MANUEL BENSON knows what it takes to beat the championship bats because he’s already done it in BASKETBALL.
Burnley’s new Belgium winger was given a warm welcome to English football when Watford’s Hassane Kamara struck him down three times in the first ten minutes of his Vicarage Road debut.
And since then, he’s been a constant target for opponents who keep trying to take lumps from him to stop his attacking abilities.
But 25-year-old Benson, signed from Royal Antwerp, knows it comes with second division territory – where defenders are safe from the VAR exam and referees let far more tackles go than in the Premier League or Europe.
However, the Belgian insists he has to be as smart as he was with the brown ball.
He said: “I love basketball and I like to play with friends. I’m not the biggest or the strongest on the pitch and just like here in the championship, they foul me all the time.
“I’ve learned to be smarter and get some distance because they’re all so big. I have found ways – and I will do exactly the same in football.”
Benson is fortunate to have two fantastic tutors showing how to defeat the tyrants.
His Clarets boss Vincent Kompany was, of course, a world-class central defender at Manchester City who licked his lips at the prospect of giving a player Benson’s size harsh treatment.
And assistant coach Craig Bellamy was also an offensive player who wasn’t the greatest but certainly thrived on outsmarting the middle halves.
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The pair have even hosted training matches where they have instructed the defenders to be tough on the Belgian.
Benson said: “We worked on it because I have to adapt to it.
“It’s difficult because there is no VAR, so it’s all based on the referee’s decision. It’s part of football and I have to learn to be smarter.
“Craig Bellamy helped me a lot. He told me to stay one step ahead of the defenders and not even let them come close to tackling.
“You can put space between you and the defender, but because of the way I play, sometimes I like to be close to the defender, so you just have to accept that that’s part of football.
“We worked hard on it in training and some guys fouled me. With a lot of practice, I can implement what I have learned both in training and in the game.
“In that first game at Watford I thought it would certainly wear off but it didn’t happen. I got a little distracted by it, but every week and every game that goes by I get smarter.”
Benson admits some of the tackles he sees are “scary” and “dangerous.”
He said: “Most of the time defenders don’t want to commit a foul. They just walk towards the ball and try to be smart. But as an attacking player you always feel more disadvantaged because you move a little faster and when the challenge comes it can be quite scary at times. It can be dangerous.
“Because we tend to be quicker on balls and moving towards situations where the challenge comes in, sometimes we have to remember to persevere a bit.
“Maybe defenders can afford to be a little more ruthless because there is no VAR.
“But I don’t want to complain. I’ll keep working to be smarter and hopefully the referees will see the clear fouls at some point.”
But the fact that there is no VAR in the Championship isn’t to Benson’s advantage, he’s glad the EFL didn’t introduce it.
He said: “It’s not necessary for me because I like the atmosphere it brings to the stadium. It’s better for the game when decisions can be made in a split second.
“I’m more old school and I like how football used to be. I don’t wave my hands to complain. I have to adapt.”
Benson revealed he religiously watched the Match of the Day at home and Burnley was a team he had braced himself for because former Belgium international Steve Defour had shown his stuff earlier at Turf Moor.
Although, the winger concedes, he probably wouldn’t have joined the club under former boss Sean Dyche – he must favor the dominant, possession-based game that Kompany has implemented at the club.
He said: “There were too many long balls and that’s not really football to me. It’s not something I would enjoy.
“When I was in Antwerp it was all about going deep and playing the long ball. I had to adapt to that, but couldn’t reach my best level.”
The winger caught the eye of Kompany when they played each other in 2019. The City legend played for Anderlecht in the last season of his playing career and Benson came on as a 55th-minute substitute for Antwerp in a 0-0 draw.
And when Kompany was in charge of Antwerp last season, Benson stood out again with two good performances.
The Burnley ace said: “I hurt him a couple of times but they also beat us in one of the games. It’s great when someone like him remembers you, and when he called me to come over here, I made up my mind.
“Firstly, Vincent was someone I would see play for the national team and City. Everyone knows he was a world-class defender. Also, he’s Belgian and I admired his move to coaching.
“He’s a young coach who still has a lot of feeling because he hasn’t been playing that long. Despite being the manager, he communicates calmly and it never feels like it’s coming from the top when he speaks. It all feels like he’s on par with us and that’s really nice.
“This is an important time in my career. I want to move forward. I want to play in the Premier League and I still have ambitions to play for Belgium, even if it takes me until I’m 32 to get there!”
Benson has revealed that apart from Turf Moor, Tesco is the only place he has visited in Burnley so far.
He said: “I’ve been to Manchester, which is nice, and only to Tesco in Burnley. I don’t have a car at the moment which has made traveling around a bit more difficult but I’m in the process of moving into an apartment and my mum and fiancee will be joining me soon. Hopefully I can see more soon.”
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/6393687/manuel-benson-burnley-efl-bullied-basketball/ Burnley winger Manuel Benson knows what it takes to hit championship bats as he did in BASKETBALL