Paul Lambert Plays it Cool to Keep Benteke
All’s well that ends well, as Shakespeare once said.
This feel-good sentiment certainly rings true if you are a Villa fan who celebrated uproariously on Friday afternoon when Christian Benteke signed a new contract with the club. Such was Benteke’s dramatic U-turn that many fans remained in a state of disbelief when the news initially filtered through.
Beyond the improved contract terms, arguably, the words of Jose Mourinho may have even nudged Benteke into the open arms of Paul Lambert when he told the press in Kuala Lumpar on Thursday , “That’s the big motivation if you’re thinking about playing at the World Cup. If they want to go to the World Cup and they’re second choice at their club, then they’re in trouble.”
Mourinho’s strategy might have furthered his case with Rooney, but it certainly backfired in the case of Benteke. The Chelsea boss had previously leaked to one of his trusted journalists, Duncan Castles, that he was preparing a bid for Benteke, and in a subsequent act of flirtation, Eden Hazard spoke glowingly about both Rooney and Benteke.
Across town, unfounded leaks emerged from Spurs fans that Benteke had visited their training ground shortly after he had handed in a transfer request. Interest on both sides between Spurs and Benteke seemed legitimate. Spurs were looking for a striker to lead the line and Andre Villas-Boas is known to be a big fan of Benteke. Sensing blood, the London press campaigned vigorously for Benteke to move to Spurs, “Villa need to lower their asking price…”, they grumbled in a succession of pushy articles.
MOMS eBay listing of Benteke was in direct reaction to this media pressure of trying to lower Villa’s determined value of £25million – asking Spurs to essentially put-up or shut-up.
If Benteke’s signature had been a game of poker, then Mourinho and Levy were certainly making all the noise, while Paul Lambert rocked back in his chair, sipped a Scotch and held his cards close to his chest.
The Villa boss was forced to sit tight throughout nine turbulent days of speculation, fan unrest and media attention. Lambert chose to follow a calm and confident strategy as he left Benteke’s contract extension on the table, maintained contact with the player and communicated an official line of ‘disappointment‘ rather than anger.
Amidst the whirlwind of speculation, Benteke flew into Birmingham for a “full and frank” discussion with Paul Lambert on Thursday, incidentally around the same time that Mourinho was giving his Machiavellian speech half-way across the globe in Kuala Lumpar.
Little is known about Lambert’s persuasive ability as a man motivator, as he gives almost nothing away in press conferences, but whatever Lambert said to Benteke on his return to Bodymoor Heath appeared to have a decisive influence on the Belgian striker’s decision to stay at the club for at least another season.
High stakes politics is not something Paul Lambert would have encountered at Norwich, since he did not have an asset valuable enough to interest any of the top clubs. Yet it must be noted that Lambert’s handling of the Benteke situation has shown that he is a man to be reckoned with.
Lambert’s calm and intelligent strategy has enabled Aston Villa to keep hold of their most valuable asset, and the press who trailed off in numbers since Benteke signed a new contract, are now reporting that Chelsea and Spurs interest has ‘cooled‘.
In fact, their interest is probably in the deep freeze.
Kudos to Lambert.