Aston Villa Transfer Focus – Benteke makes sudden U-turn

After a summer of continuous speculation regarding the future of Christian Benteke and his resultant transfer request, talks between the player and manager Paul Lambert have led to Benteke reversing his decision and signing a new four-year contract with Aston Villa, which will end the interest from Tottenham Hotspur among others – for now at least.

A week ago it appeared that the Belgian striker would be heading out of the exit door after just one – successful – season in which he scored 23 goals, 19 of which came in the Premier League, after joining from Genk for £7m. Benteke’s transfer request came after almost two months of intense speculation which linked him with several clubs including Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, and Spurs.

Andre Villas-Boas’ side looked to be the front-runners, with Villa’s asking price of £25m proving the only obstacle in their pursuit. And after the end-of-season break, it seemed as if Benteke had been lured by the possibility of playing for a top-six club, and in Europe, leading to the submission of an official transfer request.

Villa said in the aftermath that they expected Benteke to stay, but the signs were that he would remain unsettled. However, Lambert has managed to convince him to remain, giving the club a massive boost ahead of next season as not only is Benteke a talismanic presence in the team, the situation may have turned out to be a major distraction to their preparations.

Lambert’s ‘full and frank’ discussion is thought to have contained assurances of first-team football ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. There is currently strong competition for places in the Belgian national team, who currently sit top of Group A, with qualification looking likely.

The development leaves Villa looking all the stronger going forward, a view emphasised by Lambert’s summer acquisitions. A bunch of promising young players have been brought to the club, bolstering several areas of the squad in an attempt to avoid another relegation fight next season.

It still remains to be seen whether Benteke’s status with the Aston Villa support will be harmed after toying with the decision to leave, making suggestive remarks about forcing a move elsewhere before handing in his request. However, there will be a huge sense of relief after being so close to losing their star player.

Another player who consistently impressed during his first top-flight campaign, right-back Matthew Lowton, has also agreed a new deal. Signed from Sheffield United last summer, Lowton was a virtual ever-present in the Premier League and adapted well to the higher level of football.

Seven players have now committed their future to the club this summer as Lambert continues to shape his squad for next season. The manager may still make yet more signings, but his main task at present is to look to offload senior players, including Darren Bent, Shay Given and Stephen Ireland, who are out-of-favour, and taking up a large portion of the wage bill.

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