The England international’s move to a club placed considerably lower than his former side in the Premier League table remains mired in controversy.
Predicting the course of football is a virtually impossible and quite frankly pointless task. Often, if followed closely, trends emerge within the game. Barcelona, for example, will win nearly every match that they play, this due to the fact that they currently boast one of the most formidable teams of all time. So when it came to contemplating whether Barcelona would overcome the might of Spanish second division outfit Real Betis, you would have been verging on insanity to suggest anything other than a Catalonia triumph, especially considering the fact they demolished the same team by five goals at the Camp Nou just a week earlier. As it happened, Barcelona contrived to lose this game by three goals to one, a result which included a penalty missed by the best footballer on the planet. As previously stated, predicting football is pointless. This largely because just when you think you have it sussed, Darren Bent moves from European hopefuls Sunderland to relegation threatened Aston Villa. It’s a funny old game.
Bent’s swift departure from the Black Cats followed his shock transfer request on Sunday night. When participating in his first interview as an Aston Villa player, the striker indicated that he had been made aware of the interest shortly after the Tyne-Wear derby and immediately mustered the desire to force the transfer through. This decision alone seemed incomprehensible to Premier League enthusiasts for a plethora of reasons which all seemingly culminated into one. With Sunderland performing considerably better than Aston Villa in the league whilst clearly showing serious ambitions of European qualification the only feasible explanation remaining suggested that Darren Bent had been lured to Villa with the prospect of greater financial rewards. When Bent was inevitably accused of this in the same interview, he was quick to cite his transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in 2007, a decision he had made despite the tantalising wages he was supposedly being offered to join West Ham United. So if Bent was not enticed away from The Stadium of Light by the superior wages on offer at Villa then why did he make the move?
A large degree of the surprise surrounding this move can be attributed to the fact that Darren Bent appeared truly settled whilst playing his football for Sunderland. For long periods he seemed as if he was thriving within a team where he was clearly one of the more talented players, much as he did during his earlier years as a professional footballer at Charlton Athletic. The club rescued him from a less than convincing spell at Tottenham Hotspur, where he was often weighed down by the high expectations of being the club’s most expensive player and was overshadowed by the exquisite talents of Dimitar Berbatov. It was ultimately Harry Redknapp’s mismanagement of the player which signalled the end of his time at Spurs, a mistake which his new employer Steve Bruce was keen not to emulate. Bent was made the centre of attention at Sunderland, employed as the primary source of goals and often rewarded with the captain’s armband as a consequence of his influential performances. Bent went on to repay his manager’s faith in him by notching 32 goals in 58 appearances for the Black Cats. It remains baffling that he would opt to leave the club whilst it was still doing so much to enhance his own career.
Bent’s prolific goal scoring record eventually earned him a recall to the England set-up. On a personal level, the player’s talents were being recognised and heralded on the international stage for the first time in his career. His return to the England squad provided him with the opportunity to get his first goal for his country, which came last year in a qualifier against Switzerland. His club were writing their own success story too. Sunderland were proving to be a formidable team in the Premier League, with an impenetrable record at The Stadium of Light and the highlight away from home of thumping Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Bent’s career was at an all-time high and with the glass ceiling removed, he seemed destined for more successful days in the North East. His departure to a club of a similar stature rightfully left a bitter taste in Steve Bruce’s mouth.
Reflecting upon his time at Sunderland it is hard to detect an obvious reason for his departure, especially to a club who are deeply mired within a relegation battle. Bent has stated that he feels Aston Villa are lying in a ‘false position’ but whether that is the case or not, if they remain in the same form they have been in since Gerard Houllier’s arrival as manager they will drop into the Championship. If the player truly thinks that he is making a positive move to Aston Villa then he must be lacking any sense of logic. Although Villa may one day return to the top six of the Premier League they must now face a rebuilding period, repairing a squad which has aged and lost a considerable amount of talent. Sunderland on the other hand are far more equipped for a European challenge which only serves as yet another perplexing factor in the player’s decision to move.
Overall, the transfer does not reflect well on Darren Bent. He shows little remorse for leaving the club that revived his career in a less than favourable state. His comments about joining Aston Villa because they are a bigger club are misplaced and his claims that he has not moved for the increased salary are disingenuous. Steve Bruce revealed the club had talked him out of a move to Fenerbahce in the summer; a club who notoriously hand out high wages to any mercenary willing to leave Europe’s elite leagues for high payouts. The fact that they targeted Bent, and were almost successful, reveals a lot about the character of the player. Conveniently, it also brings to a halt any inquest into why a player of Darren Bent’s quality would swap a team of European challengers for a dejected group of relegation candidates.
- Paul Richards