ASTON VILLA are set to land Darren Bent in a £24m move after upping their original £18m bid to match Sunderland’s asking price.
The Black Cats are still reeling from their leading scorer’s transfer request, submitted just hours after the derby game against Newcastle United on Sunday which followed hot on the heels of a bid from Villa which arrived on Friday.
But having told Villa that the star striker would not be leaving for less than £24m, Sunderland found Villa coming back quickly to agree the new fee.
That leaves the way clear for Bent to tie up a deal which will boost his pay packet from an estimated £60,000 per week to an eye-watering £80,000 per week.
Where it leaves Sunderland’s bid to finish in the Premier League top six, though, remains to be seen.
The news of Bent’s impending departure left fans in shock yesterday but the club’s leadership was not far behind.
Villa’s initial bid was set to be dismissed out of hand by Sunderland, but Bent’s written transfer request made it clear that the move appealed to him and, after talks with the player on Sunday night, the club reluctantly decided to let him go.
Sunderland will cash in on Bent rather than keeping a player who is clearly unhappy and would prefer to move on.
Having assessed the situation, the club has decided not to fight to keep Bent. And although the timing is potentially disastrous, Sunderland will try to move on quickly.
There may well be conspiracy theories abounding about why Bent has chosen to move on, and why now. But the clearest indications are quite simply that money has talked and Bent has walked.
If a deal can be done quickly enough, Bent could make his debut in the basement battle this Saturday when fourth-bottom Villa take on third-bottom Wigan Athletic.
At a stroke he will have swapped the prospect of European football next season for a relegation battle this season.
But he will bank on Villa – who have never been relegated from the Premier League – surviving comfortably and in the process will have landed himself a lucrative new deal.
Sunderland, meanwhile, will hope Bent’s departure does not damage morale and confidence too much as they seek to maintain the form which has left them sixth in the table with well over half the season gone.
Manager Steve Bruce (pictured, right)will look to bring in new players to compensate for Bent’s loss. But it is not easy to find a striker who can all but guarantee 20 goals a season as Bent can.
And his desertion will undoubtedly leave an already injury-hit Sunderland squad much the weaker.
Bruce is likely to feel personally wounded by the departure of his former record signing, having invested huge faith in the striker when he signed him 18 months ago.
Under Bruce’s guidance and support, the player not only produced some of the best form of his career but also propelled himself into Fabio Capello’s plans, earning England recognition and scoring his first international goal.