Paul Lambert has played down fears of Christian Benteke bailing out of Aston Villa this summer while again looking to him for the goals that can fire the club to Premier League survival.
Stories about the striker wanting to move on in the close season whether or not Villa stay up surfaced during his midweek international duty with Belgium, but the manager has called him ‘a cult hero’ and believes it would already take double the £7 million the club paid Genk for him to prise him away.
“Has he doubled his value? Yes,” Lambert said. “When the guy came in, people were saying to me: ‘Who is he and why are you going for someone from Genk?' But with what he has done, he’s a cult hero.
“He’s only 22 and he’s got years and years ahead of him. He’s not at his peak but what he has done for me and for the club is fantastic. If someone wanted to buy Christian, they’d better have a few quid in their pocket. He’s not just going to walk out of here for the value he came for, that’s for sure.
“We’ve given him the opportunity to show what he can do and he is loving his football at the moment. He’s a cracking big guy and really humble.”
Lambert insists there have been no suggestions from Benteke, who is under contract at Villa until the summer of 2016, that he is unsettled in any way.
His brace in last weekend’s draw at Everton took his tally of goals for the season to 14, including ten in the League, and he represents his side’s best hope of extending their unbroken 25-year service in English football’s top flight.
In the build-up to Sunday lunchtime’s home game against West Ham, Lambert has targeted five or six more wins from what he refers to as ’13 cup finals’ to be played between now and the end of the season.
“The way we are playing, we can do that,” he said. “There’s no grey area. We have spoken about it and they know exactly what they have to go and do. My belief has never wavered, whether people have said things or not. I have got to have that belief - the belief we will get out of it.”
Three goals at Goodison Park, two in a draw at West Bromwich shortly before and a stirring unavailing second-half fight back against Newcastle have given Villa hope that they can engineer the victories they need, even if their defending remains a major worry.
“We are a threat, there’s no doubt about that,” the manager added. “Going forward, we can create, definitely. We have got goals in the team. The last few games, we have thought: ‘We’ll have some of this.’ The confidence is high at the moment.”
Villa could be without Ashley Westwood because of a bug but two other midfielders, Karim El Ahmadi and Fabian Delph, are winning their fight to overcome knee and ankle injuries respectively in time to face West Ham.