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Aston Villa, Newcastle or Norwich: Where will Darren Bent play his football next term?

Darren Bent has always scored goals, wherever he has been. For whatever reason he isn’t held in the esteem of the likes of Jermain Defoe or Peter Crouch, but he has an excellent goalscoring record. He is a victim of his own type; the player who ‘only’ scores goals. Because his touch isn’t pretty and his game is based on pace and goal getting, he can be a bit frustrating. For this reason, he’s only had a brief spell with Spurs as a chance at a top club. Even there his record wasn’t too bad, but it is remembered more for the glaring misses, chances that Harry Redknapp’s mother could have scored, than his near one goal in three 25 goals in 79 appearances. Compared to Peter Crouch at Spurs (24 goals in 93 games) it’s not too bad and only marginally less than Jermain Defoe’s goals per game ration at the club.

But aside from that Spurs spell, his ratio has been nearer to, and often better than, one in two, the holy grail of the striker. His career ratio is one goal every 2.3 games. Which compares favourably to the likes of Robbie Keane (1:2.7) Crouch (1:3.3) Defoe (1:2.4) and even Wayne Rooney (1:2.2). Bent has always shown pedigree and always scored goals. And yet he is not thought of as being in these players’ calibre.

Darren Bent

Aston Villa paid Sunderland £18m for Darren Bent in January 2011 to help them out of a relegation battle. He rewarded them with nine goals in 16 games over the rest of that season. He was then in and out of the team, many suspecting it was to avoid paying Sunderland extra money, but still managed nine in 22. However, last summer saw the arrival of Paul Lambert and the pursuit of a different transfer policy. With him came youth and lower wages. And most importantly, Christian Benteke. The young Belgian surged in to the team and with Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor either side, gave Villa a dynamic front three. But no place for the £18m man Bent.

With this in mind, and Villa’s desire to keep trimming the wage bill, Bent looks almost certain to leave this summer. There should be no shortage of takers, but where will he end up?

Newcastle have been linked most prominently in the press and the arrival of Joe Kinnear has added to this. On the understanding that he wants a striker and will prioritise the domestic market, Bent looks like an obvious solution. Never mind his ex-Sunderland days, they need a goalscorer. Much will depend on the future of Papiss Cisse though. Bent will not move anywhere that will result in him sitting on the bench. But Newcastle pay Cisse to be a starter. There is only room for one.

Norwich are making a real effort to improve their goal getting and the pace and movement of Bent will look very dangerous next to the equally swift Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Norwich have some nice creativity in wide areas with Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington but need pure goal scorers. Bent is capable of getting them 15-20 with good supply and he’d be a nailed on starter.

Stoke have to be in play for Bent. New manager Mark Hughes needs to add goals to an otherwise awful attack and Bent gives them the kind of poacher they don’t have. They’ve got a group of variously talented strikers but none are pure goal poachers. They also need to add players who can make chances mind, but what few chances they do get need someone to put them away. They’ve got some money to spend too.

Hull are a decent outside bet as it was under Steve Bruce that Bent enjoyed his best form for Sunderland. They need to show the kind of ambition to persuade him to come though, but if they can add a few creative players they might be able to persuade him.

Whoever gets Bent is in all likelihood getting a bargain. Villa are not in a strong negotiating position given that it’s pretty common knowledge that they want rid. A bid of £5-6m could end up getting the buyer a 15 or even 20 goals striker with the right supply line and total confidence in him to let him start every week.

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Can Mark Hughes be a success at Stoke?

Before he went to QPR, Mark Hughes’ reputation was still strong after a good single season at Fulham, which followed what was widely regarded as an unfair sacking by Manchester City. The reason he had gotten the job at City was because he had managed Blackburn to a top-six finish in 2005-06, and he got that job because he very nearly took Wales to Euro 2004, which would have been their first tournament for 50 years.

This is a man with proper managerial pedigree. Really, Stoke are appointing him for his achievements in all his other positions. He did amazingly well with tiny budgets at Blackburn, with inferior players with Wales and maintained the Roy Hodgson momentum at Fulham. Blackburn and Fulham were mid-sized clubs who needed a steady hand at the tiller and a good eye for a bargain in the transfer market. Sounds like Stoke right? Well, not necessarily.

Mark Hughes

Hughes failed spectacularly at QPR and underachieved to some extent at Man City. Both of those jobs had exactly the same remit; big money, take the club on to the next level. At City, he tried to ease in Premier League players such as Joleon Lescott, Craig Bellamy, Gareth Barry, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Roque Santa Cruz so that City could more smoothly transition from mid table to top table. Also snuck in there were Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta. His plan was actually working pretty solidly, and despite the heinous amounts these players cost, they were heading in the right direction. However, they weren’t getting there quick enough for the new owners, and he was sacked.

At QPR then, baring his previous experience in mind, he tried to do things much quicker and at a club with much smaller cache than Man City. City had already been growing under Sven-Goran Eriksson so Hughes was adding better players to an already good squad. At QPR he was adding wholesale to a squad that barely survived relegation. He had to sign, or chose to sign, players who were only coming to the club because of the money offered. He went on a trolley dash, picked up whoever he could and tried to see what he could make of it. Unlike at Blackburn or even City, there was no plan, no end game.

This is what makes his arrival at Stoke so interesting. Stoke sacked Pulis because he can’t take them to the next level. They are the third highest net spenders in the league over the last five years and still haven’t cracked the top half. So, this is kind of similar to Hughes’ Man City job because at Stoke he will have a relatively big budget. The problem is, what is the next level? The top ten perhaps? The trouble is that the Premier League mid table is so congested and teams can’t sign from each other as they all have similar budgets and ambition.

Tony Pulis

Because of this, he will have to pay bigger sums to get minor improvements to his squad if he shops domestically, which is a very dangerous path and immediately puts a target on his back. It won’t be easy for him to decide on a coherent market strategy. However, he has now got the experience of this type of job and should now know what not to do, which gives him a real advantage. Stoke have more pedigree than QPR and thus this is more like the Man City build.

The other question is about the type of football he will play and in this sense he is a good bridge to better stuff. His teams never played beautiful football as such, but it was much nicer than what Stoke fans are used to seeing. But importantly, it’s not too different. He doesn’t need to change things wholesale to get them playing better, as someone like Roberto Martinez would. He will be comfortable with the more industrial players and more tolerant of the creative players. As a former striker he has an empathy for creators and goal scorers, something Pulis never had, always preferring industry.

Stoke City have a rock-solid defence and goalkeeper, which is a good foundation, similar to what Hughes had at Blakcburn and Fulham. If he can find the right attacking weapons then there is no reason why he can’t get Stoke playing better football in the top ten. He will have the money available to do so and in all his previous jobs has shown he can spend adroitly. He needs to remember what he’s learned about pacing the change properly and he can be a big success.

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