Darren Bent will return to the Stadium of Light on Saturday to a peculiar warm welcome from the club. It has been nine months since his acrimonious £24 million move to Aston Villa and fans are ready to give him both barrels of hate.
His departure came with accusations of money-grabbing and betraying Steve Bruce – who claimed he had already tried to engineer a move to Turkey.
Although fans were upset, an offer so big can hardly be sniffed at and this weekend’s game will see the welcome mat unrolling whether the fans on Wearside agree with it or not.
Black Cats’ midfielder Jack Colback said: “We wish him all the best and I hope he does well for England – but I hope he’s on the losing team on Saturday.”
This football love-in is often reserved only for club legends, which Bent can hardly claim to be after just 18 months there.
Instead the 27-year-old should be doing all he can for his former employers, who took him from the bench and embarrassment at Tottenham and turned him into one of the country’s most potent goalscorers.
I am sure the words “My missus could have scored that one” are permanently etched in Bent’s mind and every time he misses the thought of those words being uttered about him again must make him retch.
That miss for during his time at Spurs and the public humiliation he received after Harry Redknapp’s post-match interview saw the striker hit rock bottom.
He struggled to recover and despite finishing the season with 17 goals, he was seen as a flop because of the £16.5 million tag.
With his footballing career in the proverbial, a phone call from Steve Bruce was to be the turning point.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Bent said: “I needed to rediscover my smile, that spark in my game, and Sunderland gave me the opportunity to play regularly. I felt I could knock down walls with those supporters behind me.
‘Steve Bruce was one of the big reasons why things went so well for me. He just called me and said, “Will you sign for Sunderland?” With no hesitation, I replied, “Yes”.”
And with that, the reincarnation of a player that had been prolific at Charlton began. Looking like a completely different player, his confidence and combination with Kenwyne Jones led to a scintillating season, bagging 24 Premier League goals, half of the Black Cats’ goals in the season. At the beginning of last season, Bent lost his partner in Jones who was replaced by the speedy and enigmatic Asamoah Gyan. The pair clicked instantly, linking almost telepathically to create the most feared strike partnership outside of the top four.
Bent added another eight league goals to his tally in the first half of the campaign and with interest coming from a number of clubs in England and abroad, Bent made the move to the second city where he has continued his scoring form, including a debut goal against Manchester City in a 1-0 win.
The rejuvenated Bent also made it back into the England set up during his time on Wearside and scored his first international goal while contracted to Sunderland, completing a remarkable turnaround.
Now Bent will make a return to the ground that gave him a new lease of life and will face the fans that once cheered him. They will give him a hard time and it is completely understandable. But they should also look at the striker with a sense of pride, knowing that their club is responsible for giving him the confidence to be this good.
Although that won’t be much of a comfort if he scores the winner.
Will you be cheering or booing Bent on Saturday? Do you agree or disagree? Have your say. Comment below or follow me on Twitter @jrobbins1991.