Richard Dunne tries to save Aston Villa £18 million by forcibly abducting Darren Bent. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
So, as you may have heard, we've become embroiled in quite the transfer story. It seems Randy Lerner has finally found his checkbook, and he is ready to let Gerard Houllier loose on the winter market with the orders "keep Villa up!" ringing in his ears. At the end of last week, ol' Ged completed a £6 million transfer for Lyon's Cameroonian holding midfielder Jean Makoun. I think we probably all figured that Gerard Houllier would be more likely to find players from abroad than Martin O'Neill. Then again, even I have a better foreign scouting network than Martin O'Neill, and all I'm using is a lazy combination of Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube. And Houllier couldn't have done a better job of playing to type, signing a French-speaking player from Ligue 1 (I think at one point I saw a Sky Sports story linking us to Charles de Gaulle.) I'm optimistic about this move, because I think Makoun might be more Makélélé than Pirès. Plus, I'm just excited to see that we're not falling into the old O'Neill trap of overpaying mid-level talent just because they're British (see: James Collins, Steve Sidwell, Nigel Reo-Coker, etc.)
And then I get up Monday morning and see that we're about to pay £18 million for Darren Bent. Now, Darren Bent is a fantastic goalscorer. We've needed goals for a while, and Darren Bent knows how to score goals. Granted, he doesn't really do anything else. But we've got some decent playmakers already, from Young and Downing to Albrighton and Bannan. Plus, Emile Heskey could be a reasonable facsimile of Kenwyne Jones, the nondescript big man that Bent loved playing with last year at Sunderland. A lot of people are saying that Bent's incredible goal tally over the last couple seasons is partly because he takes a lot of penalties, which I suppose is a fair enough point. But hey, we don't really have any good penalty takers anyways! Anyone remember John Carew skying that penalty against Newcastle? That was ridiculous!
So, the primary issue for Aston Villa supporters is whether or not Darren Bent is good enough to keep us in the Premier League. There's little doubt in my mind that Bent can provide the goal-scoring touch that we've been sorely missing all season. Unfortunately, Darren Bent won't do anything to solidify our porous back line, which is my chief area of concern. If you saw West Ham's loss to Arsenal over the weekend, however, you know that Wayne Bridge - who was at fault for each of Arsenal's three goals, and then got injured - wouldn't have done anything either. By the way, while we're talking about West Ham, can we have a hearty laugh at Martin O'Neill throwing a fit about the press knowing that he was about to be hired as longballing saviour of East London's Bongo Boys? If we count his hilariously petulant refusal of the Southampton job, this is now the third job that O'Neill has tantrum-ed his way out of. Hopefully, the (very) poor man's Brian Clough can save himself the stress and call it a career.
Where was I? Darren Bent, right? Okay, so neither Darren Bent nor the empty shell of Wayne Bridge can save Aston Villa's defence. Part of that will be up to Makoun, who is better defensively than pretty much anyone we've had since Gareth Barry left. However, it would be nice if Lerner and Houllier worked together to find a defender that doesn't make me break out in nervous sweats. This is particularly important, because our otherwise excellent academy doesn't have a lot of talent in that area. Which leads into my primary concern about the Bent purchase. What is this going to do to Nathan Delfouneso's development? Even as we were struggling, Delfouneso didn't get a lot of playing time. While Delfouneso and his Austrian counterpart Andreas Weimann are still only nineteen years old, it is worrying to supporters of Villa's youth movement that they've potentially moved to fifth and sixth on the depth chart. Also, where is Gabriel Agbonlahor going to play? He's been increasingly farmed out on the wing, but I'm not sure that he's a better option there than any of the Young-Albrighton-Downing trio. As I mentioned earlier, Bent plays best with a big "knock-em-down-hold-em-up" striker like Emile Heskey or Kenwyne Jones. Alongside quicker forwards, such as Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck, Bent has seemed to be less comfortable.
Speaking of Gyan, Sunderland paid Rennes £13 million for the Ghanaian star. Now, I won't go so far as to say that Gyan is better than Bent. While Gyan did a lot at the World Cup, some will argue that Bent is more of a proven quantity in the Premier League. But it is indicative of the inflated market value of British players, particularly England internationals. As I write this on Monday night, it is speculated that Darren Bent will cost Aston Villa anywhere between £18 and £24 million. By contrast, Gyan only cost £13 million, which still may have been an overvaluation, because of his performance at last summer's World Cup. Tottenham Hotspur was able to prise Rafael Van der Vaart away from Real Madrid for a mere £8 million, and he's been one of the best players in the Premier League this season. But Real Madrid are fine with that, because they got Mesut Ozil (who is about as good and also five years younger) for £12.5 million. But, as we all remember, James Milner - England international - cost Manchester City about £26 million. And he just recently scored his first goal for them! Good for you, James! Sure, it was in a cup match against lower league Leicester City, but it must have felt really good, getting that four-month monkey off of your back.
The bottom line is this: as I'm writing, Aston Villa is at the precipice of buying their second international-class player over the span of a week. At least that's something, as opposed to what I feared was likely: absolutely nothing.