This article was written for us by Nicole Carroll. Many of you know her as she writes for several on line organisations about the Blues. You can follow her regular blog here.
Nicole will hopefully writing for us from time to time. I hope you like her first contribution to Joys and Sorrows.
The arrival of Christian Benitez to St. Andrews is murky tale. Media outlets could not decide whether we’d signed the player for record terms, or what price we were meant to have landed him for.
Eventually, details emerged about potential problems with the medical, which lead the player to sign on a year long loan deal, with the option to keep him after the first year. [Even the Blues website seems confused about this under the players profile as it offers differing information again!].
Living in the Youtube generation, any prospective player is eagerly looked upon by fans who discover compilations of that players greatest moments, and expectations rise substantially. As well as some impressive videos of the player, Benitez has an adequate goal rate in international football with 10 goals in 30 matches, and 31 goals from 58 games at his last domestic club Santos Laguna. His domestic scoring rate on paper is impressive, but the Mexican Premier Division is good, but not of the standard of our own Premier League.
Benitez spent the summer of 2009 recovering from a shoulder injury, but Blues fans got a first look at his flashes of brilliance in the second half of the opening match of the season back in August. Benitez forced Manchester United’s Ben Foster into a fantastic save, and left the Blues fans clamouring to see more of the pint-sized front man.
For all the pace and getting into good areas, there has been very little final product in terms of scoring during the season for Benitez. Although he has had a hand (or foot) in atleast six assists, his league record is rather lowly at just two goals and he produced a solitary finish during the FA Cup run. Compare this to his regular strike partner of Cameron Jerome who has managed nine goals this campaign, or midfielder Bowyer who himself has contributed five goals to the campaign so far.
There is simply no denying the potential talent of Benitez, his previous goal scoring shows us the type of player he can be, and at times he shows pure brilliance on the pitch when he’s driving centre backs to distraction, or taking snap shots which force top class saves. When he comes on to the pitch you just feel there is something a little bit special about the player and he really has the ability to change the game if he puts his mind to it.
Despite his plaudits, with McLeish circling a long awaited Kris Boyd signing, you do have to wonder where Benitez will fit in with next seasons plans. Boyd is also prolific in his own league, but may struggle to assert himself in the Premier League. Benitez’s final fee is meant to be in the region of around £8 million. To put this into context, you are getting a 24 year old striker with a fantastic international pedigree. If it was a choice between taking him and the relative gamble for that amount of money, or two average strikers, then the choice would always be Benitez. You cannot get regular Premier League scorers for the sorts of money that we are willing to offer. We lost out on Pavlychenko in January due to constraints on what we were willing to pay the player, and taking the next step as a club to start attracting that calibre of player.
After a season in the Premier League, Benitez should be feeling like he has adapted to the English game and be looking to push on and improve his goal scoring record for the next season. He hasn’t totally struggled this season, and just seems to fit with the Blues style of football. During our unbeaten run during the season, one of the key reasons, if not the key reason for us keeping that record was the stability of the first eleven. This concept should apply when looking towards next season. Although naturally the club will have new faces arrive and those who will be moving onto better things, it would be worth McLeish’s time to keep Benitez on. Two young strikers in the shape of Benitez and Jerome are a pair who can be nurtured into a formidable team, and complimented by different strikers. One season is not enough to show us whether Benitez will make it in the league; and the next calibre of striker we would like is going to cost us a lot more than Benitez’s fee will be.
There are those players in the game who maybe did not impress initially and were let go, only to become massive successes. McLeish missed out on a star when Palacios was allowed to move onto Wigan and subsequently for a high free to Tottenham. At the time, McLeish did not have adequate time to look at the player. Recently Benitez has been left out of the starting line-up and whispers are circulating about not taking an option up on the contract. McLeish’s signings have on the whole been brilliant, but lets not let another gem shine somewhere else.
McLeish: Sign him up, or regret it in the future.