Two days ago, Slaky wrote an excellent piece asking everyone to step back from the ledge with regard to the Darren Bent transfer rumors. There he wrote these measured and wise words:
There haven't been any offers and Aston Villa has said they aren't accepting bids. So please stop with the woe-is-you posts about how Bent is off to Liverpool and Villa are yet again a selling club. The fact that Villa is adamantly denying his availability means that Liverpool would have to grossly overpay to even consider acquiring his services.
But in the email thread between the writers of 7500, Slaky expressed a desire to see someone write about why it might be a good thing for Bent to leave Birmingham. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and so I offered to write a few words on why it might not be so bad for Villa to sell the striker, either now or in the summer transfer window.
I have to mention first, however, that I don't dislike Darren Bent at all. He has been steadfastly professional since he arrived here last year. With the exception of one boneheaded shopping trip, he's been a player that has avoided controversy. More importantly, he was a major reason that Villa not only saved themselves from relegation last season, but also ended the campaign on a positive note. Contributions to Aston Villa aside, he is one of the best goalscorers in the entire world if given the proper service. There is a lot to love about him. In the bowl full of enervated goldfish that is the current squad, Bent is the beautiful tropical fish that makes the aquarium worth owning.
There is a problem, however, with owning a tropical fish. Sure, they can make the aquarium better, and yes they're fun to look at when they dart around. But they're also awfully finicky. Mess with the water a goldfish is in, and it would shrug (if it had shoulders). "Sure, whatever man. Just give me food flakes every so often." They can thrive even in less-than-perfect conditions. Ultra-rare tropical fish though? Those you have to be careful with. Screw up the pH even a tiny bit and the next thing you know you've got some shiny colors floating belly-up at the top of your bowl.
And that's what has happened with Darren Bent. We've screwed up the pH. Last year, everything was perfect for him. He got service from an in-form Stewart Downing and a never-quite-terrible Ashley Young. He had something to score from. Bent has never been a player who creates his own chances, and Villa seem to be relying on him to do so this year. It's not a plan that guarantees success. The club paid a ton of money to keep a fish around who is doing his best imitation of this guy.
And the problem lays primarily with the team, not with Bent. Sure, he's missed a few sitters this year, but we'd forget those quickly if he'd score a few more goals. The only way that would happen, however, is if he were given more opportunities. Football is, for the most part, a sport that relies on a successful and cohesive team unit. There are certain players who can probably take a team to the next level by themselves (Messi, for instance), but Darren is not one of those. He is an excellent poacher and not much more.
So what will be done? In all likelihood, nothing. Keeping Bent around isn't flat-out stupid. He's an exceptional talent, and if a few things change, he could return to being a man possessed in front of goal. But things don't seem too likely to change. The team has too little money, and Alex McLeish seems to have no interest in shaking things up. Darren Bent is essentially taking money away from other players we could have, all while doing very little. Why not sell him, then? I understand that Villa seem like a farm team at this point, and on top of the year we've had, selling Bent would be a major psychological blow to the fans. But if that money could be reinvested in the team quickly - and not in the form of flashy old players, but rather promising youngsters - the winning that could follow would likely be enough to rid fans of their woes.
Darren Bent has performed wonderfully for England in Euro qualifying, and all signs point to his slump being related to poor service at Villa. Coupled with Villa's stance that they will not sell him (a stance that would drive up the price for a team that is determined, and deter a team that is not), I imagine they could come close to recouping their transfer fee from last January. Bent is clearly a player with a boatload of potential left in him, and teams will pay for that. Heck, I bet we could convince Manchester City that they need him for £30 million! They'll spend anything, those crazy Mancunians. And selling Bent does not cripple Aston Villa. We've got players who can score and they've been doing so all season.
I don't think Bent should be sold because he is a bad player or because he's past his prime. I think he should be sold because Aston Villa are currently a team with an aquarium and some Betas they won at the carnival. That's no way to keep a nice fish, and what's the point in spending the money for something to float around uselessly? Get some money for Bent and build the player-infrastructure necessary to sustain a winning club. Once we've got that down, then the team can go looking for something flashy. Sell Bent today, and in the future we'll be able to buy more of his ilk and expect them to be consistently helpful.