Darren Bent's fantasy deal brings Sunderland crashing back down to earth

18 January 2011 12:53
We've all played Fantasy football, spent the budget, dropped players like stones from our sides when they're injured or out of form.

And if, like me, you've got two young sons, you'll know all about EA Sport's FIFA 11.

My two boys love the manager option where you can pick your own club (they choose Shrewsbury for some reason), flog the players you don't really like or rate, or know, and go on a purge around the Barclays Premier League and Europe with a similar budget.

Messi at Gay Meadow? You better believe it. It's all good fantasy football fun. But at Sunderland it has become a dreadful reality.

Heading south: Darren Bent could soon be playing with Ciaran Clark and Richard Dunne

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Bent's body language and form in recent weeks, really since returning from a hamstring injury in early December, have not been great. May be we know why now. It was certainly at the forefront of many unhappy Sunderland fans as they came to terms with the news on Monday.

The knee-jerk reaction under normal circumstances is to blame the club, accuse them of lacking ambition and feel you are following a selling club. In this case, you just have to feel for Sunderland and hope the fans remain on their side.

They couldn't win when they held off from Villa previously and turned down a £16 million bid for Kevin Phillips (and Phillips eventually left for £3.25m less than a year later). And they can't win now.On his £35,000-a-week basic, with lucrative bonus top-ups, Bent is one of the best-paid players in Sunderland's history, but it still wasn't enough.

When he handed in his first transfer request in the summer, with Turkish clubs looming, assurances were made, and both sides seemed satisfied. And if another club is now prepared to double his salary? What is a player to do?

The Premier League's third highest goalscorer in the last five years has more than earned his rewards from the Wearside club, and may feel they could have shown more faith with an improved deal in the summer. Bent also wanted the captaincy, which was given to Lee Cattermole.

In the coming days, if, as seems likely, this turns ugly, Team Bent are likely to claim promises were made and not followed through. He does like a Tweet, so no doubt we will learn soon enough. It could get messy, sadly.

But is that really so bad that he has to abandon Sunderland now? They are going for Europe. This is what Bent has been telling us repeatedly he has been dreaming about. And why join a team who may have a better trophy haul and greater stability but who are after all sitting in the bottom three at the moment, and taking the threat of relegation so seriously they are spending big?

All of this will be baffling to Sunderland supporters, most of whom can only dream about these kind of salaries. They just expect their players to play for the shirt, not the cash, and if they're any good, they'll love them.

Happier times: Bent poses with the Sunderland shirt after arriving from Tottenham

It has also upset Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn, who will have expected more loyalty from a player who has repeatedly proclaimed his love of Sunderland, and the region since his arrival. Bent doesn't do things easily, as his move from Tottenham to Sunderland demonstrated, but he usually gets his way.

And unlike the similar fall-outs involving Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, this looks certain to end in an acrimonious split. It's gone too far already.

Of course it won't happen if Sunderland don't get closer to their £24m valuation. And if they are resigned to losing him, they may be hoping for an auction. But then, who has £24m in January, even for such a proven 26-year-old goalscorer?

Fantasy football and games like FIFA 11 deal in fantasy. So if you want to buy a striker for around £15m, identifying the player, negotiating and agreeing terms takes seconds. Sunderland have less than two weeks. And it still might not be long enough.

The ideal replacement is already on the books, but there is no chance of making Danny Welbeck's move permanent. Sir Alex Ferguson will not sell, even if Sunderland have plenty of money, and he does like the look of Jordan Henderson. The loss of Welbeck for a further six weeks is equally as damaging as Bent's pending exit.

There are 'irons in the fire' - there have been inquiries for Jay Bothroyd, Roman Pavyluchenko or Robbie Keane might fit the bill. And what about Craig Bellamy?

Next up? Newcastle striker Andy Carroll could follow Bent out of the North East

But the speed of developments must have caught Sunderland unaware. Bruce has been saying for weeks that he didn't envisage doing any business in this winter window, other than signing a couple of foreign loaners, and securing some smaller scale departures.

Finding the right man for the right money and wages, who can gel into a team which is serious about its pursuit of a European place is the task before Bruce now. And it is one he could well do without.But Steve Bruce is a pretty determined man and he has put too much effort into getting Sunderland into the right half of the Premier League to throw it all away without exhausting his contacts and wearing down his mobile phone battery.

He will also have to lift a dressing room which will have been as stunned as anyone by yesterday's developments, and left asking an awful lot of questions. With local hostilities out of the way, they must concentrate on getting back in form for the tricky trip to Blackpool and a home meeting with a Chelsea side seeking revenge next Tuesday. They cannot let this season go off course.

Newcastle fans will be looking at all this with some amusement. They were supposed to be selling Andy Carroll this month, but Alan Pardew is sick of saying he is not for sale, and even Harry Redknapp has admitted defeat. For now.

The difference is Newcastle have a player who wants to play for the club and, after signing a new deal, nothing else matters. For now.

 Villa pounce for £24m Bent as Bruce turns to Spurs striker PavlyuchenkoHell Bent on staying alive: Worried Lerner hands Houllier war chest for Villa's survival mission

 Explore more:People: Alex Ferguson, Craig Bellamy, Steve Bruce, Robbie Keane, Harry Redknapp, Jay Bothroyd, Darren Bent, Kevin Phillips, Lee Cattermole, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Niall Quinn Places: Newcastle, Europe

Source: Daily_Mail