Joe Strange - Darren Bent could prove a shrewd investment

24 January 2011 11:51
It's fair to say that there were more than a few eyebrows raised when Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner opened his chequebook to lure Darren Bent from the Stadium of Light at the end of last week.

The fee for the former Charlton man remains officially undisclosed, but by all accounts Lerner will part with an initial £18 million, which could rise to £24m depending on how much Bent plays and what Villa achieve during his four-and-a-half year contract.

We can safely assume that the arrival of Bent will pocket Sunderland over £20m in total, with Villa's total outlay closer to £50m when you include Bent's signing-on fee, huge weekly wages and money paid to his agent. Put simply, the signing of Bent is a risk - a very, very expensive risk.

The transfer market has gone crazy in recent years. Average players now command the sort of prices once reserved for world-class stars, while six-figure weekly wages are becoming more and more common. In a time of financial crisis, few clubs seem to adhere to the new rules that the rest of society has accepted.

But if there's one Premier League club that appeared to be curbing their ambitious spending of the pre-credit crunch era, it was Aston Villa.

After splashing the cash on the likes of Ashley Young, Richard Dunne, Stephen Warnock, Stewart Downing and James Milner in recent seasons, American billionaire Lerner refused to let Martin O'Neill reinvest the money from Milner's sale to big-spending Manchester City last summer.

O'Neill obviously knew that his squad needed fresh blood and after he was refused any of the Milner money to play with, he walked out just a few days before the start of the 2010/11 Premier League season. Many thought the former Leicester City boss was being greedy after being entrusted with a large budget during his time at the club, but Villa's plight this season has arguably proved the Northern Irishman correct.

A series of injuries to key players, combined with a distinct lack of form has seen the Midlands giants rooted firmly at the wrong end of the table, caught in a relegation battle with the likes of West Ham, Wigan and Wolves.

New boss Gerard Houllier has been unable to stop the rot, with many fans calling for his head despite his short tenure at the club. To say that Villa Park has not been a nice place to be over the last six months would be a massive understatement.

But after failing to stump up funds in the last transfer window, the Villa board have backed their new boss with hold hard cash this month. First came the £6m arrival of Lyon midfielder Jean Makoun, followed by two bids for Blackpool's in-form captain Charlie Adam.

It soon became clear that Houllier was nowhere near the exit door as some reports had suggested. In fact, Lerner's decision to raid Sunderland for their star striker proves quite the opposite - Villa have confidence that Houllier is the right man for the job and that in time he'll turn things around.

I won't even attempt to dissect Bent's reasons for leaving a team in the top six for one struggling to avoid the second tier of English football but I must applaud Houllier's decision to target the ex-Ipswich Town foward.

Bent has been oustanding since making the step-up from the Championship to top-flight football with Charlton in 2005. He's scored regularly at each of his clubs and bagged his first international goal towards the end of 2010.

At just 26-years-old he still has seven or eight good years left in him and there's even the potential of selling him on for a profit if he continues to improve and hits the sort of form which saw him bag 25 league goals for the Black Cats last season.

People seem to forget that Bent moved to Tottenham from Charlton for £16.5m back in 2007. Villa have paid just £1.5m more initially - not bad considering the goal-scoring form Bent has been in since moving to the North-East from Spurs in the summer of 2009.

Houllier's side have been desperately struggling to find the back of the net this season with Emile Heskey, Gabriel Agbonlahor and the now departed John Crew all struggling for form and fitness. Now they have a proven striker who was only second to Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba in the goal-scoring charts last season.

He immediately started paying back his much-talked-about transfer fee by scoring the winner on his debut against Manchester City on Saturday evening. And while he isn't the best player in world, or even the country, Bent will score goals and he will help his new club avoid relegation.

And when Villa cash their Premier League TV money of £46m, expect Bent to be regarded as a bargain rather than a rip-off.

Follow me on Twitter @joe_strange

Source: DSG

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