Queens Park Rangers are ready to offer Darren Bent an escape route out of Aston Villa, with Harry Redknapp confident he can patch up his differences with the striker he fell out with at Tottenham Hotspur when he accused the England international of missing a chance "my missus could have scored".
With Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora facing long spells on the sidelines, Redknapp, the QPR manager, has made signing a proven goalscorer in the January transfer window a priority to give his side a chance of survival.
Bent, whose 102 Premier League goals have come at an average of one every two appearances, falls into that category and, furthermore, he will be available when the window reopens after being deemed surplus to requirements by Paul Lambert, the Villa manager.
Having been reduced to watching from the stands in the games against Arsenal on Saturday and Reading on Tuesday, it has now emerged that Bent had recovered from an ankle injury three weeks ago, which means he has been overlooked for the past four Premier League fixtures.
Liverpool have been linked with Bent, who cost Villa a fee rising to £24m when he joined from Sunderland a little under two years ago, but Brendan Rodgers, the manager at Anfield, has other targets. Fulham are far more likely suitors – Martin Jol, their manager, was in charge at Spurs when Bent joined in 2007 and he remains an admirer – although QPR would appear to be the frontrunners.
When Redknapp was in charge at Spurs he upset Bent after he ridiculed the forward for failing to score with a header against Portsmouth in 2009, but in the wake of the goalless draw at Sunderland on Tuesday night, which highlighted the need for reinforcements up front, the QPR manager talked as if that episode were water under the bridge.
"I like Darren. I've got no problems with Darren Bent," Redknapp said. "I just made a comment that maybe I shouldn't, when I said I think my missus would have scored when he missed a header that day. I can laugh at myself, I don't mind.
"It was obviously difficult, he didn't like it and that was sort of it really, and within no time he decided that he didn't want to stay. But I think he's a good player. I'd like to have Darren Bent available, believe you me. He can score goals. I've got no problem with Darren as a boy or as a player. I think he's a good player."
There is no suggestion that Bent will submit a transfer request at Villa but, by the same token, it is easy to imagine he would relish the chance to start playing football again. With that in mind, he is unlikely to rule QPR out because of what happened with Redknapp in the past.
Villa will have to take a big hit on their investment, with £10m likely to be the maximum they could hope to recoup for a player who turns 29 in February and whose manager has made it so clear that he has no future at the club.
Lambert's decision to not even name Bent as a substitute in the past two matches has prompted much debate but it has now come to light that the forward had declared himself fit ahead of the two previous fixtures, against Manchester United and Manchester City. He was not in the matchday squad on either occasion.
Bent has not received any explanation from Lambert for the way he has been treated, which has left the player mystified. He lost the captaincy in September and was dropped two weeks later, only to come off the bench and score the equaliser against West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park.
Bent has started only one game for Villa since the Albion fixture and in recent weeks has seen Jordan Bowery, a 21-year-old striker signed from League One side Chesterfield in August, named ahead of him on the bench.
There were reports Bent stormed out of the changing room on Tuesday night after Lambert read out the names of the 18 players involved but sources have suggested Bent shook hands with the players to wish them "all the best" ahead of the match. He later watched the game from his executive box, in the Trinity Road stand.
Following the 1-0 victory over Reading, which lifted Villa out of the bottom three, Lambert was asked 22 questions about Bent in his post-match press conference. As well as talking repeatedly about the difficulties of managing 25 players and how he tries to "pick a team a team and squad to win a game", the Villa manager insisted he rated Bent as a footballer, rejected any suggestion that his attitude was an issue and claimed to have no problem with how hard he was working in training.
In the real world, though, everything points to the exit door.
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image: © wonker