The media is full of reports that Darren Bent has handed in a written transfer request, and Steve Bruce has confirmed to ESPNsoccernet that the England striker is talking to Aston Villa. Like many Sunderland fans, I must admit I am stunned, but on reflection this could also be very good business for the Black Cats, if they can secure a replacement during this transfer window. Nobody wants to see a good, even great goalscorer leave the club, but Darren Bent has not had a great season by his standards – he has been struggling for form. He has been missing "easy" chances and did not trouble Steve Harper much on Sunday; he was playing as if he was carrying a burden, and now this news has come out today.
I doubt if Aston Villa will be the only team bidding now that the transfer request appears to have been accepted. Liverpool would be foolish not to go for him. In Steve Bruce’s shoes, would you want to hang on to a player if he is not happy? And a fee of £18 million rising to £24 million could be enough to lure the player away. Bent’s record of 32 goals in 58 league games for Sunderland since leaving Tottenham in a £10 million deal in August 2009 is remarkable, but as a fan, I would say his heart has not really been in it in the last few months. He is a great finisher, but not a style player and in this blog I have remarked on his lack of killer instinct this season. He has been very committed in the games against top teams, holding the ball up well, but he hardly showed up against Notts County in the FA Cup and in games against the struggling Premier League teams this season.
Chairman Niall Quinn must be aware of the story of Bob Murray, a predecessor at the SSOL, who turned down a £16 million bid for Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips only to sell the striker to Southampton for £3 million less than two years later. Quinn has learnt from that mistake, and we have to admit that although our hearts say do not sell your best players, football is also a business and each business has to watch the bottom line, and not allow its assets to become devalued.
An issue with the geography of the club is that many talented players just don't want to live too far away from the SE of England, unless they are in a top six team with the chance of Champions League football. They get less exposure in the NE, which in the end will mean less international recognition, despite playing well for the Black Cats. This has been an issue for the club since the 1950s and even before that.
What leaks out of a club is often the tip of an iceberg. Bent may feel overshadowed by Gyan, who is extrovert and maybe better looking! Welbeck has also come in and done an excellent job, and whereas Bent was almost the only show in town in front of goal last season, he has not had things all his own way in this campaign. One question for me though is how did Bent know there was apparently a bid put in for him, was the approach from Villa communicated to him?
So again we have to trust Steve Bruce's stewardship of the club, he knows what he is doing, as he showed with Kenwyne Jones, and if he can persuade John Carew to come to the North-East, to partner with Gyan and Welbeck, that may be a sound short-term solution. We will be sad to see Darren go, but what can you do? There may be some more twists and turns, and if it was Newcastle bidding for him, we would keep the guy to his contract, but we have done the double over Villa, and the club regrettably needs to take the cash and move on.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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