Darren Bent may be true to his word and walk serenely back to the centre of the field without so much as a smile should he score for Aston Villa against Sunderland on Saturday. Most of the others in the ground will do a lot more than smile if he a) doesn’t score at all but misses every chance that comes his way b) ends up on the soundly beaten side and c) is sent off.
Sunderland supporters generally give a fabulous welcome to former players who gave their hearts to SAFC for several seasons – look up several, Darren – before moving on for readily understandable reasons. Think SuperKev; there is a minority of boo boys but they are simply drowned out.
With Mr Darr£n £ent, as it would be with Mr Cashamoah $yan, it will or would be different. The fans feel cheated. They were not given several seasons of wholehearted commitment to the club. They did not see proper return, in terms of respect, having dug deep into their pockets to buy the season tickets and replica shirts that help fund the enormous wages such men earn.
So Bent will have to excuse Salut! Sunderland for taking with a not so much a pinch of salt as a helping the size of Wales his bleatings about why he “had’ to move on. Not for money, of course. Not because he disliked the area. Not even because one unrepresentative moron racially insulted his mother. For football. For the vast step-up in quality and exposure that playing at Villa Park would bring.
These are Bent’s comments as reported in the Daily Mail:
“I had 18 months at Sunderland and every single moment was fantastic. The way it came to an end was really disappointing because I felt like all the good work I did went out of the window, but I will always – always – look back on it with very fond memories, regardless of the reception I get at the weekend.
Whatever happens, I will not celebrate if I score – there won’t be any badge kissing or anything like that – because I had such good times up there. I have huge respect for the people at Sunderland and what they did for me. I owe that respect to the stadium.
I was delighted with life up there, I was settled and happy. I met good people and I made firm friends. It’s a lovely place to live. When other people ask me about it, I always tell them that if they get a chance to play in the North East they should take it, because the fans are brilliant, everything revolves around football.
Leaving was nothing to do with that. It was the opportunity for me to play for Aston Villa and I’m back close to home and my family. It gave Sunderland a lot of money, so it was a good deal for both parties.
It may sound strange, but I take heart from knowing it’s because I had such a strong relationship with the supporters that they were so angry when I left. I know they cared for me and I know they treated me as if I was one of their own – and I felt like one – so I can understand why it looked like a betrayal. But in my eyes it wasn’t.
A player’s career is short and sometimes you have to take a decision. Sometimes it’s not a popular decision but it was a football decision, one I realise fans can’t take when it comes to who they support. So it hurt them. But it was nothing to do with money or greed – it was purely a football decision. There was an offer of £24m from Villa, there were already several England internationals in the squad and I thought it was a chance to build up a rapport and get into the England squad and then stay there. It happened.”
On the face of it, whatever we think of his “analysis” and denial of being swayed by financial issues, that all seems very conciliatory. But what weight can we attach to anything Bent says?
In October 2010, Bent talked to Paul Wilson of The Observer. Wilson later wrote this:
It was my task to interview the aptly named player … on subjects varying from his happiness in the north-east to his recall for England after missing the World Cup, and, though he came across as perfectly pleasant and personable, it has become clear over the past few days that he was peddling porkies. Reader, he took me for a ride.
“The move up here has been everything I wanted,” he told me, the lying hound. “I’m playing football regularly again, the goals are going in for me again, and the people round here are really appreciative. I’m playing the best football of my life and I’m happy at Sunderland.”
There was much more in that sort of vein, with Bent expressing gratitude to Steve Bruce, Niall Quinn and others at the club for keeping his spirits up in the summer after he failed to make the squad for South Africa, and stressing that it was important to play every week in the Premier League to stay at the forefront of Fabio Capello’s thoughts. It now turns out that far from being happy on Wearside, Bent had submitted a transfer request in the close season, and it took all Bruce and Quinn’s powers of persuasion to stop him leaving for Fenerbahce. Then it took all their powers of diplomacy to hush up the matter, keep Bent sweet, and proceed as if nothing had ever happened.
Now I have to be fair to both Wilson and Bent and say the reporter went on to admit his outrage was a mere joke, that Steve Bruce’s own record gave him scant cause to whitter on about loyalty. “No one likes being lied to, even by convincing liars,” Wilson wrote in January after Bent had gone. “But football, like politics, runs on versions of the truth. I must admit my opinion of Bent has gone up over the past few days – I was joking about the outrage – whereas Sunderland’s whingeing has had the opposite effect. Footballer fibbing to newspaper is not exactly a shock and at least Bent was showing loyalty by playing the game.”
I am sorry, Paul, but I have to disagree. Bent was professing his love for the club, the region and the fans when, within a year of signing a four-year contract signed in Aug 2009, he was demanding a transfer. And where to? To which club did he then wish to move, again on purely footballing grounds to enhance his England prospects? Fenerbahce!
Salut! Sunderland does not care for what money has done and is doing to the game but is also realistic enough to see that we are not only stuck with it, but part of it. No one complained when Drumaville brought investment to the club and no one raised an objection when Ellis Short ploughed in more.
But wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear Bent set out his position slightly differently? Along these lines …
“Football is a short career. I loved Sunderland because they paid me lots of money and I repaid them for a short while by scoring lots of goals. Then Fenerbahce offered me even more money and Villa came in with a whacking great offer, too. OK, blow England but come on mate, what would you have done?”