• Belgian linked with £25m-plus move to Spurs
• Club admit they will sell player for right price
Christian Benteke has thrown Aston Villa's pre-season plans into turmoil by submitting a transfer request that is expected to lead to Tottenham Hotspur making a formal offer for the striker.
Spurs watched Benteke on numerous occasions last season and, after becoming frustrated in their pursuit of several other forwards, will step up their attempts to sign the 22-year-old Belgium international.
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.
Chelsea, who missed out on signing Edinson Cavani from Napoli, and Arsenal, who remain in the market for a striker, could yet join the race for Benteke, although Spurs are the clear favourites. André Villas-Boas, the Spurs manager, has spoken publicly of his admiration for Benteke, and it is understood that the north London club made a preliminary inquiry for the player in February.
With Spurs missing out on David Villa, losing interest in Leandro Damião and struggling to persuade Valencia to part with Roberto Soldado, Benteke has emerged as the most plausible option for a club desperate to bring in a high-profile centre-forward and willing to offer players in exchange to make the deal happen. Benteke's age is in keeping with Tottenham's strategy to sign younger players and his ability to play as a lone striker will appeal to Villas-Boas.
Villa had hoped to agree an improved contract with Benteke, who has not joined the club on their pre-season training camp in Germany because he was given an extended break, but it now appears he has played his last game for the club. It will be a huge blow for Paul Lambert to lose a player who scored or created 49% of Villa's goals in the Premier League last season – a higher proportion than any other top-flight player.
Villa's manager said: "While we're hugely disappointed that Christian has put in a transfer request, it's important that people appreciate we are trying to build something strong and vibrant here at the club, something this club demands and stands for, and we want Christian to be part of that."