Christian Benteke on LeBron, Messi & De Bruyne: DC United star opens up

Christian Benteke - DC United

It’s become a familiar sight for D.C. United fans: Christian Benteke scores and then does “The Silencer” celebration.

In those moments, if you’ve thought that looks an awful lot like NBA superstar LeBron James’ trademark celebration, you’re not alone.

“It comes from him,” Benteke said on Extratime. “Since I got into the basketball world, I've always been inspired by him.

“Me, as a footballer, you have players that you look up to. But then I was trying to look to a different sport and basketball was the closest to football. Then LeBron, you can't go wrong by choosing him.

“It's work ethic, it's discipline about his work. We all know the great athlete that he is, but for me, it's more everything that he does to be so great.”

There are similarities between their physical play styles – with LeBron and Benteke equally a nightmare to defend. For the Belgian striker, that means being elite at aerial challenges and headed goals.

“I have the physicality to do it, but it's also the understanding,” Benteke explained. “I saw so many tall players who have bad timing, they get pushed. So it's all about understanding the game, when to jump, when not to jump and the timing between you and the ball.”

Benteke honed this approach over the years: “I remember when I was probably 12, I was getting bullied because I wanted to have the nice aspect of the game. I was tall, but I was skinny. I didn't really want contact. I wanted to be nice on the ball. Then I had to learn that with my size, I should use it even more.”

Messi Effect

It’s not just LeBron who Benteke admires, though. The former Premier League standout observed how global perceptions of MLS have changed since Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami CF last summer.

“I was having some calls last season once I first moved,” Benteke said. “Now they see me enjoying, they see Messi, all those players coming into the league. Now they're like, 'Hmm, I think the US is the place to be now.' It's pretty cool for the league.”

One downside? Messi was recovering from a hamstring injury during Miami’s 3-1 win at D.C.’s Audi Field last month. The Eastern Conference clubs will meet again on May 18 at Miami’s Chase Stadium.

“When we played against them, I wanted to play against him because I think as an athlete, you want to compete against the best,” Benteke said. “Regardless of if you're going to win or not, you want to play against the best. And the fact that Messi is here, for the image of the league, it's so huge. You have the best player in the world in your league.”

KDB next?

The summer transfer window often sees big-name players from Europe move to MLS. Perhaps fellow Belgian international Kevin De Bruyne will do the same when his Manchester City career ends?

“He's 32 and he's been around in Europe for many, many years,” Benteke said. “I can see him at a team in LA.”

De Bruyne aside, Benteke outlined what he’d tell inquiring minds about the MLS experience.

“I would describe the league as physical and technical,” Benteke said.

“It’s a mix of both because people think, ‘Oh yeah, MLS is easy. They don’t really care about football or soccer.’ Until you play the game, you understand that you will enjoy yourself. But you better be ready, you better respect the league because it’s not that easy.”

Next steps

For Benteke, this all comes amid D.C. United’s new era. He joined the club in August 2022 from Crystal Palace, then playing for Wayne Rooney. Now, he’s the veteran leader for head coach Troy Lesesne's remade squad.

“What I like with Troy is he looks into details,” Benteke said. “He will treat Christian Benteke the same way that he will treat Matai Akinmboni or Jackson Hopkins or Ted Ku-Dipietro.

“We all have a part to play and he gives respect, love, consideration for the players, staff, cleaners, everyone in the building. When you step into the building, you feel like a family. We are all on the same page, the dynamic is good, energy is good. There is no lie: This is the reason why we play that way. That's why we, as a team, are really good.”

It inspires hope that D.C. United could return to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2019. Doing so, including in Saturday’s trip to New York City FC (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), requires turning promising performances into three points.

“We know we can score goals, we know we can create chances,” Benteke said. “Now it's more about how can we have a complete game? How can we make sure that at the end of the game, we don't feel sorry for ourselves rather than being like, 'Let's hope we can get a goal and then see if after that we can win football matches’?

“We are far away from that. We just need to know how to manage a game through the whole game.”