Benteke's injury a massive blow for Villa
This should have been a routine preview of Villa's next match, against Fulham, on Saturday. Instead, the news of Christian Benteke's Achilles tendon injury, broken -- as many football stories are these days -- by Belgian journalist Kristof Terreur on Twitter. It has thrown a dark shadow over not only the weekend, but the remainder of Villa's season. The striker will also miss Belgium's World Cup campaign. - Report: Benteke out of World Cup Gossip flies around the Twittersphere with little regard for the truth at the best of times, but when it comes to Belgian football, however, Terreur is rarely, if ever, off target. Terreur has been a source of vital information regarding Benteke during what has been a turbulent nine or ten months; his latest update likely will have been delivered with a heavy heart. As it would have been received. Villa confirmed the situation on their website n in the baldest of statements. The player sustained the injury in training and will be out for a minimum of six months. Little else is known at this stage. That Benteke was injured while training may lead some to speculate that the striker was on the wrong end of an over-enthusiastic tackle from a colleague, but the likelihood is it was from something innocuous. That is the particular cruelty of the Achilles tendon tear. Healthy athletes in the prime of their fitness can fall victim by taking an awkward step. It can be a non-contact injury. This brings Benteke's season to the saddest of ends. For him personally, the last few months have been a genuine mixture of highs and lows, and some plodding middle ground. From his transfer request last summer, to the U-turn of signing a new contract, a blistering opening to the 2013-14 campaign with goals against Arsenal and Chelsea, a hip injury in September, which then ruled him out for the best part of two months, to an unconvincing return to action, during which the 23-year-old looked either out of form, disinterested, or half-fit -- or a combination of all three. He was given Christmas off to recover from a knee injury and looked more like his old self once he'd scored against Arsenal in January. Still, in recent games a goal of the season contender was seen at home to Norwich -- a stunning overhead kick -- and a miss of the season contender at Old Trafford last Saturday. All in all, it hasn't been the second season everyone was expecting from Benteke, though he's still, by some margin, the club's top scorer with ten league goals in 26 games. He will have missed nearly a third of Villa's season. The only firm conclusion to be drawn is that Benteke is proof that footballers' careers, even those possessing an abundance of talent, do not simply progress on an uninterrupted upward trajectory. He will undergo surgery and his rehabilitation will begin once he's served his time -- first in a plaster cast for two to three weeks, and then a further four to six in a 'boot'. He will recover, as many others have done before him, but this is an injury which cannot be rushed, hence Villa's 'six months minimum' timeframe; Benteke's team-mate Charles N'Zogbia ruptured his Achilles back in June, and hasn't played since. It will be a tough and frequently lonely journey. I have first-hand experience with this injury and its capacity to drain the spirit. It will certainly be a challenging battle for Benteke, as he'll literally have to learn to re-educate his muscles to walk again and then build up gradually from there. He'll value the support of others at Villa who have suffered serious injuries of late: Jores Okore, Libor Kozak and Samir Carruthers as well as N'Zogbia -- and his physio will become his best friend. Mine just about put me back together, mentally and physically. Unless his recovery is rapid, he'll still be in rehab when the 2014-15 season kicks off. That, in itself, is an example of how the injury has rewritten the immediate next chapter of the Benteke story. He was expected to be one of the stars of the summer's World Cup, and therefore the subject of increased interest from clubs attempting to prise him away from Villa. Whether any of the clubs who have had Benteke on their radar for the last 12 months will offer upwards of 25 million pounds for a player working his way back from a serious injury remains to be seen. Getting fit is now his overwhelming priority. From Villa's point of view, the timing of the injury could have been better. There are still a handful of matches remaining, and relegation is not completely off the table. But the timing could certainly have been far worse; preferable in April rather than January, obviously. And if Villa, currently in a decent enough position, cannot garner the points required to stay up without their star player and top scorer, the rest of the squad will have to look at themselves, and not in the direction of their absent talisman. What is does mean for Villa is an opportunity for someone else, and probably a change in formation. There is no-one in the squad capable of fulfilling the lone centre-forward role occupied by Benteke, or at least doing it as well. Kozak can, but he's injured too, of course. Grant Holt has the strength, but has demonstrated nothing during his loan spell to suggest he's able to step up and lead Villa's forward line. Manager Paul Lambert is likely to pair Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann, usually deployed as wide attackers on either side of Benteke, together as a front two, which suits both players better. That said, Agbonlahor is rated a doubt to face Fulham. Holt may be involved, and there's also the possibility -- remote, perhaps -- of the criminally underused Dane Nicklas Helenius to be given a chance. This all stretches Villa's squad in other areas, notably the wide positions. It should guarantee a continued run for Marc Albrighton as well as opening the door again for Aleksandar Tonev, who re-emerged as a substitute against Manchester United after a spell out of the squad. Callum Robinson, who has been on the bench of late, may also get a taste of the Premier League. Benteke's injury makes for a bad week, but Villa can't let it turn even worse by failing to take all three points against Fulham. The Londoners come to Villa Park bottom of the league table and ten points behind Lambert's team. A Villa victory would all but seal Fulham's fate, and all but secure another season of top-flight football for the hosts.