Premier League

World Cup motivation could save Benteke’s season

 • by James Nalton
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Christian Benteke isn’t short of reasons to be motivated when it comes to turning his Crystal Palace form around. On a basic personal level, the Belgian will simply want to improve his game, play more regularly, and start finding the net again. He hasn’t scored since January and only has two goals in total in the league this season.

For a player once considered one of the best strikers in the division, so much so that he was bought by Liverpool for £32.5 million, making him their second most expensive player at the time, he will want to return to a level where he is once again highly regarded.

“I know I’ll never have Cristiano Ronaldo’s career, I’m not asking for it, but all I want is recognition,” he said in a recent interview.

Before he can reach those levels again he has to work his way back into the Crystal Palace lineup.

Roy Hodgson has started Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha up front in the last three league games, and though Benteke has been on the bench for two of them, after missing out on the Bournemouth game with a groin injury, the team have managed to find the net and secure important points without him.

They have scored five goals in his absence, and have also picked up five points thanks to a win at home to Brighton & Hove Albion, and draws against Bournemouth and Watford.

Perhaps the biggest motivation for the 27-year-old at the moment is the upcoming World Cup, and his desire to work his way back into Roberto Martinez’s Belgium squad.

They are a team littered with stars, and there is considerable competition for places in the 23-man squad. They eased through qualifying with Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, and Dries Mertens scoring plenty while Benteke spent much of his time on the bench, or out of the squad due to injury.

In his only start in qualifying, he managed to bag a hat-trick against Gibraltar but also scored two in a friendly against Russia.

As well as the aforementioned trio, he is also competing with the likes of Divock Origi and Michy Batshuayi. The latter picked up a serious ankle injury in Borussia Dortmund’s loss to Schalke and will miss the rest of the club season, but he’s regularly giving updates on his rehab as he hopes to stay in Martinez’s mind ahead of squad selection, just in case he recovers in time.

Benteke will be hoping that his compatriot Batshuayi does recover in time, but he’ll also be hoping to make the squad himself.

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Having not been included in the most recent group for a friendly against Saudi Arabia, the striker knows he isn’t a certainty for selection. He, unfortunately, missed the 2014 World Cup through injury, when he was primed for a starting berth, and has spoken about what being called up this time around would mean for him and his family.

“I knew it was 50-50, I’m no longer a kid, I also knew the reason — it’s my statistics and not the overall quality of my matches,” he said.

“If I look at those who play in my place, I think they’re not in their best shape either. I should be in. In the end, the fact of not being in that squad had both negative and positive effect.

“Negative because I did not make it, even if it was only for one game. The positive was that it allowed me to stay in my club and to be able to work on knowing why I was not taken in. And to address it.

“If I had to miss [the World Cup], it would hurt me but I would recover. For my family, my cousins, it would be different. It is also their dream. They’d see me on TV with the others, with the team.

“It’s not an individual sport where I’m alone. The more time goes the more pressure I will feel, because they want it to work again for me, for me to be there. I’m more motivated than ever.”

Having only appeared off the bench in his last two games for Palace, Benteke will be itching to get back in the starting lineup and, in training, he will be trying to persuade Hodgson that he deserves to start. Only then can he start trying to persuade Martinez that he deserves to go to Russia.

Helping Palace to safety could have the substantial added bonus of helping him into the World Cup squad, and these are the short term ambitions he’d like to achieve for his family, himself and his club.

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