is not expected to be fit until September at the earliest. Liverpool need a proven goal-scorer though they have bought Roberto Firmino, in addition to Danny Ings, and also have Divock Origi returning from loan at Lille.

If Benteke is able to reproduce the best of the form shown at Villa, he will be a reliable goal-scorer and an asset to the side, though with Firmino likely to play a support striker role alongside him, it appears that Ings and Origi are most likely to lose out in terms of game time.

Ings is probably not naive enough to imagine he could go from being Burnley's attacking spearhead to performing the same job for Liverpool, though he must have expected to be given enough games to prove his worth and if Benteke arrives, he may be disappointed.

Similarly, given that James Milner has been promised more games than he got at City and Liverpool still have Philippe Coutinho, one wonders where some of last year's acquisitions such as Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic are going to fit into the new-look attack.

Spending north of £30 million on Benteke would take Liverpool's summer outlay to more than £80 million and put Rodgers on the spot as much as the Villa player. Benteke is unquestionably a useful striker; most Premier League clubs would be glad to have him.

But largely because of the calibre of the players they are having to replace - imagine losing Torres, Suarez and Sterling in the space of five years - new recruits at Liverpool come under more intense scrutiny.

That process is taking place on a wide platform of social media sites, with Manchester United supporters taking credit for bluffing Liverpool into paying full price, Chelsea fans pointing out that they got Diego Costa for fractionally less and no shortage of neutrals expressing the view that Benteke is not worth anywhere near as much.

It will be up to the striker to prove otherwise if and when the deal goes through but Sterling might have company as the player under most pressure to produce this season.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2015, with the headline 'Benteke will have his work cut out filling Sterling's big shoes'. Print Edition | Subscribe