First things first: a great round of applause for Joan Dawson who, with typically excellent contributions from Pete Sixsmith and Jeremy Robson, not merely kept Salut! Sunderland ticking over while I’ve been swanning around Malaysia but edited the site in such accomplished fashion that she risks being given the job full-time. Secondly, did I miss anything in my absence? …
How was I to know that once my back was turned we’d gain David Miliband and lose Darren Bent? Not to mention a bitterly disappointing performance against Newcastle. Let us hope for DM’s sake that he is not being judged on early results.
News travels fast enough to ensure that I was not allowed to escape knowledge of these events. In fact, Salut! Sunderland having its sources, I knew in Penang of the Milliband appointment some time before it became public in the UK; the Bent bombshell reached me as a nasty little one-liner along the bottom of the screen on BBC World.
Flying back to the UK today, I kept a pinch of salt handy as I read Bent’s press conference bleatings, especially the bits about how brilliant our fans had been towards him and how sad he was that it had ended like this. I also read without the least enthusiasm the crop of names mooted as possible replacements.
Maybe no one in football owes a jot of loyalty to anyone else these days. Players and managers get precious little from clubs so why should they give any to the clubs? And we all try to better ourselves in life, whatever we do to earn a crust.
Even so, the feeling of betrayal is deep enough. It seems only five minutes since Bent was collecting a sportwriters’ award – North-eastern player of the season – with words that suggested he was here to stay, loving the region, relishing the goals he was scoring and determined to make himself as revered a figure as such strikers as Clough, SuperKev and – whisper it – Shearer. If reports are to be believed, it cannot have been very long after he wrote that little speech that he was composing a transfer request.
Maybe it was all our fault for not realising that a four-year contract like the one Bent signed with SAFC in 2009 actually meant four minutes or weeks or months or however long it might take to formulate his first written demand for a move.
And it could be that the references to loving being at the club should now be seen as no more than a decent man’s attempt to be kind the the supporters (and staff and fellow players) of a club he was already plotting to leave.
In one sense, the row between SAFC and Aston Villa hardly matters. If he had already banged in his demand on Friday – a day on which he ought to have been busy on the training ground, working out how not to miss two or three good chances against the Mags – it is irrelevant that the Villa bid was not made until after the derby.
But CSB, in a comment to another posting, is right to say we could do with a full chronology of the transfer so that we do not unjustly condemn the player or Villa. I also want to know the history of his unhappiness at Sunderland: when did it start, why, what did the club do to answer his problems and so on?
Without such detail, we cannot know all that has gone on between Bent, on the one hand, and Bruce/Quinn on the other. The Journal talked about a devastating breakdown in relations. That could be no more than a euphemism for “wanting a shedload of money over and above the deal he’d accepted 18 months earlier”. I’ve seen £35,000 quoted as his weekly wages at the Stadium of Light, and £80,000 as the amount Villa were willing to pay. Whose head would not have been turned by the knowledge, however and whenever conveyed to him, that such money was on offer?
The truth is that SAFC seem on the face of it to have done some good business here, save that anyone we buy may well be a lot less effective than Bent was last season – and come with an inflated asking price. But Bent is not the player this season that he was last time. And being part of an exciting three-pronged attack, sharing the glory, appears to have been less to his liking than scoring all our goals.
I doubt whether the full story will ever be told in a form everyone accepts as fair and accurate. And the sense of natural justice therefore persuades me to give a little benefit of the doubt to Bent.
But I canot help harbouring the mischievous hope that he falls flat on his face at his new, smaller, currently less successful club and that they go down unceremoniously into the Championship, relegation confirmed on the same matchday that we clinch a place in Europe.