3:00 PM UTC
Game Details
3:00 PM UTC
Game Details
Portland Timbers
Seattle Sounders FC
2:00 AM UTC Jun 26, 2017
Game Details

Lingard meets his idol Ronaldinho

The Toe Poke

Villla triumph in Benteke U-turn

We've learned a lot already in the aftermath of Christian Benteke's highly successful first season at Aston Villa.

We've learned that the character trait that prompted he or his agent - or both - to agitate for his move from Genk last summer is still apparently part of his DNA. It's the chromosome that prompted him to lodge and then withdraw a transfer request in the space of a few crazy days of pre-season.

Through the process of bitterly falling out with the striker and then singing his name fondly again in his absence during Saturday's friendly draw at Wycombe, the supporters have also shown us they are prepared to forgive and forget.

Above all, though, we have been reminded that Paul Lambert is not a man to be messed with.

Villa's bright young manager repeatedly demonstrated his single-mindedness last season by proving he wasn't fazed by the need to marginalise senior figures in his dressing room.

Darren Bent, Shane Given, Stephen Ireland and Alan Hutton all found themselves very much on the outside looking in on Lambert's overhaul of a dressing room that is now younger, hungrier, leaner and lower-maintenance. And he boldly set about this radical streamlining of the place at a time when his side desperately needed points to keep their heads above water.

Benteke's omission from the recent tour of Germany suggested that the Scot isn't finished yet. Clearly, he is - or was - prepared to play hard with him also, irrespective of the fact the striker delivered 23 goals in his first year in England, the most any Villa player has scored in the Premier League in one season.

What all Villa's players should realise by now is that the team ethic is king; not only is no man bigger than the club but that virtually no man is bigger than any other.

You could say that Lambert chopped the head off his squad by shunting all those big earners onto the sidelines, his desire to rid Villa Park of its big names being underlined when he freed long-term injury victim Richard Dunne at the end of the season.

The vibrant bunch that surfaced in 2012-13 ultimately did more than enough to justify their manager's brave stance. They have given rise to an optimism that the Lambert way is the right way, just as it proved previously with eye-catching results at Norwich.

Clubs know to their cost that star players often hold the upper hand these days. True, Benteke may already have been on a long-term contract but a disaffected main man was hardly what Villa needed as their supposed attacking spearhead at the start of a season.

Equally, with Tottenham, Chelsea and anyone else likely to baulk at the £25 million rumoured to be the asking price, the Belgian couldn't afford to spend long on the fringes at the start of a campaign that leads mouth-wateringly to a World Cup finals in Brazil.

So some commonsense, in the form of a peace agreement and a new deal, has prevailed at the end of an episode that has been little short of senseless.

Surely, the toys that came flying out of Benteke's pram could have been thrown across the floor of the manager's office or boardroom rather than in the public glare. There's little reason to believe Villa wouldn't have been agreeable to further rewarding this outstanding 22-year-old find if he were keen to commit his future to them. The strop seemed so unnecessary, and match-days would have become messy in any impasse because substantial anti-Christian (if you get my drift) feelings were stirring in the Second City before the weekend. A comment piece in the Birmingham Pail accused the player of trampling all over his love affair with the club's fans.

We shouldn't be so naive as to assume that the lucrative new contract will be seen out, of course. It may be, who knows, but this smacks of being no more than a way of pacifying Benteke in the short term and ensuring Villa don't have to go looking, against their wishes, for another talismanic striker this summer.

Should he have another great season, especially if he delivers big time on the ultimate stage in Brazil, his value will soar even further and Villa, with the feelers out for a replacement over the coming months, will sell him next summer. They wouldn't have any realistic choice. A trigger-release clause may be in the small print even as we speak. If, alternatively, he levels off amid so-called second season syndrome, they may be able to hang on to him longer and groom him further.

Sadly, when push comes to shove, there's only so much Villa will be able to do. Dwight Yorke(the man whose Villa record for Premier League goals in a season Benteke has just broken), Ashley Young, James Milner, Gareth Barry, Stewart Downing... their recent and not-so-distant history is littered with examples of how the lure of bigger clubs could be resisted only for so long.

Barry, like the present-day Holte End hero, was all for leaving in one summer but stayed around until the following one and gave the club another sterling season's service in the meantime. Subsequent events tell us that the Manchester City and England man is of solid stock; Villa fans can but hope that Benteke is hewn from the same stuff.

If cards are played correctly, this deal is a winner for all parties.


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.