The Sunderland manager Steve Bruce last night launched a stinging attack on his departing striker Darren Bent, accusing the player of deliberately not giving his best for the club and betraying the Sunderland fans over his £24m move to Aston Villa.
Bruce's relationship with Bent is known to have been problematic even before the past few days' dramatic developments and yesterday the gloves were taken off when the deal finally went through at 5pm after delays relating to the £6m sell-on fee owed by Sunderland to Bent's former club Tottenham Hotspur.
Sunderland believe that Bent has been angling for a move since an offer for him from Fenerbahce, the Turkish club, was rejected in the summer. As for Bent, who signed a four-and-a-half-year contract worth around £80,000 a week, he is understood to be angry that Sunderland were so hasty on Monday in making public his transfer request.
A club record signing for Villa, Bent, 26, is expected to make his debut against Manchester City on Saturday. Bruce said: "It's hugely disappointing that Darren has decided that his future lies away from Sunderland and the players, our supporters and the club as a whole have every right to feel massively let down.
"The timing is especially hard to take, given that we are progressing positively and are in a great position to push on. Everyone has been nothing but supportive of Darren in his time at Sunderland but it's obvious he's not been himself in training and we've certainly not seen the best of him in games in recent weeks – and we now understand why.
"I've always stated that my aim is to build a talented, young squad for the long term to help the club achieve sustained success and I want Sunderland fans to know that our ambitions haven't changed on that front."
It is understood that Tottenham are now due a total of around £6m from Sunderland for Bent which – including the original £10m fee when he left Spurs in July 2009 that has now been paid in full – means that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will recoup all the £16m he spent on Bent when he signed the player from Charlton Athletic in 2007.
Despite losing a sizeable amount on the sell-on clause, keeping Bent was never really a viable option for Sunderland once the details of the proposed deal had become public and the acrimony between him and Bruce became evident.
The Sunderland chairman, Niall Quinn, said that Sunderland had been left with little time to find a replacement. He said: "Darren has now left the club and it's important we move on quickly. We've worked hard in the last 36 hours to get what we feel is a fair price for him.
"Of course it presents us with significant challenges from a football perspective which we didn't envisage, but we'll deal with it and are working hard to find a solution both in the short term and more importantly the longer term."
There is dismay at Sunderland that Bent would swap the 17th placed club in the Premier League for a relegation battle. The player himself denied that he had made the move for money. "Everyone has got different opinions as to why I've come to Aston Villa," he said. "I've showed in the past, when I could have gone to West Ham for a lot more money but I chose Spurs [I've moved] for footballing reasons."
"I've done the same here. I had a good time at Sunderland but I believe that time's over and I'm at Aston Villa now and I just can't wait to get going. With Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, there's a fantastic supply line. It's just up to me to work on my finishing and try to put the chances away."
While Villa waited on the completion of the Bent deal, they have reconciled themselves to selling Ashley Young in the summer, with Manchester United emerging as his most likely destination.
The bold move for Bent has demonstrated Randy Lerner's faith in manager Gérard Houllier but the fee is expected to be recouped by the sale of Young at the end of the season. The England international's deal runs out in the summer of 2012 and he has told the club that he will not sign another one.
Although Young, 25, will have only 12 months to run on his contract come June, the club expect him to command a fee of around £20m that reflects his status as one of the best young players in England. While he has been linked with Liverpool and Chelsea in the past, Sir Alex Ferguson is understood to be keen that United make serious moves to sign Young.
Houllier said yesterday that Young and Stewart Downing would not be allowed to leave this month but did not rule out a deal for either in the summer. "They're not for sale – simple as that," Houllier said. "Stewart and Ashley won't be leaving. No, not at all. They are rumours.
"I think we have got a good squad and we will hopefully escape relegation," he added. "I don't think we were particularly lucky until now but every player who has come in will contribute to the success of the club. If you buy a player of [Bent's] calibre that means the chairman is backing you – financially and also I would say from a footballing point of view. I think his arrival is a major coup for the club."