There are only two strikers who have finished in the top ten scorers lists five times in the last seven seasons. One of them currently wears the number 10 shirt for Manchester United. The other can’t even get on the bench for Aston Villa, a club that is currently just hovering above the relegation zone.
Despite consistently scoring goals for Charlton, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and Aston Villa for seven years, Darren Bent suddenly finds himself surplus to demands at Aston Villa. A striker doesn’t finish in the top ten goalscorers five seasons out of seven through fluke. Bent has been consistently excellent. It’s worth remembering that in the two seasons in which Bent did not feature on the aforementioned list he was either restricted by an incredibly defensive manager (Aston Villa 2011/2012) or was hampered by a very competitive squad (Tottenham Hotspur 2007/2008).
In 233 Premier League games Darren Bent has scored 101 goals. By contrast, in 346 Premier League games current Tottenham favourite Jermaine Defoe has scored 119 goals. It is often glossed over just how impressive Darren Bent’s goal-scoring record actually is. It stands up to comparison with those players universally regarded as legends: Robbie Fowler played 378 Premier League games, scoring 163 goals. Of course, players like Fowler continued to play way past their prime after their bodies were ravaged by injury, yet it is indisputable that in his time in the Premier League so far, Bent’s scoring record is matched only by the greats.
And yet at Aston Villa Bent remains as isolated in the stands as he was playing alongside 10 defenders during Alex McCleish’s dire reign. It seems that Bent is becoming increasingly marginalized by the day at Villa Park. He isn’t a former great who’s legs have gone – Bent is 28 and theoretically at the peak of his powers. He hasn’t shown any particular signs of a loss of form or confidence. Bent is the same player he always was.
We’ve always known that Bent isn’t the perfect forward. Rooney has the vision, creativity and versatility to play as a playmaker, Drogba has the muscular force that can swat through an entire defence on its own and Robin van Persie has the skill and style to score goals that will genuinely take your breath away. Darren Bent, however, has unsurpassed striker’s instinct and a lethal finish.
Even in his most prolific seasons, when Bent was scoring 24 goals for Sunderland or 18 goals for Charlton Athletic, it was clear that Bent didn’t quite posses the all round game that would see him lead the line at a top four side.
Unfortunately for Paul Lambert, Villa are not a top four side. They are a team that would do well to be clear of the relegation scrap by April. Flirting with relegation is a risky business, one that could potentially cost the club millions. Can they afford to show the cold shoulder to a striker with such a prestigious Premier League pedigree?
Lambert’s thought process is easy to dissect. He’s affirming his authority on a newly inherited squad, moulding Villa’s side into a team that is clearly identifiable as his own: one that is built to his will and command. By showing a fearless disregard towards the big man on the Villa Park campus, Lambert will have snapped his students to attention.
Perhaps more importantly, however, Lambert’s attempts to organise his young, hungry, but crucially inexperienced squad into a team capable of playing his brand of a controlled but attacking style of football do not compliment Bent’s game. Lambert wants a forward who can hold the ball up, who can keep possession for his team and play with his back to goal. Christian Benteke is that player. Bent falls short.
Yet it still remains baffling that Lambert is refusing to integrate Bent at all. Lambert should be making Bent an ally, a weapon in his fight for Villa’s survival this season. Not only can Bent guarantee Villa goals, he is a rare figure of experience in a squad that is desperately short on it. Not only does alienating Bent rid Villa of an alternative game plan, it denies them a player who has the kind of experience that is often highlighted by managers fighting the dreaded drop as being so important to their hopes of survival.
Harry Redknapp could be one of those managers. The new QPR boss has already bemoaned his lack of attacking options telling the press that “We lack a bit of a cutting edge. It’s a lop-sided squad and we could do with a couple of front men to give us a chance.” Never one to comment on other players, of course, Redknapp also said of Bent “I think he’s a good player. I’d like to have Darren Bent available believe you me. He can score goals.” He most certainly can and with Bobby Zamora misfiring and Andy Johnson permanently injured, Rangers currently only have Djibril Cissé to rely on in that department.
Even if Paul Lambert’s mind is made up and he is looking to get rid of Bent, Randy Lerner would do well to have a word in his ear about getting him on the pitch in the coming weeks. The clearer it becomes that Bent is not wanted at Aston Villa, the weaker their bargaining powers become. Randy Lerner seemingly emptied his wallet, smashed the piggy bank and reached down the bottom of the sofa in order to bring Bent to the club. To accept a huge loss on the £24m investment would be in stark contradiction to his newly imposed frugality.
Darren Bent may not be Aston Villa’s future. But unless Lambert allows him influence their present, that future may not be something Villa fans can look forward to.