Bent just wants to play but it doesn't have to be at Aston Villa
Darren Bent’s Aston Villa career began with a flourish. Nine goals in his first 16 games, including a brace that gave his new side a memorable win at The Emirates Stadium against Arsenal, appeared to set a standard that would hopefully become the norm for the Midlanders and it wasn’t long before one of England’s most consistent strikers was being tipped for a recall to the International squad.
But since that first half season in Aston times have become tough for the striker. An ankle injury last year destroyed the second half of his season and after the club bounced back from the disastrous appointment of Alex McLeish, Bent found himself left out in the cold by McLeish’s replacement Paul Lambert, without any explanation as to why.
“Last season I started off really well and at half way I’d got some goals and then I got the big injury so that killed it,” lamented Bent.
“This season, for whatever reason, its continued in the same vain of not playing as much but I can’t really put my finger on why, I’m not giving it any less, I’m still 100%.
“I can’t really pin point when it all started to deteriorate really.”
But deteriorate it has, and Bent has seen his impressive 0.4 goals a game career average before he joined Villa for £18 million, fall to a lowly 0.29 goals per game in his last two seasons. With just 15 Premier League appearances and seven starts this season Bent sees a clouded future ahead if one thing doesn’t change.
“All I care about is playing football and playing games,” continued the forward.
“It is about playing games and I can’t, at my age, have another season like I’ve had this season because time is running out.”
The 29-year-old makes a good point as he heads towards the terrifying cliff that is the age of 30. If Bent finds himself on the ‘wrong side of 30’, with minimal game time and sporadic substitute appearances all he has to call a playing career, his time as a top Premier League striker will be all but over. The big question now is will Aston Villa be the club that gives him the playing time he needs?
If Christian Benteke is able to dodge the temptations of some of Europe’s top sides – with Borussia Dortmund being the latest club to show an interest in the Belgian international – it is unlikely that the Englishman will be given the opportunity to make a more meaningful impact on Villa’s squad, and it wouldn’t be wise for Lambert to break up the trio of Andreas Weimann, Gabby Agbonlahor and Benteke which has proved to be such fruitful a combination in the latter weeks of the season.
“Our front three are looking very dangerous at the moment with Andy, Gabby and Christian forming a formidable partnership,” admits Bent.
“At the moment so all you can keep doing is keep training hard and if you get the opportunities to take them then.”
Bent should be given that chance on Sunday when the Villans head to Wigan on the last day of the season, after Benteke received his marching orders against Chelsea and he admitted that starting for Villa again will be a welcome contrast to the pain of being a footballer left on the sidelines.
“With Christina out he’s going to be a big loss because he’s had a fantastic season but if I can get the nod then it’ll be nice to play a part in the game.
“Every game that you don’t play it hurts that bit more. When you’re on the bench and you come on you still hurt because you want to start but it’s no way near as bad when you’re on the bench and you don’t come on at all it does hurt.”
Darren is yet to officially approach his manager about his need to play football, his maturity and experience telling him that the clubs recent relegation battle has been a bigger score to settle then his own personal goals and desires. But thanks to Wigan’s heavy loss at Arsenal in mid-week, Villa are officially safe and Darren could be heading to Lamberts office at any point.
“I wont ask [to leave Aston Villa] but, as I said, I’ll have to sit down with the manager and the chairman and my agent and just go from there.
“It’s been a difficult situation anyway with us fighting relegation so the last thing I want to do is go in there kicking and screaming and stuff. We’re all one team at the end of the day and it’s not about one individual so when the time is right and it’s time to talk about things I’ll do that.
“All I can say really is that if it’s going to be another season like this and it looks like I’m not going to play then I have to play football, it’s as simple as that.
“I’d prefer it to be here because as I’ve said I’ve enjoyed every minute that I’ve been at this football club but at the same time it is about playing games and that’s all I care about really.”
His teammate and Captain Ron Vlaar has given Bent a strong backing this week for the final day of the season calling Bent the logical choice to fill the void left by Benteke.
“He’s looked really sharp [in training],” said Vlaar.
“He’s been training very well and it’s not been easy for him this season but the way he’s training, that’s the Darren Bent we all want to see and probably he’ll get his chance now.”
The backing of his peers, though, may not be enough and while the fixture against Wigan is Bent’s opportunity to show his manager his worth to the club, it is also a last chance to leave a lasting impression on those who hold the purse strings elsewhere in the Premier League. Fulham are rumoured to be interested in acquiring Bent’s services and there will likely be others on the look out for an established Premier League finisher.
Aston Villa has been both heaven and hell for the clubs record signing. The unfortunate, but timely, rise of Benteke has left a top quality finisher waiting in the wings but with one last chance to make an impression, Bent just wants to use this final game of the season to ensure one thing.
“As long as you’re playing games and you’re playing at the highest level which is the Premier League, that’s all I care about really.”