Masterclass: Christian Benteke
The Crystal Palace powerhouse on how to become an 18-yard-box bully
Which strikers did you look up to the most when you were a kid?
Thierry Henry. My other heroes were Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane, but the best was Henry. He had a particular way of scoring his goals. He’s always spoken of as an Arsenal player but he also played for Barcelona, Juventus and Monaco, and was a winner everywhere he went. In the modern game, I like Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski as well as Karim Benzema. They’re killers in front of goal.
Did you try to model your game on those players as you developed?
I tried to learn from them but I never tried to copy their exact style. You can learn, but at the same time you have to be yourself. I don’t think it is a good idea to try to be like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, as they are very special.
Do you think there is too much pressure on young footballers now?
Yes. There should not be any pressure when you’re six, seven, eight years old; it should come later when you grow up. If you don’t enjoy it when you are a child, you won’t enjoy it later either.
What’s the best advice you have been given about being a striker?
I was once told that it is the best job in the world to be a striker, because we are the only ones who understand how good it feels when the ball hits the net. That’s something that has always stuck with me – only strikers truly know how great the feeling is to score goals.
Your physical strength is a big part of your game. Is it something you have always worked hard on?
I try to maintain my body to stay fit, but I don’t lift weights every day to get stronger. I go to the gym every day to do my pre-activation exercises before training. I stretch and do any exercises the physio gives me. You must listen to your body: it’s your tool and taking care of it is up to you. If you’re fit, you can do everything you want to do on the pitch.
How do opposition defenders go about trying to stop you scoring?
Every game is a battle. You try to be as ready as you can. It isn’t easy, because in every game you play against different defenders. You have to prepare for that.
Do many teams use physical defenders to mark you?
I’m not sure – you should probably ask the coach of the opposition! When I play against big defenders, it can become difficult, as then it’s a bit of a battle and both players want to come out on top. I prefer zonal marking: it gives me some space and allows me to make more of a difference. However, the rules have been changed and we can’t grab the opponent or pull the shirt and tussle the way we used to. It happens quite a lot in the Premier League, as set-pieces are so important and can be the difference between winning and losing games.
You’re excellent in the air. Have you always been very good at heading?
I was good when I was young, but I’ve improved my skills over time. I picked it up naturally and improved it by training and doing the same thing every day.
If you were coaching a young player, what heading tips would you pass on?
It depends on how good your heading skills are, but it’s about repetition: doing the same thing over and over to try to improve. When you head the ball well, you can master the penalty area. You are the boss over the ball – you dictate where the ball goes, not the other way around. You must do everything you can to try to control the situation.
What sort of things do you do to get in the zone before a match starts?
I listen to music on the bus and in the dressing room. That’s it. It’s mostly R’n’B and French rap. I mix it up a bit so I don’t always listen to all of the same songs. I would say that in the Palace dressing room, Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako are the DJs. They’ve got their playlists.
Do you like to get really fired up or are you more of a calm person?
I am a calm person, but sometimes I can lose my patience during or after the match. I always play with my instincts, and only after the game will I think, ‘I should have done this or that in a different way.’
“If you head the ball well, you are the master of the penalty area and you dictate where the ball goes”