Villa’s £18m bid for Bent gives Houllier vote of confidence

Record purchase could herald major changes to squad, as club may be forced to offload Young
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The Independent Football

The Aston Villa owner, Randy Lerner, yesterday staged a remarkable public show of confidence in manager Gérard Houllier with an £18m bid for the Sunderland striker Darren Bent and more to follow, with the club pursuing Blackpool's Charlie Adam and Maynor Figueroa of Wigan.

The completion of the deal for Bent has been delayed by the sell-on clause Sunderland have with Tottenham, the striker's former club, who are owed a significant portion of the potential profit on the transfer.

The spending on Bent, for whom a deal is expected to be announced today, takes the investment in Villa by the American billionaire to around £200m in transfer fees alone since he bought the club in August 2006. It is also intended to dispel suggestions that Lerner was disenchanted with Houllier, whose team are 17th in the Premier League and only out of the relegation places on goal difference.

While Villa have reasserted themselves in the transfer market there were still suggestions yesterday that they may have to accept an offer for Ashley Young, the England international whose contract runs out in the summer of next year. Manchester United are thought to be in the strongest position of those considering Young as an option. But Villa are adamant they will not sell this month.

The deal for Bent moved quickly yesterday, with the clubs expected to come to an agreement within the next 24 hours. In principle, Sunderland have accepted an offer of £18m that could rise to £24m – comfortably a club record for Villa – and the player himself wants the move.

Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager, is understood to have accepted the deal reluctantly, with the proviso that his club's owner, Ellis Short, allowed him to reinvest some of the money this month. The club are close to a deal for Stéphane Sessegnon of Paris St-Germain, a midfielder. Bruce is also thought to be an admirer of the playmaker Tuncay Sanli at Stoke.

Villa have still not received official notification from Blackpool that their offer of £3.5m for Adam last week has been rejected. As part of his remodelling of the Villa team, Houllier also wants Figueroa, 27, a left-back, to replace Stephen Warnock, who is sought by his former club Liverpool.

The clear-out of the likes of Warnock, John Carew and Stephen Ireland is likely to continue this month, with Houllier adamant that huge changes need to be made to the playing staff. The acquisition of Bent follows Villa's £6m signing of the Lyons midfielder Jean Makoun.

Yesterday, Sunderland released a brief statement that they had been given "a written transfer request" by Bent after the 1-1 draw with Newcastle at the Stadium of Light. Bent shares an agent, Neil Fewings, with the Villa assistant manager, Gary McAllister, who is the most influential figure in Houllier's back-room staff.

The loss of Bent will represent a blow to Bruce, whose team are sixth in the Premier League and for whom the striker was a marquee name. He scored 25 goals last season and was the club's second most expensive signing behind Asamoah Gyan. However, Sunderland regard what could turn out to be a £10m profit on the player as justification for the deal – even though Tottenham will be entitled to a cut of that money.

Bruce had previously ruled out a potential move for Michael Owen at Manchester United, although his need for a striker is much greater since Bent's transfer request on Sunday.



Bent: Proven goalscorer

Club career:

Ipswich Town 2001-05

Appearances: 141

Goals: 55

Charlton 2005-07

Appearances: 79

Goals: 37

Tottenham Hotspur 2007-09

Appearances: 79

Goals: 25

Sunderland 2009-

Appearances: 63

Goals: 36

Premier League top scorers: 2005-06 to 2009-10

Wayne Rooney 80

Cristiano Ronaldo 75

Didier Drogba 74

Frank Lampard 73

Darren Bent 71

Emmanuel Adebayor 60

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