FBL-ENG-PR-ASTON VILLA-SUNDERLAND

Poor Aston Villa. Poor, desperate Villa. What now?

As I’m forced today to write on my football club, full disclosure: yeah. That said, I think there is reason to peer past the veil of tears in the proper part of the Midlands as Christian Benteke—in utterly cynical, predictable fashion—put in his transfer request a single year into a four year contract.

Here’s the Guardian:

Villa issued a statement on Monday confirming Benteke’s transfer request, although the Midlands club are adamant that they will not be bullied into selling a player they bought for £7m last summer. With Benteke only 12 months into a four-year contract, Villa have insisted they will sanction his departure only if their valuation is met. That figure is believed to be in excess of £25m for a player who scored 23 goals in 39 appearances last season.

Last week, I went to some trouble to carefully explain how football pundits were often guilty of ignoring or misunderstanding the crucial concept of means regression. As measurement increases, a variable will tend to move closer to the average. That’s tend to; Benteke is 22 years old; this may be an actual improvement in form, rather than a lucky season with a flagging club.

A quick look at Benteke’s career statistics reveals a very talented, consistent striker. His breakout season with a loan to Belgian side KV Kortijk, where in 2009-10 he scored 16 goals in 38 appearances. He went through a relative lull in both appearances and goals (I say relative as it was still fairly impressive) until his 2011-12 regular season with KRC Genk, in which he scored 16 goals in 33 matches.

While we don’t have access to the data, one would have normally expected a drop-off in production following a move from the Belgian Pro League to the Premier League. However, Benteke managed to score a very credible 23 goals in 39 appearances with Aston Villa, effectively saving the club from relegation.

This is a good thing, but the crucial question is whether this past season alone justifies Villa’s £25 million plus valuation. If we refer to the CIES Football Observatory’s 2013 Annual Review for example, which includes a breakdown of the economic value of Europe’s leading lights, this would put Benteke in a class with Jordi Alba, Manuel Neuer, and Luka Modric.

But there is at least reason to question whether Benteke’s numbers will remain consistently high following a transfer. Let’s just say that a) I wouldn’t make that punt and b) if Villa sell for that price, they should be applauded. Again, he’s young, and he will almost certainly remain a consistent, productive striker. But £25 million is a risky investment indeed.