Andy Humble, out in Oz, was among the first to raise it, deploring at Salut! Sunderland the reported comment of Fabio Capello to the effect that Darren Bent had improved his chances of playing for England by moving from Sunderland to Aston Villa.
Andy demanded that one of two things should happen.
Either Capello should issue an immediate statement denying that he had ever expressed such a thought and that Bent was a silly boy for suggesting that he had, or – if the remark had been accurately reported – Niall Quinn should insist on a full explanation and Capello should face disciplinary action.
Since then, plenty of other Sunderland fans have had their say and Steve Bruce described the suggestion that Bent had somehow become a better player because of his move as “a frustration to us and hugely disrespectful”.
Well, I was intrigued as to whether Capello or the Football Association had thought of denying, explaining or clarifying the quoted comment. Since Fabio and I have never got round to swapping mobile phone numbers, I asked the FA press office.
The explanation I received was, up to a point, reasonable. No, Capello had not been misquoted as such – the remarks having originated at a briefing for Sunday newspaper football writers on the Friday before the Denmark friendly – but yes, their meaning had been stretched.
Capello’s point, I was assured, was not that Bent had overnight become a better player simply by joining Villa. Nor had the manager changed his mind about him on the strength of seeing him twice in Villa colours. Capello simply felt he had developed into a more complete player than the one he left behind when selecting his final squad for South Africa.
It was stressed to me that Bent’s progress had been noted and acted upon while he was still at Sunderland, since he was still at the Stadium of Light when he played in the game against Switzerland – and scored. But for injury, he would have been selected for other England games.
It seems, on the face of it, a classic case of the reporter reading much more into a remark than was there. The name of Jordan Henderson, who won his full full cap against France, was also thrown into the conversation,
And to give Capello the benefit of the doubt – and he may, of course, be challenged further on this later in the week and feel obliged to make himself abundantly clear – Bent’s performances for us earlier in the season could have persuaded him that he had moved on from being “just a goalscorer” (the phrase was actually used to me). Some of us, of course, regretted the fact that he seemed to become much less of a goalscorer, but then we were not to know how set he then was on getting away.
On the question of whether Capello can be bothered to venture to Sunderland to watch us play at home, I am less convinced by the explanation that it is often possible for him to catch two or even three games on the same day in London or without having to travel farther than, say Birmingham.
Given what is done to the fixtures list in the name of television rights, that hardly excuses his absence on each of the many occasions since his last visit to the Stadium of Light – August 2009 for heaven’s sake – when there have been no additional games on the same day that would automatically rule out watching ours.
Yes, he saw us trounce Chelsea at Stamford Bridge but Sunderland? It seems that”s just too far away.
In the original debate, some Villa fans made sensible points and others simply brayed “yah boo, we’re a bigger club whatever the league position says”. It would, I assume, be those in the latter category who came up with the moronic Andy Gray chants when Sian Massey ran the line, impeccably according to neutrals, at Blackpool on Saturday.