Bent deal ensures safety for Villa
ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.
The figures quoted for Darren Bent this week left many people stunned, but had Villa not signed a prolific striker there was a very real threat that they would have been relegated. His arrival from Sunderland represents an £24 million insurance policy to keep the club in the Premier League. Dropping into the Championship cannot be contemplated and in signing Bent, Randy Lerner and the club have demonstrated that they mean business in the second half of the season.
Certainly Villa's motives in concluding the most surprising January transfer cannot be questioned. It is a move designed to encourage stability as Bent will surely score enough goals to ward off the threat of relegation and protect their elite status. If they had opted for stasis, with Emile Heskey and John Carew, who - with the greatest of respect to them - are not prolific goalscorers, they would have been flirting dangerously with the drop. Young players like Nathan Delfouneso and Gabriel Agbonlahor will not produce the level of goals that Bent has done throughout his career and if you can find someone to contribute 15-20 goals a season it will ensure you remain in the top flight. Randy Lerner has taken action to address that situation and that is a proactive move on the club's part.
Conversely, from Sunderland's perspective it is no surprise that Steve Bruce is so upset because it appears the player has forced the move. There was an enquiry from Villa and he formally requested a transfer, and a scenario like that really annoys you as a manager. When Steve signed Darren Bent he paid a lot of money for him and people questioned the wisdom of doing so. The player subsequently built up a good reputation during his time on Wearside, scoring 32 goals in 58 Premier League appearances, and his manager will surely feel let down that he has chosen to leave for pastures new. Sunderland must think: 'after all we've done for him, he has used us to get a move to another club'. But that's football.
If you are playing for Sunderland and Aston Villa come in for you, it is the reality of the modern game that they are perceived as a bigger club with better prospects, irrespective of their position in the league table. Of course, they will also be able to offer greater financial incentives. If reports are to be believed and Villa have doubled Bent's wages, there is no way that Sunderland could have competed. Let's be honest: most people are motivated by money and in football it is no different. But Bent may also have thought that Villa find themselves in a false position in the table. He may perceive Villa as a club with plenty of ambition. He will certainly believe he is bettering himself and that Villa represent a greater opportunity to fulfil his personal and professional aims. That will be the bottom line, not the figure on his monthly wage slip.
Andy didn't even know he was going to Manchester United until he was sat in the car, with his agent, driving down there.” -- Kevin Keegan on Andy Cole's departure from Newcaslte in 1995
Given that the transfer involved a prolific striker leaving a North East club abruptly and unexpectedly, Bent's move has been compared in some quarters to my decision to sell Andy Cole to Manchester United in January 1995, but the difference between the two deals is that myself and the Newcastle board decided ourselves that it was time for Andy to move on, not the other way around.
He had of course performed tremendously well for us, scoring 55 times in 70 league games, but his time at Newcastle was coming to an end and he knew that. I said to the Newcastle board, 'you won't believe this, but we have to move on from Andy Cole'. We received a big transfer fee for the player - £6 million was a huge amount of money in 1995 - while Manchester United signed a centre forward who was ready to move on in his career.
Les Ferdinand was his replacement, but I didn't bring him in immediately because the Cole deal all happened so quickly. In fact, it happened so quickly that Andy didn't even know he was going to Manchester United until he was sat in the car, with his agent, driving down there. I rang him as he made his way to Manchester. Because it was such a big move we endeavoured to prevent the news from leaking out ; there was no Twitter in those days so it was a bit easier to keep it under wraps. When the transfer was completed there was no bitterness from me, the club or Andy. The supporters were a bit annoyed, but there was no real animosity. It worked well for all parties, and myself and Andy are still great friends. The difference is that Newcastle United controlled that deal, while I'm not sure Sunderland have controlled this one.