Monday, January 17, 2011

Bent's goals will save (or cost) Aston Villa

Darren Bent looks likely to seal a £20+ million transfer from Sunderland to Aston Villa within the next forty-eight hours. From the outside, it’s when and not if the ex-Tottenham and Charlton forward departs the Northeast after he handed in his second written transfer request of the term - this request follows a rejected plea in August. Gaffer Steve Bruce sounds resigned to losing him and England’s The Guardian reports the Mackem manager stunned both by Bent’s desire to leave, and the amount at which Villa value the hitman.

It’s rumoured that an initial £18 million bid was rejected by the Mackems as they held out for a bid over milestone figure 20 millio. Add-ons have been suggested raising the deal to around £24M but the final shape of the transaction is still murky. Given Sunderland’s history in the transfer market – they rejected a £16 million bid for striker Kevin Phillips in the early years of this century only to sell him for £3 million two years later – it’s likely they can’t resist the lure of Gerard Houllier’s lucre and Bent’s future lies at the Birmingham club.

Usually unshy of expressing his admiration for the people and fans of the Northeast, Bent’s season so far has been a pale imitation of his outstanding first year on Wearside. His relationship with the region may have soured for good when his car was vandalised by Newcastle fans while shopping and whispers suggest the striker’s reputed fragile headspace has become an issue again after being overlooked for England’s World Cup campaign after his 2009-10 tour de force. He started brightly this season, scoring seven times by September’s end but since then has only tinkled the twine four times amidst a flurry of speculation regarding his happiness in the region. His starting position has been shared/usurped by offseason signing Asamoah Gyan and loanee Danny Welbeck, so it’s hardly a shock Bent’s head has been turned by a club closer to his Cambridgeshire roots.

In all probability Bent has played his last game in Sunderland’s red and white stripes and will leave the club he’s helped build from relegation fodder into challenging for European honours. He will re-inject himself into a situation with which he is very familiar - the relegation battle – having waged similar wars with Charlton, Tottenham and Sunderland. Aston Villa sit outside the drop zone only on goals scored, their goal difference mirroring that of 18th-placed Wigan at -15. Under Martin O`Neill the Clarets challenged regularly for a top four berth but since the Northern Irishman`s departure, front men Gabby Agbonlahor and John Carew have been perpetually injured while reserve Emile Heskey scores goals with the same frequency as sightings of Halley’s Comet. Given the mixed returns of his youth policy, Houllier has identified a need for goals – quickly – and is gambling much of the dosh the club received from selling James Milner on a Bent revival and him leading the club to survival in an incredibly even Premiership season.

It’s an enormous gamble by the Frenchman – betting Bent’s recent goal drought comes from a lack of supply from midfield – and the manager is riding the hope that his wide men (Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton) can provide the ammunition the twenty-six year old needs to fire Villa to safety. With only sixteen EPL clashes remaining, DB “The Truth” will probably need to score somewhere around 7-10 goals or more to ensure safe haven for the Midlands club, at a composite cost of about £3 million per goal. When considering the money in top level football – and how much Villa would lose if relegated – that rate is unquestionably a bargain.

Should they survive.

If, however, the young Clarets can`t arrest their slide into the Championship, they will be forced to sell this new star at cut-price rates. The gamble is on display for all to see: how Bent settles into his new footballing home could cost Villa 18, 20, 24 or even 60 million pounds. Darren Bent will leave Sunderland to become Aston Villa`s talisman, for better or for worse.

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