So, we were asked to pen a piece about Darren Bent’s time at SAFC by the Charlton Athletic fanzine, My Only Desire, so thought we may as well share it here too…
WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF BENT’S TIME AT THE CLUB?
Goals, which is exactly what you want from a striker, and the sad nature of his departure. He did his job well, and with a bit of swagger. Of course, everybody remembers the beach ball goal, which, if you watch the replay carefully, actually hit Glen Johnson last. Heaven knows what VAR would make of it. He scored half of our league goals that first season, and we were looking forward with the hope that he could carry on in that form, and if he had, he’d have overtaken Phillips in our goalscorers list and become an all-time Sunderland great, in fact, he’s still fifth in our all-time list of scorers based on goals per game, one place above Phillips.
WHAT WAS THE GENERAL FAN OPINION OF HIM DURING HIS TIME AT SUNDERLAND?
Prior to his arrival, we were generally amused by his social media comments to Daniel Levy of Spurs, you know, here’s a player who’s not afraid to tell the chairman what he thinks. Mind, had he made the same comments about our chairman, I’m not sure how we’d have felt. The fans loved him because he was the first prolific goalscorer we’d had since Kevin Phillips, and everybody loves a goalscorer. He wasn’t just efficient, though, we liked him because he was a bit flash, he looked and acted the business, he was proper Premier League material, and he always looked happy on the pitch. He joined us when he was 25, so there were potentially another eight seasons in him, and when he ended the first of those with 25 goals, he was a firm a favourite as he could have been. It didn’t end well, though, and the period after he put in a transfer request was less than pleasant.
WERE YOU SURPRISED WHEN BENT WAS LEFT OUT OF THE ENGLAND SQUAD FOR THE 2010 WORLD CUP AFTER SCORING 25 GOALS THAT SEASON?
Absolutely. I watched him play for England as a Sunderland player and he looked absolutely comfortable, absolutely at home. He was the only player from the major European leagues to score 20 or more goals not to go to South Africa, and that was simply wrong, a really bad decision by Capello. He took Heskey instead – ‘nuff said.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW OF BENT’S DEPARTURE IN JANUARY 2011? HOW DID FANS RESPOND TO THIS AT THE TIME?
The most likely reason was that when arrived, we offered him less than he was asking for with the promise that if he did well, we’d give him a better contract. He did well, so he asked for the promise to be fulfilled and we didn’t fulfil it. Villa offered us silly money, so we took that money, it’s that simple. Of course, there was all the usual stuff going about at the time, had he been messing with the manager’s daughter, had he been tapped by another club, was he homesick? No, just Sunderland reneging on a deal of which there’s almost certainly no physical evidence in the form of a written agreement, so he’d naturally be seen as the bad guy, that's how the fans viewed him at the time, and, rightly or wrongly, that view has stuck with many.
You can see throughout his career, though, that once he’d established himself as a player at Ipswich, he had a two-year shelf-life at any club. He was with Villa for four, but he spent much of that time on loan at Fulham, Brighton, and Derby. The bottom line is that he wanted more money, we wouldn’t give him it, and we sold him for a profit. We fans have given him absolute hell when he’s played against us, he’s referred to as Judas, we smiled (laughed a lot, actually) when he couldn’t get a game for Villa, and hiss at him when he’s on Question of Sport. He “only” scored 55 goals in the eight and a bit seasons he played after leaving us, so who knows what he could have scored had he stayed. Only he will know all of the real reasons, but the fact is he had the chance of becoming a member of the Sunderland Hall of Fame, and our memories of his time will remain tainted by the perceived manner of his departure.