Player power as Bent opts to depart
IT has been billed as Sunderland's Andy Cole moment', but the impending sale of Darren Bent to Aston Villa will be subtly different to Newcastle's release of their own star striker back in January 1995. And not just because Steve Bruce is unlikely to deliver a sermon on the steps of the Stadium of Light in order to explain it. There are undoubtedly parallels between the two events, and just as Keegan was eventually able to justify Cole's departure by the quality of players that arrived to replace him, so Bruce will hope to lessen the sting of Bent's exit by recruiting successfully before the end of the month. Assuming Bent leaves this week, both players will have been sold at the peak of their powers admittedly for a club-record fee and both will have joined clubs that could be viewed as genuine rivals to their former employers. There is, however, one key difference, and that is why the hands of the Sunderland hierarchy are effectively tied as they ponder exactly what to do with their leading goalscorer. Bent wants to leave Sunderland, and in this day and age, if a player wants something, it generally happens. Leaving emotion to one side for a moment, it is hard to see how the Black Cats can turn down more than £20m for a player who has submitted a transfer request outlining his desire to leave the North-East. Cole was not agitating for a move when Newcastle opted to bank £6m from Manchester United. The Magpies board assessed United's offer, looked at the striker's record at Gallowgate and decided they could do with the money to help remodel their squad. There has been no such calculation at Sunderland, because the landscape is not the same. Bent has been unsettled ever since Turkish side Fenerbahce signalled their intention to bid for him last summer. According to club sources, the striker began to agitate for a new contract and demanded assurances about his future position at the Stadium of Light. According to sources close to Bent, the forward was unhappy at Sunderland's refusal to send out an unequivocal signal that he was not for sale. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but the Black Cats entered the current campaign with their club-record signing ill at ease. His performances, which have been markedly inferior to the majority of his showings last season, perhaps underlined the depth of his anxiety. That probably wouldn't have mattered if no one had been willing to sign him this month, but football being football, Bent soon became aware of interest from Aston Villa. A lucrative exit route presented itself, an opportunity to start anew with fresh employers and secure a significant increase on his weekly salary on Wearside, perhaps taking it to around £90,000-a-week. For all that Bent has repeatedly spoken of embracing life in the North-East, money invariably talks. So after much deliberation over the weekend, the striker submitted a formal transfer request in the wake of Sunday's Wear-Tyne derby with Newcastle. Once that landed, what could Sunderland do Their only real option was to do exactly what they are doing press Aston Villa for the highest price possible, while simultaneously drawing up a list of potential replacements that will allow the club to move on. It will not be easy. Clubs are notoriously loath to sell their biggest assets during the January transfer window (unless, like the Black Cats, they are forced into a corner) and the speed of yesterday's events have understandably caught Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn somewhat on the hop. But the next two weeks will be about making the best of a bad deal. Perhaps it will be a short-term fix, with an eye to a more permanent solution in the summer. Perhaps Quinn will land one or two of Bruce's long-term targets, such as Charles N'Zogbia or Peter Crouch. Either way, Bent has dropped a bombshell and forced Sunderland to pick up the pieces. When Cole left Newcastle, the wound was self-inflicted. Sixteen years on, and player power has ruled.
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