Lee Dixon: Was it football, was it for money or was it something else? Only Bent can answer that

The Weekend Dossier

Saturday 22 January 2011 01:00

When Darren Bent was unveiled as an Aston Villa player this week, he said he had joined a big club where he would have the chance to enhance his England career. I don't understand that at all.

If for a moment we can strip away all the money in transfer fees, wages and other payments and just get down to the football, it doesn't really add up. If it is for purely football reasons, I don't get it unless he was hugely unhappy at Sunderland. But Bent was complimentary about the club in his press conference.

Sunderland are a club and a side who are progressing, playing good football and moving up the table. Bent will have seen the potential within the squad every day in training. Maybe it was a politically motivated transfer, because he did not like David Miliband taking up a role at the club. Because it does not make sense for football reasons. The table does not lie at this stage of the season, and Villa are in trouble.

Everything has been going well for Sunderland this term, and it will be interesting to see how this affects their season, after one of their biggest players has decided to jump ship.

I am sure everyone in Sunderland does not see Villa as a bigger club, and from a purely footballing point of view that is true. People describe this side or that side as a "big club" but what does it mean: History? Size of the ground? Average attendance? Villa fans can argue they are a club going places, with some bright youngsters and an experienced manager in Gérard Houllier, but I expect they would love to swap places in the Premier League table with Sunderland right now.

So if the move does not make sense in football terms, and Bent was not particularly unhappy at Sunderland, there can only be one real reason – the money.

I don't have a problem with a player trying to improve his contract, and earn more cash while he can. But there are ways and means of doing things, and putting in a transfer request in the manner that Bent did certainly suggests he knew a move to Villa was in the air. It is no wonder that Steve Bruce is so angry with Villa. But this is the modern game and there is nearly always prior contact between the buying club and the player before the offer is made to the sellers. That's just the way it is these days.

Having said that, there is no reason why this deal should not work out well for everyone involved. It represents a great piece of business for Sunderland, who paid around £12m for Bent a season and a half ago, and now have doubled their money on him.

It could also work out well for Aston Villa, who are in relegation trouble. The fee of £24m is huge but it would be worth it if Bent scores the goals that eventually help keep the club in the Premier League. The owner, Randy Lerner, will have done his homework and no doubt knows that Bent has scored more League goals in the last five years than anyone except Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba. I don't imagine Houllier had to convince Lerner about the deal.

However, there are still a few question marks over Bent as he has yet to impress at the very highest level. His move to Spurs a few years ago didn't work out that well, and that could be hanging over him. It is undeniable that he has scored a lot of goals, but the rest of his game is not quite as good as his goalscoring record, which is probably why he has never played for one of the top three or four teams in England. They will have all had a good look at him but will have all decided against trying to buy him, and people like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger are the best judges in the game.

It is the same with Fabio Capello and England. Bent has not had many chances on the international stage and there is a reason for it. Of course, there is no point in having a fantastic touch and vision if you always lob the ball into the crowd behind the goal. But you also want to see something more than an impressive goalscoring record. Villa know what they are getting with Bent, and along with their new midfielder Jean Makoun, he will certainly make them stronger.

All eyes will be on Bent today, when he makes his debut at home to Manchester City, and their own new striker Edin Dzeko. Good luck to Bent, I hope it works out for him. A bit more honesty about the motives behind the move would be nice, that's all.

Five Asides

1. Pienaar's decision shows tide is turning

Steven Pienaar's choice of Tottenham over Chelsea was a no-brainer and tells you all you need to know about the direction both clubs are moving in. Would you choose a team that's on the up, where they are paying you big money, or an ageing side in need of fresh blood that's only prepared to offer half the wages? Chelsea are the Double winners but Pienaar chose Spurs for football and financial reasons. They ticked both boxes for him.

2. Mourinho to make Premier League return?

Jose Mourinho is having trouble behind the scenes at Real Madrid, and a return to English football in the summer is a real possibility. That should have plenty of top managers worrying about their futures. But I still think he is perfect replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson when he finally decides to retire at United.

3. West Ham shoot themselves in the foot

It's been a complete farce at West Ham, where they were offering Avram Grant's job to Martin O'Neill behind his back, only to fail. No wonder Martin turned them down. The whole episode will have been very unsettling for the players.

4. Cycling tour of Uruguay put on ice

I was with Gus Poyet last week and asked him whether there were mountains in Uruguay to go cycling. He said yes, but if you go up the mountains on your bike, you won't come down with it. I might give that a miss...

5. Tottenham should stay at the Lane

My sympathies lie with West Ham over the Olympic Stadium. Developing White Hart Lane should be the way forward for Spurs.

Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Liverpool

Dixon's verdict: Mick McCarthy will be pleased with his team's recent form, despite their position, and they could again cause Liverpool problems today after their marvellous win at Anfield. I'm going for a point apiece.

Kick-off Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction Draw

Arsenal vs Wigan Athletic

Dixon's verdict: Arsenal should be back to full strength today following a bit of rotation for the win at Leeds, and that should keep things fresh. Wigan grabbed a late point last month but will not trouble the Gunners here.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction Home win

Blackpool vs Sunderland

Dixon's verdict: A week is a long time in football, as any Sunderland fan will tell you after the last few days! They will miss Darren Bent's goals but should have enough to take a point against Ian Holloway's side.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction Draw

Everton vs West Ham United

Dixon's verdict: David Moyes' side were impressive at times in last week's Merseyside derby and have lost just one of their last eight. The Hammers look bereft of inspiration and I can't see them getting anything.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction Home win

Fulham vs Stoke City

Dixon's verdict: Fulham upset the formbook somewhat to win at Stoke last month and the roles could be reversed here. John Carew is a canny signing by Tony Pulis and Fulham remain inconsistent at best.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction Away win

Manchester United vs Birmingham City

Dixon's verdict: Spurs were the better side last week but United's defence stood firm to protect their unbeaten record and that won't come under as severe a threat today. Scott Dann is a big miss and they may struggle.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction Home win

Newcastle United vs Tottenham Hotspur

Dixon's verdict: Andy Carroll's absence takes away half of Newcas-tle's game plan and that, along with the suspension of Cheik Tioté, tips the balance in Spurs' favour. Steven Pienaar's arrival can only help.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction Away win

Aston Villa vs Manchester City

Dixon's verdict: Darren Bent could prove to be a catalyst for a revival in Villa's fortunes and his potency could well trouble a City side who have struggled at the back of late, conceding seven goals in their last three games.

Kick-off Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction Draw

Blackburn Rovers vs West Bromwich Albion

Dixon's verdict: The Baggies halted a run of six losses with a battling win over Blackpool but they won't get much here. Steve Kean's new contract will give Rovers stability and that can only help matters on the pitch.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Prediction Home win

Bolton Wanderers vs Chelsea

Dixon's verdict :Chelsea have started to win again but remain unconvincing, and may have to settle for a point. Bolton have lost only one of 12 home games this season and David Wheater's arrival provides strength at the back.

Kick-off Monday, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights Tues, SS1, 12.30am)

Prediction Draw

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