Villa looking to fill Benteke's boots

Posted by Kevin Hughes

There is a definite downside to losing Christian Benteke but the Belgian's inevitable departure means one thing is for sure; Villa need to find someone to fill his sizable boots. Expect transfer activity, of a positive nature, in the coming weeks as the club step up their search for a new striker.

VI Images/Getty ImagesAlfred Finnbogason could be Paul Lambert's top choice to replace Christian Benteke.

What we have learned of Paul Lambert and his methods thus far suggest he is more than thoroughly prepared for the recruitment mission. He may revisit targets he had in mind 12 months ago, when he elected to sign Benteke. He may have second-guessed the course of events which led to his star striker handing in a transfer request little over a week ago, recognised the body language as last season drew to a close, picked up on the mounting speculation regarding his player back in March, April, May. May even have been tipped the odd wink, had a whisper in his ear. Football is a small world.

In the week or so since Benteke dropped his bombshell, all the while watching his team train in Germany, and play the first of the summer's preseason friendlies, a part of Lambert's mind will have been elsewhere. Focused on the action in front of him, but also on a future without the man he signed for seven million pounds from Genk last August. The scouting network will have been freshly briefed, and there will be a selection of names for Lambert to pore over. There may already have been some discrete enquiries made.

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What we also know about Lambert is that he casts his net pretty wide. He's not afraid to look further afield than the obvious solutions right in front of his eyes, as his signings so far in this close season prove. Whoever comes in to replace Benteke -- and it may be more than one player, for it wouldn't be a surprise if Lambert used whatever funds are made available to him to sign not just a centre-forward but a No. 10 type -- probably won't be an established name. He'll be a striker looking for his first big break, a player perhaps who some of Europe's super clubs know all about, but are not prepared yet to move for.

So, who will be on Lambert's radar? The Netherlands' Eredivisie has been a productive source of talent for the Villa manager -- he signed Karim El Ahmadi, Ron Vlaar and most recently Leandro Bacuna from Dutch football.

There are some strong candidates plying their trade in Holland. Top of the list could be Alfred Finnbogason. Not exactly a new name for Villa fans, the 24-year-old was mentioned back in January as a player of potential interest, and after a fantastic season with Heerenveen, he's far from European football's best-kept secret.

Bundesliga clubs Werder Bremen and Hamburg are reportedly keen, so Villa could face stern competition for a player who scored 24 league goals for his club last season, and scored for Iceland in their World Cup qualifier against Slovenia in June. Still, available for around £5m, Finnbogason -- who spent part of his childhood living in Scotland -- could be a bargain.

Staying in Holland, FC Twente's Luc Castaignos could be an option. The 20-year-old scored 13 times for Twente, re-establishing himself after an unhappy season at Inter, for whom he made just a single Serie A start. He's more than a one-season wonder, having scored 15 league goals for Feyenoord as a teenager in 2010-11.

Comparisons with Thierry Henry are a little lazy and flattering, but Castaignos is quick and powerful, as well as a touch on the temperamental side; his time at Inter was marred by a suspension incurred for spitting on an opponent. He'd certainly be an exciting signing, though his experience of being at Inter might make him inclined to see Villa as a stepping stone.

AP Photo/Polfoto/Rene SchutzeSimon Makienok (6 foot 7) would give Villa a definite aerial advantage.

Widening the search, the Austrian striker Philipp Hosnier is a growing talent. The 24-year-old would bring the added benefit of being able of also playing wide on the right, though centre-forward is his primary role. He couldn't stop scoring goals in 2012-13; 32 in total in the Austrian Bundlesliga -- five for Admira Wacker and then 27 more after transferring to Vienna.

Having signed Danes Jores Okore and Nicklas Helenius this summer, Lambert may also have been told about another of Denmark's up-and-coming players. Simon Makienok, 22, scored 20 goals in the Superliga for Brondby. At 6-foot-7, his physical prowess would be considerable. He and Helenius would give Villa a huge aerial threat.

But if Lambert wants a striker even closer to the Benteke profile, he could go back to Genk (Benteke's former club, of course) for their captain, Jelle Vossen. Reportedly under consideration last year, before Lambert chose Benteke, Vossen has been at Genk for six years and never really pushed on to star for the Belgium national team, having made just eight appearances for the senior side. He's only 24, however, and the best years of his career are ahead of him.

However for a replacement of almost uncanny proportions, Michy Batshuayi is Villa's man. The similarities with Benteke are striking -- Batshuayi is Belgian too, also of Congo descent, and playing his club football in the Jupiler League, with Standard Liege. The 19-year-old is where Benteke was two or three years ago, making a name for himself at under-21 level and establishing himself for his club; he scored 12 goals for Liege in 2012-13. Swansea City have apparently already tried, and failed, with a 3-million-pound bid. Villa may have to move fast.

So, while selling Benteke will undoubtedly weaken Villa, at least temporarily, there are no shortage of promising contenders. A new goalscoring hero may not be long in arriving.

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