When the transfer window opens, reinforcing a team’s striking department is a unique pleasure in football. There is much to be taken from shoring up a leaky defence – with say a mountainous centre back or a new safe pair of hands in nets – but games are won by scoring goals, and the rumours, bluffs and obligatory ‘inside sources’ that contribute to the build up to snaring a new predator to do the business upfront make for scintillating viewing as a fan. It’s a feeling only amplified when the team in question happens to be one of the country’s big guns.
Once such rumour from one such ‘source’ was aired by the Daily Mirror’s David Anderson last week, in which he claimed that an insider at Anfield had leaked that a move for Aston Villa and England hitman Darren Bent is done and dusted.
Back in August last year, the idea wouldn’t have carried a cup of water. But six months on, while it’s still far too early to form firm conclusions, it is fair to suggest that Liverpool fans could have expected more from their main striking duo. Luis Suarez has certainly caught the headlines this season, simultaneously for all the right and wrong reasons – a not entirely unimpressive feat. His touchline trickery and fleet footed fishing have been a delight.
The petulance, hand gestures and casual racism, not so much. The latter has landed him a (quite incredible, even given the context) eight game ban from the FA, leaving a Luis shaped hole in Liverpool’s striking options for the next couple of months.
It’s a problem only compounded by the fortunes of his transfer teammate. Andy Carroll’s ridiculous £35m price tag would weigh heavily around the neck of any player, but for a lad of 23 still learning his game, it threatens to become a millstone. His performances have been described as ‘off the pace’ by more charitable sections of the Scouse faithful, and six goals in 31 appearances have done little to silence the already-sharpening knives. Even if he was playing well, Liverpool are still short up top, and the transfer window has now taken on a new lustre for the club.
Darren Bent in many ways fulfils the immediate criteria necessary. At 27 he’s the right age and, having spent his footballing education in and around the country’s top tier, there should be no ‘bedding in’ or adaptation period. A recognised goal scorer across his career but still somehow not considered amongst the Premiership’s elite, Bent has suffered from a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ reputation, which is perhaps hard to shake at the top level. Pacy, but not blisteringly quick. Solid, but not a hardman. A goalscorer, but not likely to trouble the golden boot regulars on a consistent basis.
Many of these ‘criticisms’ could be levelled as unjust when one takes into account the sides he has had to lead the line for. The catalyst for Bent’s current spotlight basking time was the 2009-10 season; his first of two for Sunderland, in which he netted 25 from 40. This was (and remains) his highest seasonal tally, and finally encouraged England coach Fabio Capello to consider him as more than a mere afterthought.
With the greatest of respect to the Mackems, anyone with the ability to squeeze that many from Sunderland’s modest midfield service deserves serious consideration from any side with loftier ambitions. And while his subsequent output has yet to meet this exceptional standard, one can only anticipate what Bent might be able to do with a top-notch midfield behind him.