There are more high profile sagas, but the futures of Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke will attract their fair share of Summer conjecture over the coming weeks.
Belgian Benteke, Villa’s most valuable asset, has a release clause of £32.5m in his contract and Delph, now twenty-five and an English international, is available for £8m and is supposedly of interest to Manchester City.
In both cases, in spite of the options available to them, both players would be best served by staying exactly where they are – at least for the time being.
Of the two, Benteke seems the more determined to leave. At the beginning of June, his agent – courtesy of a prank phone-call – inadvertently revealed his client’s desire to move. Truthfully, that’s not unreasonable: the forward is too good a player to be operating at Villa’s current level and, if not quite an elite European goalscorer, he belongs at the top of the game’s second-tier.
Tottenham apparently hold an interest and so too do Liverpool, but it’s not outlandish to claim that, really, Benteke should probably be aiming higher than fifth or sixth placed sides and Europa League competition – and that’s something which should play into Villa’s hands this Summer.
Times are changing at Villa Park and there is finally some hint of momentum at the club. Tim Sherwood may be an unproven quantity as a manager and he may still be two-parts bluster, but his simplified, more aggressive approach to the game clearly awoke something in Benteke late in 2014/15. The forward, dogged by injury and indifferent form, enjoyed a late-season renaissance under Sherwood and scored thirteen times between March and May to help his side to Premier League safety.
Part of that was down to the player himself who grew incrementally sharper as 2015 wore on, but Sherwood had a hand in it too; he vanquished the laboured build-up and slow approach play favoured by his predecessor, Paul Lambert, and installed something far quicker and a style of play which was more conducive to creating opportunities for Benteke.
His form and ability validate his ambition, but there are other considerations for him. Benteke is a year away from Euro 2016, prior to which he will battle Romelu Lukaku for the chance to lead his country’s line. A move to a bigger, more visible side may help him win that contest, but it could also restrict him. No transfer is ever guaranteed to be a success and although a move to Liverpool or another such club would surround him with a higher calibre of player, there can be no assurances over how well he would perform under the brighter lights.
With a larger stage comes bigger pressure and, theoretically, Benteke could take a season to adjust to a new environment. Why take that risk in the year preceding an international tournament? And, furthermore, why take that risk when a good showing at that tournament could facilitate a move to a club at the level above Tottenham or Liverpool?
Those are important considerations for a player and, limited though Villa are and unproven though Sherwood is, it would be wise to temporarily defer to the situation with which he is already familiar. He can be assured that, for as long as he and his new manager are at the same club, he will be that team’s focal point. That’s a precious reality and one which he shouldn’t be too quick to turn his back on.
Fabian Delph is a slightly different case. The midfielder is seemingly disparaged whenever he wears England white, but he remains one of the most under-appreciated players in the Premier League. His passing range, his technique, and his ability to carry the ball make him an excellent addition to a top-six squad and, like Benteke, he’s doesn’t belong at the foot of the table.
But – and this is becoming a familiar caveat with homegrown players – he needs to choose his next club very carefully. Manchester City are the bookmakers’ favourites to sign him and, without intending to sound melodramatic, that would be a catastrophe for him.
Delph is not Jack Rodwell, Scott Parker, Scott Sinclair or Steve Sidwell, because he does potentially have the ability to succeed at that kind of level, but it would still be a very high-risk move and it’s hard to disprove the logic that, really, City’s interest is predicated more around their need to fill a quota than on the genuine belief that he can be a week-to-week difference maker.
It’s a convenience transfer, a low-budget solution to a bureaucratic problem; rarely do such conditions lead to career-advancement.
Manchester City are a fabulously wealthy club who will, year-on-year, re-stock their squad with blue-chip talent. Fabian Delph may be a good player, but he’s not the sort of midfielder who could credibly be expected to stave off competition from the type of signings City are likely to make in upcoming transfer-windows.
Over the long-term, that would threaten his development. Delph is approaching his theoretical prime and the next five years of his career should see him at the peak of his ability – what a shame it would be, then, if he was to play a back-up role during that time.
In the immediate future, he should also have one eye on his international career. Delph is a worth his place under Roy Hodgson, but his position is not secure enough for him to take risks with his pitch-minutes. If he were to move to Manchester City – or similarly overreach himself with another club – he would be inviting trouble and, given that France 2016 would be his first major tournament, that would be senseless risk to take.
If a more realistic option became available then that the situation would change, but until that’s the case he, like Christian Benteke, is really better off staying where he is.