£32m doesn’t go far these days.
Granted, it could pay over 1,100 British salaries a year, buy you 26 of the world’s fastest car and – not that you’d ever want to – would comfortably stretch to hiring Bruce Springsteen to perform every night for over a month.
But it can’t buy you goals and it can’t buy you passion.
Christian Benteke has to suffice instead. And, baby, he’s not born to run. Or score, pass, shoot and all the other things required of a Premier League footballer.
The Crystal Palace frontman has been having a rough time of late. Two goals from 26 matches doesn’t justify a record-breaking transfer fee. Neither can it justify reported £120,000 a week on wages.
But, as should be expected, that’s exactly what’s being demanded: justification. Crystal Palace is a club founded on its reputation, its grounding in the south London community and its deeply passionate fan base. It’s never been the sort of club that goes about splashing the hard-earned cash of its supporters carelessly.
Any big money buys for Palace have largely proved their worth and generally have the backing of supporters.
The same cannot be said for Christian Benteke.
On Saturday, against his former club and the beneficiaries of that eye-watering £32m, Liverpool, things seemed to have hit the point of no return for the Belgian forward.
Missing two fairly clear-cut chances to nab a much needed three points, Benteke yet again invited his critics to pour scorn on his commitment to the team and level of real talent.
Cow’s arses and banjos were discussed aplenty.
Ultimately, as a forward, Benteke has one main job. A frontman who does nothing all game but prod home the silver-plattered tap-in is lauded far higher than the journeyman who grafts their backside off every week.
The 27-year-old does neither.
Admittedly, he seems to have been improving lately and plays among a team not suited to his abilities, but the bloke has been far from the standard his price tag suggests.
On the positive side of things, Benteke has consistently increased his overall distance covered for the last eight of nine games and wins the big, powerful aerial duels with confidence.
The latter is a skill to be praised and is often essential when facing a tall, competent back four. But, ‘tekkers’ doesn’t play with a strike partner because Palace have failed to sign a forward suited to playing off him.
Injuries have been abound at Selhurst Park and the lad has often found himself setting up as a lone striker; a position not favoured by big, get-ya-nut-to-it centre forwards.
Benteke’s lack of tactical flexibility becomes apparent in this scenario as the fella fails to make himself available for a solid midfield when unable to nod the ball down for someone shorter and of better quality.
His shots are skewed; his positional sense seemingly undeveloped and there’s little real drive in that 13 stone of man.
So, what does he contribute?
Benteke appears to be working a little harder with each game and last December reacted well having overruled Roy Hodgson’s choice of penalty taker only to go on and miss. But, he’ll be the first off the pitch, the least fazed by his own flaws and the happiest to let a ball run out.
Things like that matter to supporters, especially if those fans work all year to afford the games whereby multi-millionaires are paid inordinate sums of money in a way completely disproportionate to how skillful they actually are.
The first criticism of Benteke from the stands will almost always relate to the size of his wallet.
And that’s a position completely unarguable with. If a fan – working 9-5 on £25,000 a year, who looks to the football for a bit of respite – has to endure watching a man far richer than they could ever dream to be mope around their beloved pitch and not justify the hiked ticket prices, then they have every right to lambaste him and berate the sod for not performing week after week.
More crucially for Palace, his inability leaves them without a genuine striking presence or focus point for the team going forward.
Already battling relegation, the Eagles typically play with pacey players up and down the flanks; Zaha, Townsend, van Aanholt, Sako etc.
Without a man who – like Benteke – can win the ball from the crosses but – unlike Benteke – guide it on target or – as is currently impossible for Benteke – knock it down for a strike partner, those lads on the wing become redundant unless cutting inside.
By doing this, Palace lose the wizardry out wide and narrow the game against teams often centrally far better than themselves.
The team have lost faith in their target-man and are effectively reduced to ten men as a result.
Palace fans don’t deserve relegation and if Benteke’s lacklustre performances continue, that’s exactly what they’re going to get.
As if taking £120,000 a week from them wasn’t bad enough. Sort it out, Chris.