Quinn holds out for 24m after Bent hands in transfer request
SUNDERLAND are holding out for a record-busting £24m deal with Aston Villa for striker Darren Bent and are drawing up a list of replacements with proven track records. Bent was understood to be in the West Midlands last night waiting for the go-ahead to discuss personal terms with Villa on a day that shocked Wearside. Just hours after Sunderland snatched a late point with Newcastle United, the 26-year-old submitted a written transfer request and that has led to lengthy negotiations with their Premier League counterparts. Villa made their interest known in Bent towards the back end of last week and that prompted an initial offer of around £18m arriving at the Stadium of Light. But the Villans were told to forget about signing the England international for that figure and now talks are continuing in the hope an agreement can be reached. Sunderland are maintaining they want to receive in the region of £24m, which represents a £14m mark up on the fee they initially had to pay to Tottenham 18 months ago. The likelihood is that the clubs may have to agree on a fee somewhere in between, after Bent made it known how keen he is to leave the North- East and head for Villa Park. Bent has not reached the performance levels that he had been hitting last season and there have been mutterings of discontent around his situation since the start of the season. There are claims he handed in a transfer request in the summer, when he was knocked back over discussions over a new contract after speculation that Fenerbahce had expressed an interest in his services. Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has always maintained that he wanted to keep Bent, although he has also conceded on numerous occasions that every player has his price. That is a stance that chairman Niall Quinn and owner Ellis Short have been keen to take, but they do have a valuation which they feel is fair and will do their best to have it matched. Quinn is more than happy to play hard ball with Villa in an attempt to receive the top price for a player who has scored 36 goals in his one-anda- half seasons on Wearside. But there is an acceptance that Bent will be leaving, provided Aston Villa can come up with a package that satisfies their demands and ensures they are in a strong financial position to bring in a replacement. Bruce and Quinn have already plotted a plan since learning of Bent's intentions on Sunday night and they are thought to have expressed an interest in a couple of players already. But with clubs in the Premier League either reluctant to do business this month or commanding high fees, they are now looking to approach a number of clubs in Europe. The priority will be to sign a striker capable of slotting in immediately to replace Bent, even if it is on loan until the end of the season with a view to a permanent deal in the summer. But having not really planned for this scenario, Bruce does not know whether or not he will have a new forward in for the trip to Blackpool on Saturday. The finance raised by the imminent sale of Bent will strengthen his hand on a couple of other fronts, but Bruce knows he will have to ensure another striker arrives before January 31. Manchester United are likely to want in excess of £10m to even contemplate turning Danny Welbeck's loan in to a full-time switch, while Manchester City hope for around £8m for Nedum Onuoha, who remains hopeful of a return to Eastlands. Bruce has also expressed strong interest in Paris St Germain's attack-minded Stephane Sessegnon and Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari, but neither are capable of replacing Bent as a striker. Sunderland's Premier League fixture with Liverpool at the Stadium of Light has been switched to Sunday, March 20 (1.30pm), to be televised by Sky.
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