Mas­ter­class: Chris­tian Ben­teke

The Crys­tal Palace pow­er­house on how to be­come an 18-yard-box bully

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS -

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”

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