Aston Villa’s Bent buy will flummox O’Neill
If eyebrows were raised when Aston Villa decided to spend up to 24 million pounds on striker Darren Bent then former manager Martin O’Neill’s forehead must have been pinned to his living room ceiling when the news broke on Tuesday.
The absurdity of the switch lies not in the inflated figure or Bent’s abilities on the pitch and in front of goal, but in the timing of Villa chairman Randy Lerner choosing to dig deep into his pockets.
O’Neill walked out of the Midlands club just days before the start of the season after being told transfer funds were scarce and the £18 million to be raised from the sale of James Milner to Manchester City would not be reinvested in the squad.
Just six months later, however, Villa have splashed a mammoth fee on a player who has been permanently on the fringes of the England squad while a further six million was spent last week in French midfielder Jean Makoun.
Lerner, who was not shy in ploughing in the pounds prior to putting the brakes on in 2009, issued a statement two days after O’Neill left saying he “no longer shared a common view as to how to move forward”.
O’Neill, he bemoaned, did not appreciate the need to bring wages in line with revenue.
It is amazing what the threat of relegation can do to make the men who sign the cheques perform spectacular U-turns.
In persuading Bent to leave Sunderland, Villa have shattered their transfer record and committed to paying a hefty weekly sum in wages.
While the signing will be regarded by some as a panic buy, Bent’s record in the Premier League suggests he could be the tonic needed to perk up Villa’s groggy campaign.
Successive England managers have left him kicking his heels on the sidelines and question marks hang over his all-round contribution to the game, but Bent’s record of 80-plus Premier League goals puts him right up there with the top scorers around today.
His suspect first touch and rather ungainly gait mean he is not to everyone’s taste. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp shipped him out after suggesting his wife would do a better job in front of goal following a glaring miss at home to Portsmouth in 2009.
Villa’s current position, however, is now perilous enough to make taste a secondary concern. The club are one place outside the Premier League relegation zone having taken only 15 points from a possible 51 and won only three league games since new manager Gerard Houllier took control in September.
A cynic might suggest that O’Neill headed for the exit door at the right time, with his squad on the wane and weakened in key positions.
But he left on the back of three consecutive sixth place finishes with the club on the fringes of Champions League qualification, the Holy Grail for the Premier League’s mid-tablers.
Lerner had the chance to stick or twist under O’Neill and chose the former. Compare and contrast with Tottenham, who were in a similar position just two seasons ago, but chose the latter.
They are in with an outside chance of a first Premier League title since 1961 and looking forward to a Champions League knock-out clash against AC Milan.
Villa fans will be crossing their fingers that come the end of the season, Bent is perched near the top of the scoring charts, having fired them to Premier League safety.