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Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson believes the best days of Christian Benteke’s career could still be yet to come.
Eagles striker Benteke has endured a prolonged barren spell stretching back to the start of the 2017-18 season but has shown glimpses of past glories by hitting three goals in as many Premier League games.
The 30-year-old will return to Aston Villa – his first English club – on Saturday, having sat out the 7-0 drubbing against his former side Liverpool due to suspension.
While many footballers are perceived to be in decline once they pass 30, veteran manager Hodgson insists age is no barrier and has urged Benteke to resume his red-hot form.
“I think we have to start reviewing ages. In the past when the game was extremely tough for relatively small squads, by the time a player got to 30 – if he started at 18, 19 – he was really starting to show signs of serious wear and tear,” said Hodgson.
“I don’t think that’s the case any more.
“I think we can expect players now to be going on longer and we can expect the ages of between 27 and 32 possibly as being their best years because they won’t have lost anything physically and they will have all of the knowledge and experience that playing football matches every week gives them.
“I think he’s in an excellent period and it’s up to him to kick on. He’s started brightly and all we can do is to encourage him to keep it going.”
After costing a reported £27million from Liverpool in 2016, Benteke struck 17 times in all competitions during a relatively prolific first term in south London.
However, the Belgium international has managed just nine top-flight goals in the past three-and-a-half years, including a brace in the 5-1 win at West Brom on December 6 and the opener in the 1-1 draw at West Ham 10 days later.
A red card in the second half against the Hammers caused him to miss a reunion with Jurgen Klopp’s Reds last weekend but he is poised to return to Palace’s starting XI against Villa, for whom he scored 42 top-flight goals between 2012 and 2015.
Hodgson feels Benteke is reaping the rewards of his hard work in training and hopes he can provide Belgium boss Roberto Martinez with regular reminders of his talents ahead of next summer’s European Championships.
“We’ve always made it clear to him that you don’t lose an ability to be a proper centre-forward, both in terms of your link-up play and your scoring of goals,” said Hodgson.
“I must say I could never question Christian’s desire to get back into the sort of form he’s in at the moment.
“And even in training sessions perhaps when his confidence was low, he never stopped working, he never stopped trying to do the right things.
“I see it at the moment as a just reward.
“(He) is now very much focusing very heavily on the rest of this season, doing well for Crystal Palace and hopefully marking the card of Roberto to give him a chance to play in the Euros.”