In parting with the best part of £20m on Darren Bent, Randy Lerner and Aston Villa have u-turned on the frugal and stone by stone progression they have preached since the Americans take-over.
Given their current predicament, you could argue that such prior measured means have recessed the team, yet after a trio of sixth place finishes prior to this campaign, one wonders what the situation would be had Martin O’Neil been granted such levels of spending afforded to Gerard Houllier.
The sum commanded for Bent has previously been layered across two or three positions on players who ultimately failed to deliver Villa’s aims of Champions League qualification.
With that in mind, it’s a polar shift of strategy for Lerner to commission a move which could double the clubs previous transfer record of £12m for Stewart Downing. It is also worth noting that Jean Makoun has arrived from Lyon for around £6m to bolster the midfield ranks.
Until Bent signed on the dotted line, Downing was the only player in the Villa squad who cost over £10m. That illustrates how restrained the Midlands outfit have been when purchasing targets. It was the clubs inability or reluctance to spend extra that so irked O’Neil to the point of resignation prior to the start of the season.
After seeing Tottenham and Manchester City lavishly spend their way past them, the futility of the situation has manifested itself in the performances of individuals and as a collective who have struggled to attain the levels of previous seasons.
By breaking from tradition, the Villa hierarchy are both admitting a real fear of relegation but also signalling future ambition and resource. Clearly O’Neil’s much stressed ideology that big money needs to be spent where necessary has struck a chord with Lerner whom must be alarmed at the depths Villa have plummeted to during an ever gradually declining 2010.
In procuring Bent, Gerard Houllier has armed himself with a player who has scored only one less goal than Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney since 2005. Given his limitations which have been exposed at international level, his domestic goal-scoring record is remarkable. 32 goals in 58 games since moving to Sunderland underlines the potential for goals. Barring his stumble at Tottenham, Bent has scored goals in abundance in predicaments not too dissimilar to the one Villa find themselves in now. Only out of the bottom three on goal difference, Houllier’s men are not even being talked about as ‘too good to go down’.
Whether Bent would have been prized away from 6th place Sunderland had he been on good personal terms on Wearside remains to be seen, yet his commitment to join Villa is not only borne out of a belief they will ultimately stave off the drop, but also of that they will soon return to the upper reaches of the Premier League table.
When prosing over a transfer such as this, the end question is whether the player can make the difference to justify the fee, and in Darren Bent’s case there is little to suggest he won’t be able to provide the amount of goals he’s been brought to bring.
In truth Villa have been requiring the elusive arch goal-getter since Dwight Yorke left. A host of names have come and gone and for tidy sums too, yet a striker of real match-winning potency has never come forward. As long as Bent doesn’t suffer from the jitters which stained his stay at Spurs, the protracted fee of potentially £24m will be money expensively well spent.
Inadvertently, Bent may well be the solution to Villa’s short and long term woes. In the immediacy his goals are supposed to alleviate the possibility of going down, but should his move be a success, he may provide the catalyst for Randy Lerner to finally armour his team with the necessary components to get where they want to go.
The ball and the money are in Lerner’s court, but the success of Darren Bent could well determine how much the American is prepared to speculate to accumulate.