Darren Bent rage: Aston Villa striker hits back as Sunderland chief Niall Quinn fuels tapping-up row

By Neil Moxley and Colin Young

Aston Villa have angrily rejected claims that they tapped up Darren Bent as the fall-out over his £24million move from Sunderland intensified.

The Birmingham club reacted furiously to suggestions that they had acted improperly, and in turn accused Sunderland of trying to ‘besmirch’ the striker’s reputation and tarnish that of Aston Villa.

And in the latest twist, Bent waded into the middle of the rumpus with a parting shot of his own as the bitterness between the two parties deepened.

Smiles better: Darren Bent and Robert Pires train with Aston Villa

Smiles better: Darren Bent and Robert Pires train with Aston Villa

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce took the first steps on Wednesday night towards securing a replacement — opening talks with Stoke City over a £3m move for Ricardo Fuller — but he did so with the flames having been fanned still further at the Stadium of Light.

Niall Quinn, chairman of the North East club, backed up Bruce’s assertion made 24 hours earlier that
Bent’s attitude changed in the weeks leading up to the move.

Pointing the finger: Quinn

Pointing the finger: Quinn

Quinn said: ‘I had an inkling. I looked at his demeanour and I thought, “It’s not right”. Having been in the game you kind of know when someone has something going on in their head.

‘It transpired that is what has happened. They (Villa) were setting him up to try and come and he took the bait.

‘All we could do then was battle hard. When the transfer request came in, that was probably the final nail. We could have tried to stop it. It was really difficult. The only job then was to get as good a deal
possible for the club — find a replacement and solution to the problem he has given us.’

After hearing yet more accusations — in the wake of Bruce claiming Bent had not been himself in recent weeks — Villa decided enough was enough and fired back a stinging reply.

The club said in a statement: ‘We understand the need of Sunderland to explain to their naturally disappointed supporters why Darren Bent has been allowed to leave.

‘It is disappointing, however, that Sunderland should try to besmirch the reputation of the player and
Aston Villa in the process.

‘We wish to make clear that at no time did Aston Villa make an inappropriate approach to the player or unfairly compromise the business of Sunderland.

‘Darren only became aware of his possible transfer after Sunderland’s game against Newcastle on Sunday and after we had agreed with Sunderland the essence of the deal, conference to announce his arrival at Villa Park on Tuesday evening.

Villa thriller: New-boy Bent was paraded by boss Gerrard Houllier (left) after his switch

Villa thriller: New-boy Bent was paraded by boss Gerrard Houllier (left) after his switch

But after being told that Quinn had also backed up Bruce’s claims, the England international decided to let rip with a few comments of his own.

‘I’ve read certain things and it’s not nice, obviously, because I’ve spent the best part of 18 months getting on perfectly well with the manager, the owners of the club, the whole football club, and then a
day later they’re all taking a dig at me,’ said the 26-year-old.

‘It is disappointing but I’ve never had anything bad to say about Sunderland. They’ re great supporters and those fans were brilliant to me. But I am disappointed with the way it finished and what’s happening now.

Frustrated: Sunderland boss Steve Bruce

Frustrated: Sunderland boss Steve Bruce

‘At the same time, I’m an Aston Villa player now and I can’t really worry about what my ex-manager or chairman is saying about me. The fact is, if they didn’t want to sell me they didn’t have to.’

Bruce refused to comment on Wednesday night as he went to watch his son, Alex, play for Leeds against Arsenal at Elland Road.

The manager met his scouts and coaches yesterday for a lengthy discussion on how best to invest the money from Bent’s transfer and they are ready to turn to Fuller, 31, in the short term.

A loan deal for Monaco’s Dieumerci Mbokani, 25, is also an option.

Jamaica forward Fuller, who is troubled by knee problems, would be an ideal solution before the end of the season and would allow Bruce to pursue bigger targets in the summer.

Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia and Manchester City’s Adam Johnson remain at the fore in Sunderland’s search for an attacking midfielder.

But the chance of taking former Middlesbrough midfielder Stewart Downing from Villa back to the North East has diminished after the Bent spat.


Sunderland fans can put their shirts on £3m Fuller feeling right at home...

Stripe a light: Bent
Stripe a light: Fuller

Stripe a light: Bent (left) and Fuller

Stoke City striker Ricardo Fuller should not take long to settle at Sunderland if his £3million move goes through — he has virtually been wearing one of their shirts for the last four years.

Manager Steve Bruce is keen to bring Fuller to the Stadium of Light to replace Darren Bent. A quick change of the sponsor’s name and Fuller’s ready to play.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now