Christian Benteke could face Liverpool exit under Jurgen Klopp after outburst
Footballers can often be a sensitive breed and it appears that Christian Benteke hasn't taken too kindly to the telling off he received from Jurgen Klopp on the pitch immediately after Liverpool's capitulation at Southampton last Sunday.
The £32.5 million man missed a glorious chance to put the Reds 3-1 ahead, but he scuffed his shot wide and Liverpool subsequently gave up two late goals to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The result was a massive blow to the Merseysiders' hopes of chasing down those above them and securing a top four spot.
Klopp was understandably unhappy at full time and Benteke appeared to bear the brunt of his wrath, which seems a little harsh given the failings of some of the Belgian's teammates was a bigger factor in the loss. The exact reason for Klopp's displeasure with his striker remains unclear, although the German immediately dismissed suggestions it had anything to do with the missed chance.
If an unhappy player is going to speak out, more often than not it happens while he's away on international duty and speaking to his own national media. Benteke had thus far kept any discontent he may have been feeling to himself, but with that public admonishment by manager perhaps fresh in his mind, this week hefinally opened up on his frustration and displeasure at his current situation while preparing for Belgium's friendly with Portugal. He has since had to pull out of the squad through injury and return back to Merseyside for treatment and to face Klopp.
In fairness, his comments were measured and restrained, and he certainly didn't go overboard with any criticism of his manager. As far as outbursts from unhappy players go, this one was rather tame.
"He (Klopp) still tells me that I'm a striker who can do everything: score goals; holding up the ball, play one-twos, heading. If I have that many variations in my game, why don't I play?" he asked.
Klopp probably has a multitude of reasons for not picking him, but the truth is none of them would matter if Benteke was scoring goals -- a point the striker hasn't grasped. It's not rocket science: He doesn't play because he hasn't scored enough goals to make Klopp overlook his other deficiencies.
If you're going to speak out about what you perceive as unfair treatment, timing is everything. Do it when your stock is high, preferably after you've done something good to help the team. Two weeks ago, Benteke came off the bench to win and convert a penalty against Crystal Palace that secured three points for his club. Even that was still not enough to justify such an outburst, given his lack of production prior to that, but it would have been more understandable than to do it just days after missing yet another one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Benteke has failed to take countless golden opportunities this season and some have proven to be very costly. For example, had his finishing been more clinical against West Ham at Upton Park, the Reds could be looking at a potential Wembley semifinal date with Everton in the FA Cup. Others were responsible for that loss too, of course, but none of those are publicly bemoaning their treatment by Klopp. Benteke asks "why don't I play?" when the answer to that is staring him right in the face.
All strikers miss chances, but when you've missed as many easy ones as Benteke has, then you're not in a position to wonder why you aren't being selected, especially when your manager generally favours playing with just one striker. His main job is to put chances away and he hasn't done it often enough, so therefore he has not yet earned his manager's trust.
Benteke also said: "I've talked with Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini and they all answered the same: If a coach does not count on you, you can't do a lot about it."
Not true. There is something you can do about it. For one thing, you can start burying some of the sitters you've been missing. While 15-20 minute cameos don't provide a full-back or midfield player with much of an opportunity to stake a claim, it's vastly different for strikers and it's much easier to make an impression.
If Benteke had taken that chance at Southampton, things would be looking a lot different for him this week and it would be much more difficult for Klopp to omit him from his next lineup. Had he taken even half of the glorious opportunities he's wasted this season, then he wouldn't have to worry about not being in the team as he'd be one of the first names on the team sheet. Regular scorers are the most valuable commodity in football. Every manager wants them and if Benteke had been scoring, Klopp would have no choice but to pick him.
Prior to the Southampton game, Benteke had shown some signs of coming into form and appeared to be winning Klopp over. It was never going to be easy for him to force his way into the team, given the manager's preference for Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and even Divock Origi, but it is surely going to be a whole lot more difficult for him after this week's outburst.
All the signs are pointing towards a summer exit for the big man, with West Ham having expressed an interest in him this week, but while things look bleak for him now, it's still not too late for Benteke to save his Liverpool career.
For that to happen, though, he needs to do his talking on the pitch and not in the press. Words won't win over Klopp, but goals might.
Time looks to be against him, however, particularly if this current injury keeps him out for any length of time.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.