Aston Villa striker Darren Bent has endured a year to forget at the Midlands club and under their new manager Paul Lambert it only seems to be getting worse, so what does the future hold for the fallen England international?
While the remnants of the truly dreadful reign of Alex McLeish may not be totally gone, under the former Norwich boss, the club have started the season in similarly patchy form and they currently sit in 17th place in the Premier League with just five points from eight games.
Criticism of such a poor start has been in relatively short supply due to the good press that Lambert enjoys when compared to his predecessor and a tacit acknowledgement that turning around a sinking ship is going to take some time, particularly given the inexperienced squad that he has at it disposal.
Moreover, this is what makes it so strange that Lambert has taken to benching one of his better, most senior players in Bent and handing the captaincy over to new signing Ron Vlaar. The club record signing practically kept them up after signing for them from Sunderland back in 2010 and while 20 goals in 46 league games is hardly pulling up any trees, it’s a more than decent record comparable with most around the same level of club and approaching the benchmark by which all strikers are judged, the much-vaunted 1 in 2 ratio.
A concern with Bent is that he simply doesn’t involve himself enough in the play and relies solely on the service into him, which at the moment it has to be said, is far from consistent or even creative. He made just 20 touches of the ball, only three of which were inside the penalty area, against Fulham away last Saturday during a 75-minute showing.
However, when you see the chances that Christian Benteke is missing at the moment, the reluctance to place any sort of faith in Bent at the moment remains puzzling and Lambert appears to insist on playing the £10m Belgium international simply because he signed him as opposed to anything exceptional he has done on the pitch as of yet.
Bent aired his frustrations at Lambert’s rotation policy last weekend, when asked if he was happy with his current situation and playing time.
“When you start getting rotation systems it’s difficult to find a rhythm especially as a front-man. It’s the manager’s decision and we stand by that and just have to work hard in training and show you want to play. Goals are difficult at the moment but we need to get in the right place at the right time. That’s all I’ve done throughout my career. Once we get a team blend and start creating chances, I’ll start finishing them.”
While talk that the pair are barely on speaking terms may have been blown out of all proportion, it’s clear that Bent seems reasonably unhappy at how he’s been treated, particularly given that he’s still the club’s top goalscorer with three goals this season and a move in January has been mooted.
Liverpool are of course the main side that’s been mentioned and Brendan Rodgers squad does look worryingly thin of attacking options, especially so after Fabio Borini’s foot injury. The 39-year-old manager stated last week that recalling Andy Carroll from his loan spell at West Ham hadn’t yet crossed his mind but with the side competing on four fronts at the moment, the workload on Luis Suarez is intense and they will surely strengthen there when the window opens.
The same critique that Carroll would struggle to adapt to Rodgers’ style of play applies to Bent; he is a goalscorer, pure and simple, but he rarely gets involved in any build-up play, at least not to the degree that the former Swansea boss would want and while Liverpool undoubtedly need someone capable of finishing their chances and going some way to getting rid of the team’s systemic profligate ways, I can’t really see Bent starting every week at Anfield at the moment.
There’s also the fact that despite falling out of Roy Hodgson’s plans at international level of late, that Bent is a striker with international pedigree, at the peak of his career at 28 years of age and he cost £24m just two years ago, so Villa are likely to want a fair chunk of that fee back if he were to seek pastures new.
Arsenal could do with a player of his predatory instincts given that they’ve struck just 13 goals in the league this season and appear to be struggling to put the ball in the back of the net, but again, he wouldn’t be first-choice at the Emirates either, while Chelsea and Tottenham, due to past affiliation and money will certainly be setting their sights a lot higher.
The thought that Bent may leave Villa in January is a perfectly feasible one, but picking a club that would be able to both afford him and grant him an assured first-team role is difficult. His relationship with Lambert may be fractious and his frequent omissions considering their current situation increasingly baffling, but the only route back to where he was at the beginning of last season may be to stay put where he is and make the most of a far from ideal environment.
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