ASTON VILLA insist they did not unsettle Darren Bent before his move to the Midlands.
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce said last night that he felt transfer interest in the striker had affected his form.
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.”
And chairman Niall Quinn also did a television interview in Ireland expressing similar sentiments.
Quinn told Kildare TV: “I had an inkling. Darren is a terrific guy and he has been great for us.
“He’s done loads of work with us for the club over and beyond just playing football. He’s bubbly and he’s always on great form.
“Two or three weeks ago maybe, I went into the training ground and there was something up with him.
“I looked at his demeanour and I thought, ‘It’s not right’. Having been in the game, you kind of know when someone’s got something going on in their heads.
“It transpired that that’s what had happened. They were setting him up to try and come and he took the bait.
“It’s hugely disappointing for us, but all we could do then was battle hard and, when the transfer request came in, that was probably the final nail.
“We could have tried to stop it. It was really difficult. The only job left to do was get as good a deal as possible for the club and to start finding a replacement and a solution to the problem he’s given us.”
But Villa accused the Black Cats of trying to “besmirch” the player and his new club.
A statement on the Villa website said: “We understand Sunderland Football Club’s need to explain to their naturally disappointed supporters why Darren Bent has been allowed to leave their club.
“It is disappointing, however, that Sunderland should try to besmirch the reputation of the player and Aston Villa Football Club in the process.
“We wish to make clear that at no time did Aston Villa make an inappropriate approach to the player or unfairly compromise the business of Sunderland Football Club.
“Darren only became aware of his possible transfer AFTER Sunderland’s game against Newcastle on Sunday and AFTER we had agreed with Sunderland the essence of the deal which led quickly to Darren’s arrival at Villa Park on Tuesday.
“It is only because of some comments emanating from the Stadium of Light that we have felt compelled to respond and set the record straight.”
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