Christian Benteke hasn't featured in the Premier League since September 21 after suffering a hip flexor injury in Aston Villa's 1-0 win over Norwich. Villa boss Paul Lambert had initially stated that his star striker would be out of action for between four and six weeks, though it seems Benteke could make a return for Belgium's World Cup qualifier against Wales next week.
Lambert has admitted that he would allow the talismanic forward to make the decision on whether he plays or not, but is the Scotsman right in doing so, especially with Villa short on attacking options?
The initial “four to six week” lay-off would have seen Benteke out until November 2 at the latest, but Villa's top scorer looks set to return for international duty on October 15—that will make Villa fans rather anxious.
As reported by the Mirror's David Anderson in a recent interview, Lambert was initially adamant that his striker was not fit enough for the call-up, saying:
I totally understand Belgium’s point of view. They’re a point away from the biggest tournament at national team level. But you’re hoping they understand our point of view. The guy’s got injured for us and might play for us.
Christian will know himself how he’s feeling, but at this moment in time, I would say he’s not fit.
Despite the manager's feelings on the sensitive matter, Lambert has conceded that he was powerless in his attempts to keep the striker in Birmingham because of a FIFA ruling that could see Belgium prevent Benteke from featuring against Tottenham, should Villa not allow him to join up with the national team. The Express reported that Lambert fumed about the decision, declaring that he was “obliged to let him go.”
However, there appears to have been a U-turn in the managers thoughts, with the Villa boss seemingly more relaxed about the possibility of Benteke featuring against Wales after Belgium's physio Lieven Maesschalck declared the player fit. Sky Sports report that the Villa boss has put the decision in the player's hands. He was quoted as saying:
I trust Christian to do the right thing. He is probably stuck in the middle right now.
I know he wants to play and get back into it as quickly as possible but he hasn't been back on the training ground yet since picking up the injury.
But I've had a good chat with him and he will know himself what is the right thing for him to do. I trust him. But I won't be happy if he plays for Belgium and comes back to me injured.
It appears that Benteke may have already made up his mind, however, with Chelsea's Eden Hazard tweeting a picture of himself, Benteke and Manchester United's 'injured' midfielder Marouane Fellaini in full training gear.
Lambert is not the first manager to become involved in a club vs country row, especially with an international break around the corner. Former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson often had publicised rows with the respective Football Associations of his United players—most Notably England's FA.
Earlier this year Ferguson had spats with English football's governing body over the inclusion of Phil Jones and Ashley Young as well as United captain Rio Ferdinand, as reported by the Daily Mail and the Sun.
In fairness, Lambert had his hands tied and could do nothing but let Benteke join up with his compatriots. But should the Villa boss have kicked up more of a fuss and ruffled a few feathers, he could have forced Benteke to stay in Birmingham—though that would mean risking losing him for the Tottenham fixture.
It seems like a bit of a gamble, but it would have certainly been a risk worth taking should the 22-year-old arrive back from international duty on crutches.