Darren Bent to Villa: A good move, but for whom?

Picture courtesy of Sky Sports

What’s the motivation for Darren Bent’s reported transfer to Aston Villa, from all three parties?

The January transfer window finally roared into action today with the news that Sunderland’s Darren Bent has handed in a transfer request and looks set to join Aston Villa for an initial fee of £18 million. The move is something of a strange one for Bent, who is yet to hit top form for Steve Bruce’s side this season, as Sunderland currently lie 6th in the table and are vying for a European spot, while Villa are struggling in 17th, effectively fighting a relegation battle.
The news of Bent’s proposed transfer must have come as a shock to Villa fans as much as it did everyone else, partly because of the player in question but mainly because of the fee. Before the start of this season, Martin O’Neill left the club because of a disagreement over transfer funds with Villa owner Randy Lerner. Now though, with Gerard Houllier at the helm, it seems that Lerner wants to make it clear to Villa fans that he’s not afraid to spend some money. While Bent isn’t worth £18 million, this move is a clear statement of intent from the owner as many fans were starting to doubt his commitment to the cause. Bent will, as his goalscoring history would suggest, provide the much-needed firepower to an Aston Villa side that has been so lacking in goals this season; his goals could easily keep the side in the Premier League which is, of course, priceless.

While many will question the transfer fee in question, no one can doubt Bent’s goalscoring prowess (his career goals can be seen in the above graph); in the past few years Bent has scored 81 goals, just one behind Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba. If you take into account the fact that Rooney and Drogba have played for better sides in that time, the signing of the 26-year-old is a brilliant move from Houllier. One of Villa’s biggest problems this season is scoring goals and, with Gabriel Agbonlahor and John Carew still yet to score in the league this season, Bent would be required to not only score the goals himself but also link up well with Agbonlahor and Carew, although it is thought that the latter could soon leave the club himself. What is baffling, though, is the rumoured departures of two key players: Stewart Downing and Ashley Young. For Bent to succeed he is going to need service and, while Marc Albrighton looks to be an intuitive creative player, selling two of the more experienced inventive players seems slightly odd.
The transfer alone is a good move for Aston Villa, but is it a clever move from Sunderland and Bruce? The transfer fee was clearly too good to turn down and the money will give the club the funds to buy a few players as they continue to push for European football, but selling your best attacking asset is a huge risk halfway through the season. The departure of Bent will mean that Sunderland can finally deploy record signing Asamoah Gyan into their starting line-up on a regular basis, while loanee Danny Welbeck is sure to see first-team action week-in, week-out when he returns from a hamstring injury in a couple of weeks.
Gyan and Welbeck have both been big hits for the Stadium of Light club since joining in the summer, scoring fourteen goals between them, but Bent, even though he isn’t exactly on top form like he was last season (25 goals in 40 games), has scored eleven goals in this campaign so far. While the money is brilliant, losing a key player in the middle of a season which could easily result in European football next term is a huge risk taken by Bruce and chairman Niall Quinn.
Perhaps the strangest decision, however, has come from the striker himself, who seems desperate to leave a club sitting in sixth position in the Premier League for a side who are realistic relegation candidates. Whether there are personal reasons for the move remains unclear but, at the moment, it simply looks as if Bent wants to move for footballing reasons. If the striker helps to steer Villa away from the drop this season then he will, of course, be seen as a hero, which could be viewed as added motivation for the transfer, but Bent would surely gain the same status if he were to stay in the North East and help Sunderland claim a Europa League spot?
The transfer has come as a complete shock to most football fans and pundits as the swap of a top-eight club for a team struggling at the bottom (although Houllier will turn it around with the likes of Bent and new signing Jean Makoun at his disposal) of the league seems nothing short of peculiar. But from a Sunderland perspective the money is clearly too good to turn down and from a Villa point of view it is clearly a brilliant signing. On the other hand, just as Bent seemed to be in a comfortable place having got his career back on track, the move is definitely an unusual one. 

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