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At that price you can forgive football clubs for buying elsewhere

Darren Bent’s shock move to Aston Villa from Sunderland for a fee that could cost in the region of £24m in total has highlighted, possibly more than ever before, the ridiculous premium put on English talent with concerns to the over inflated transfer fees that they’re able to command.

Let me get this on record before we begin, I’m a big fan of Darren Bent. I think he should have gone to the World Cup, I rate him higher than current first-choice England striker Jermain Defoe, a player who he is often compared to, in particular by those who reside on White Hart Lane’s terraces, and that for pure goal scoring, there are few better in the whole of Europe. But the fact of the matter is, there is simply no way he is worth £24m.

The initial deal that Villa are paying is constructed in a way that means that they pay £18m up front, a huge outlay and tremendous show of faith on Chairman Randy Lerner’s part to his beleaguered manager Gerard Houllier, and that the deal could eventually rise to as much as £24m depending on appearances and add-ons.

Bent currently has the third best goal scoring record in the Premier League since 2005 with 81 league goals, only fractionally behind Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba with 82 goals. The fact that anyone can doubt his pedigree is beyond me. He may not be the best all-round striker out there, but he scores goals by the bucket load and lest we forget, that is a striker’s main priority whenever he takes to the pitch.

But the price is simply astronomical. Bent, is, at 26 years of age, approaching his peak years and should he stay at Villa for the rest of his career, the longevity may counterbalance the price, but it’s a huge price tag to live up to. The only reason for the large nature of his fee has to be down to the nationality inked in on his passport.

Everyone knows that English players’ price tags are at a premium, and that’s why foreign managers when they come to England persist with pursuing transfer targets from abroad, because you can quite often get the same player for half the price if you don’t shop around in England.

At Man City for example, David Silva cost £25m, which in today’s market, seems a hugely fair price. Obviously, this was in part due to the financial woe that befell his former club Valencia who became crippled with huge debt. They were also forced to sell off other prized asset David Villa to Barcelona this summer for £34.5m too, to try and ease their financial constraints.

Contrasting Bent’s fee with David Silva’s and it’s clear only one club is getting value for money. Indeed, Man City have also been on the receiving end of paying over the odds for English talent – with the £26m forked out for James Milner (£18m transfer fee and the £8m valued Stephen Ireland moving in the opposite direction to Villa) and the £22m they paid for Joleon Lescott’s services and it looks something akin to daylight robbery. The combined cost of Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure was fractionally less than Lescott and the Englishman rarely gets a look in beyond this solid pairing. The fact that nobody has been arrested yet on fraud charges for the £10m transfer of Wayne Bridge to City is nothing short of criminal.

It would be unfair to contrast the Bent deal with say, the Alan Shearer move from Blackburn to Newcastle in 1996 for £15m, for they are two completely incomparable eras and there is simply a lot more money in the game now than there was back then. But Shearer, baring Ronaldo and at a push, Patrick Kluivert, was the best striker in Europe at the time of the deal. Could you honestly count Bent as being in the same category at the moment?

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To put this deal into a more digestible perspective. Fernando Torres cost Liverpool £20m in 2007. Wayne Rooney cost Man Utd £23m in 2004. Didier Drogba’s move to Chelsea in 2004 cost £24m. Bent’s deal has the opportunity to equal or eclipse them all.

Bent will undoubtedly improve Villa on the pitch. They’re a side that’s been crying out for some firepower up top for quite some time and Martin O’Neill seemed quite reluctant to address the issue, instead focussing on trying to stop his side losing games rather than going out their to win them. The way Villa have set up so far under Houllier has seen a change in tack to a more attack-minded approach and perhaps this is why Lerner has backed Houllier so vehemently.

Just five days before the beginning of the season Martin O’Neill quit Villa, with the James Milner deal seemingly the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. It was thought that O’Neill was only going to receive £16m this summer to reinvest in the squad and that this lack of faith and ambition prompted his hasty departure.

Despite his relative success at Villa Park, tensions grew between Lerner and O’Neill and the Chairman, who had already forked out a hefty sum of money on new players upon becoming Chairman, obviously felt that he was seeing enough return on the pitch for his investment, despite the stability and consistency that O’Neill’s tenure offered.

For a Chairman to turn around a complete policy on spending so quickly is really rather shocking, especially one as stable as Lerner. Only at the end of last season and the beginning of this one was Lerner waxing lyrical about the need to balance the books at Villa Park and that the club, in order to become sustainable in the current economic climate, needed to sell to buy. The Bent signing may not be a panic buy, for he’s just what they need right now, the sudden change in approach most certainly has a panicky ring to it.

Can Villa truly justify spending 25% of their annual turnover on just one player? Particularly when he’s one that’s so reliant on the service that’s given to him. Bent is capable of feeding off scraps and taking the few opportunities that he may receive in any given match, a skill he acquired in his time at lesser lights such as Charlton, Ipswich and to a lesser extent, Sunderland, and while he can be clinical, he’s simply not the sort of player to take teams on and beat them on his own. He’s not a world beater, he’s simply a fantastic goal scorer with a proven track record in the Premier League. It’s imperative now that Villa keep hold of in form and in-demand winger Stewart Downing now, as well as Ashley Young.

Bent is exactly the sort of player that Villa need, but they have been seriously hit in the pocket by two factors – doing their business in January and that fact that the man in question happens to be English. Bent will score goals at Villa, lots of them probably and Houllier’s arm around the shoulder management style will suit a player that needs to be top dog and loved to perform to his best, but that nagging feeling that they are paying over the odds persists.

When a Premier league manager is next criticised for buying a foreign player instead of an English one, can you really blame them after looking at the Bent deal? There is simply no value in the market anymore, particularly if you happen to be born on these fair shores.


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Article title: At that price you can forgive football clubs for buying elsewhere

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