TALKING SPORT: What’s the price of loyalty? Ask Aston Villa

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Jack Preston considers the big story of the January transfer window in his latest Talking Sport column

Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier has rejected claims his new record signing was a ‘panic buy’. He insisted the former Spurs hit-man has remained a target the club have been monitoring for some time.

The transfer fee agreed for Darren Bent is believed to be in the region of an initial £18m, which could eventually rise to a staggering £24m. Is this a case of loyalty reach a new all-time high price?

The news was greeted by uproar from the Stadium of Light, with officials of Sunderland claiming that Aston Villa had made an illegal approach for the forward. However, chairman Niall Quinn was not forced to sell Bent, whatever the price tag.

Villa have been poised tofall into relegation zone, after flirting dangerously with it for some weeks.

Many believe the signing of Bent to be a necessity, with the club possessing only four strikers, two of whom have failed to convert in the league this season. One is the Norwegian John Carew, who netted 48 goals in under four seasons while playing under former boss Martin O’Neill.

Houllier remains adamant that there is no rift between Carew and himself, and says the former Lyon striker’s future lays at Villa Park.

Gabriel Agbonlahor is the other who is failing to find the net this season, despite recording 53 goals prior to Houllier’s tenure, earning himself the prestigious Young Player of the Season award consecutively for 2006-07 and 2007-08, in addition to winning three England caps.

However, Bent’s record is proven and he is as prolific as the sky is blue, accumulating a career total of 153 goals with his four previous clubs, who include Ipswich Town, Charlton Athletic, Tottenham and Sunderland. He’s also represented his country seven times, scoring once, and was already well of the mark for the Black Cats this season with 11 in all competitions.

Bent could become a local heroat Villa after rejecting the prospect of playing in Europe in order to aid Villa in avoiding relegation.

After becoming disillusioned with life in North London, Bent made it clear that he wanted to leave and Spurs granted him that wish. The England international was grateful to Steve Bruce for rescuing him, repaying him with 25 goals.

The news of Bent’s latest move shocked Sunderland to their core, but it’s not every player who would do something so self-less and courageous in risking a golden opportunity to feature in Europe to play for a side fighting for their life.

As a Pompey fan, this gives me hope that maybe Didier Drogba or Wayne Rooney may make the switch to Fratton from their respected side and help us in our hour of need...

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