Darren Bent: Is 24m the price of survival for Aston Villa?
The last time Aston Villa boasted a 20-goals-a-season striker, the club were crowned champions of England. It's been 30 years since Peter Withe reached that milestone and the football world now knows the price of a man who can do the same - the £24million Villa are prepared to spend on Darren Bent. With only Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba in front of him in the scoring stakes - and by only one goal - it is clear how highly Barclays Premier League survival is valued at Villa Park. Signing in: Bent at Villa's Bodymoor Heath training ground Villa manager Gerard Houllier grinned maniacal like a Cheshire cat at Bent's unveiling. Calling it a 'major milestone,' Houllier paid tribute to the 'pedigree and goalscoring class' of his new arrival. Houllier said he had first become aware of Bent's talents via TV while he was managing Lyon. When discussions were first mooted as to the name at the top of his list, he suggested Bent's to Villa owner Randy Lerner. That set in motion a chain of events that has concluded with woe on Wearside and unconfined joy in one half of Birmingham. Bent had a £15m release clause which kicked in once Villa showed their determination to land Sunderland's leading goalscorer. And with the England international's nose having been put out of joint after being overlooked for both the club captaincy and a new contract, it was just a matter of time. There were whispers that Houllier was prepared to double Bent's basic salary of £35,000 a week. Villa's boss maintained that his new arrival fits in with the existing pay structure, and it does. Just about. Stiliyan Petrov is one rewarded along similar lines. Others aren't far behind. Smile, Darren: Bent poses for photographs at Villa Park Houllier said: 'Darren's arrival sends out a clear message about the ambition of our club. We brought him here to spearhead our efforts - to build something strong and lasting. 'There are not many young English players who have the pedigree and finishing class that Darren has shown over a number of years in the. Only Rooney and Drogba have scored more goals in the past five years. He's scored 81 and they've scored 82. 'This is a reflection of his class, pedigree and goalscoring ability and eye for goal. This is a great day for our fans, a major milestone for Aston Villa Football Club.' Bent has now become the most costly English player - in terms of cumulative transfer fees - there has ever been, his total of £53m eclipsing Rio Ferdinand's total by £1m. Reasons to be cheerful: Gerard Houllier (right) with his new signing Bent A goals tally of 32 from 58 starts on Wearside proves his prowess in front of goal. He was asked about the size of the fee. If it was an irritant, it wasn't showing. Bent, 26, said: 'When I was at Spurs I was asked the same question and I said that it didn't bother me but in fairness I was quite young and I think it did wear me down a little bit. 'I've had a few good seasons after that. I'm delighted that Villa have been prepared to pay it for me. I might think about it now but when tomorrow comes, I'll just be thinking about training. 'Sunderland are having a fantastic season but I believe Villa's position is false. Its a new challenge for me, they are a massive football club. I want to help them get them back to where they should be. As soon as it was made clear to me I could join Villa, my mind was made up.' Leaving Sunderland behind: Bent celebrates his late equaliser against Arsenal earlier this season Houllier, still smiling, said he would have been prepared to wait until the summer but that the club's current position - 17th - was causing obvious concern. 'In all the clubs I've managed, I try to have a proven centre forward and his arrival is a major coup,' he said. 'I knew him through Sky when I was in France. When we were told we had the opportunity for him, I thought, "Fantastic". We pursued it because I trust him.' Bent a done deal as England striker seals £24m switch from Sunderland to Aston VillaHell Bent on staying alive: Worried Lerner hands Houllier war chest for Villa's survival missionAll the latest Aston Villa news, features and opinionAll the latest Sunderland news, features and opinion Explore more:People: Darren Bent, Didier Drogba, Stiliyan Petrov, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Gerard Houllier Places: Lyon, Birmingham, France, United Kingdom
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