Paul Lambert insists Aston Villa aren’t even thinking about Christian Benteke’s contract.
The Belgian international moved to the Midlands club in a £7million deal this summer, and he has gone on to become one of the stars of the Premier League season despite the struggles of his side. With only six fixtures of the campaign remaining, Villa are just two points above the relegation zone, and one team below them, Wigan Athletic, also have a game in hand.
Benteke is one player who can hardly have done more to improve their situation, having taken little time to settle in England. Still only 22-years-old, the former Genk youngster has 15 goals in 29 league appearances, and his total of 19 in all competitions makes him a good bet to become the first Villa player to score 20 goals since Peter Withe 32 years ago.
This has inevitably led to speculation of interest in his signature ahead of the summer transfer window, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur both said to be admirers. In turn, it has been suggested that Villa have opened talks with the forward over a new contract, despite him penning a four-year deal when he arrived on deadline day in August.
Manager Lambert, though, claims he knows nothing of these supposed discussions. And despite their 3-1 win at Stoke City reigniting real belief they will avoid relegation, the Scottish coach insists the subject of fresh contracts is off the agenda until survival has been guaranteed.
“I think the most important thing is the league until the end of the season,” he said. “I heard somebody say he’s been promised a new contract but I can’t have been a part of those conversations. I speak to him all the time, not about contracts, I just tell him to keep it going really.
“And he’s never once mentioned anything to me about contracts. He’s got a contract here anyway as it stands, but I think it’s important we stay in this league and do as well as we’ve been doing. I’m sure come the end of the season we’ll sit down and it’ll be just Chris and a few others.”
The win at the Britannia Stadium has injected a fresh confidence in this young Villa side that not only can they avoid the drop, but that they can really push on next season. It has often been said that 40 points is enough to stay up, and due to the number of teams still involved in the dogfight, it could be less this term. And with two home games to play this month – starting with Fulham on Saturday and ending with fellow strugglers Sunderland on 29 April – there is sure to be genuine optimism that they may enter the final month of the season clear of relegation worries.