Bent and almost broken by Villa
By Oliver Wilson
Do you remember a few weeks ago when Darren Bent said all he wanted to do was play football?
The former England striker has truly been ousted by Paul Lambert at Aston Villa and this week the Scottish manager decided that Bent, after making only a handful of appearances last season for the club, would be playing no part in his sides pre-season training, being forced, instead, to train with three other outcasts from Lambert’s squad.
It’s no surprise that Bent will not be featuring in his sides season build-up. After returning from last years pre-season rituals, Bent found himself wearing the captains armband for the Villans’ new manager and started the first five games of their Premier League campaign.
Lambert, though, soon fell out of love with Villa’s record signing and Bent found himself dropped for a month after a 4-1 defeat to Southampton in September. Just three more League starts followed for the remainder of the season and the sudden impact of Christian Benteke after Christmas meant Bent was left in the shadows, and more often than not, away from the sidelines altogether.
Lambert insisted throughout the season that the relationship between he and his striker was fine, initially sighting niggling injuries, or his overruling decision, was what was keeping Darren away from the starting 11. When Bent began to tweet, midway through the season, about how fit and ready to play he was, cracks began to creep into Lambert’s explanations and the fans began to wonder, with their team struggling with relegation, why the man who scored nine goals in his first half a season at the club, wasn’t being given a chance to save them from the dreaded drop.
The announcement this week will at least give Villa fans some closure on Bent’s situation with the club, but it will provide no clear conclusions for the striker himself.
Bent is a goalscorer and a proven one at that.
He has, though, received plenty of criticism for his ability to create and help provide service for the players around him. Many, behind the closed doors of the press room, have described him as lazy, sighting his lack of desire to get up and down the pitch as a problem for the Villa attack over the last two seasons.
The young Belgian that usurped his place as the focal point of the Villa’s frontline last season was initially a poor finisher in front of goal but Benteke made up for shaky shooting with his terrific energy levels and his ability to stall play, allowing the likes of Andreas Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor to streak forward and support the lone forward. Bent, on the other hand, often struggled to fill this role with a similar effectiveness.
The creative striker role wasn’t one he was asked to play when he first walked through Villa Park’s claret and blue doors in 2011. On his arrival at the club the squad around him consisted of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing on the flanks, with on loan Kyle Walker flying down the wing from right-back to provide service at every opportunity during his breakout season in the Premier League. The team created chances and Bent was there to provide the sometimes expert and all-important finish. All three of them were gone after Bent’s first half season at the club.
If he is thrive as a striker again, Darren needs to find another side that can provide the sort of playmakers that make his role look so easy. His time at Villa, though, has damaged his credibility as a top Premier League striker and he is looking at a transfer market that probably can’t provide a neat fit for him.
The top six sides that almost certainly possess the creativity and talent to help an out and out finisher thrive are unlikely to come looking at a 29-year-old forward with just 16 league outings in 12-months under his belt, while the midlevel Premier League clubs need forwards more like Benteke, players that can hold the ball and create chances as well as applying a tidy finish or two.
A Fulham, perhaps, or a Swansea City, could provide the opportunity for Darren to strap on his shooting boots once again but Bent finds himself, currently, unwanted in the market. Lambert’s stony treatment of the player has cut him out of the plans of perspective buyers and Bent could easily fall to a newly promoted or Championship side before the August transfer window ends.
Bent, since the end of his first in the Midlands, has never had the weapons he needs to thrive, while the fortunate find of Christian Benteke gave his current manager a chance and the vindication to freeze out the Englishman at the club. Now he must wait and hope that a last chance to thrive in England’s topflight comes his way. The soon to be 30-year-old is running out of time.