SUNDERLAND boss Steve Bruce has launched a broadside at Aston Villa counterpart Gerard Houllier after losing star striker Darren Bent to the Frenchman.
A war of words has broken out between the two clubs since the 26-year-old England international completed a £24million move to Villa Park on Tuesday barely two days after Bent submitted a transfer request.
Bruce was devastated to have lost the man who was spearheading the Black Cats' push for Europe this season after plundering 25 goals in his first campaign on Wearside, and furious about the way the deal was done.
He said: "I would have liked even a phone call from Mr Houllier, for whom I did have the utmost respect for what he's done.
"I would have thought that, out of respect, maybe he would have picked up the telephone to say, 'We are interested in buying your striker'.
"That at least would have given me an opportunity to try to do something about it.
"If you are telling me we gave them permission to speak to him at 8pm on Sunday and it is done and dusted and there's a press conference by Tuesday, I don't think we should insult our intelligence.
"We know in football it happens, we all know what goes on. We are disappointed with somebody of his magnitude, but there you go."
Villa issued a statement yesterday accusing Sunderland of trying to "besmirch" the club's name, but the row shows few signs of abating as Bruce attempts to plug a gap made all the more sizeable by the news that loan signing Danny Welbeck underwent surgery to repair a torn knee cartilage yesterday and will be sidelined for up to eight weeks.
The Black Cats boss admitted he did not see Bent's defection coming, especially with his club lying in sixth place in the Barclays Premier League table and pushing for Europe, while Villa find themselves in a fight against relegation.
Bruce, who successfully fought off Turkish club Fenerbahce's bid to sign Bent during the summer, said: "If I am being honest, I never, ever saw it coming. I didn't see it coming.
"When I first heard about it, I just dismissed it and thought, 'No chance'. I just dismissed it because I didn't think they would get to the levels with the money and I didn't think Darren would want to go there.
"I honestly, genuinely thought that. But there you go - I was wrong.
"I can't go along with the thing of the bigger club and the ambition.
"Listen, the way the world is, everybody wants to have better jobs and better this and better that and better the other.
"At this particular moment, we as a football club are going to try to play in Europe and Aston Villa are in a relegation battle, so that doesn't quite make sense.
"You will have to ask Darren on those questions - why, and the timing of it, why he couldn't have waited three months until the summer and just have a little bit of respect for us?
"But unfortunately, that's the way football is and it has gone before you know it."