TFN Editor Hugo Greenhalgh reflects on Darren Bent’s recent tribulations after scoring on his Brighton debut…
In Greek tragedy, the term hubris refers to ‘excessive pride or self-confidence’ leading to nemesis, a moment of divine retribution. While the gods don’t appear to be shining on either Brighton or Fulham much this season, as soon as Darren Bent cupped his ear to the travelling support as he opened the scoring, it seemed inevitable it would come back to haunt him. This was the fifth time Bent has scored on his debut, having also done so for Charlton, Sunderland, Aston Villa and Fulham, but it was not enough to seal the points which Sami Hyppia’s side so badly need. Bent’s celebration seemed to galvanise Fulham and they came back to win 2-1.
Since losing the talismanic Leonardo Ulloa to Leicester, Brighton have struggled to find the net this season. Indeed, their top scorer is defender Lewis Dunk. Bent’s arrival on a one-month loan was one of great excitement, a proven goalscorer with a point to prove after being left out in the cold by Villa manager Paul Lambert. This was his first goal since February and Bent’s mind will surely be on the January window and the possibility of sealing a move back to the Premier League, although he will of course be hoping to take Brighton out of the relegation zone in the process.
Bent’s hubristic celebration, as well as his habit for debut goals, says a lot about him as a man and a player. The scorer of over 150 league goals, his self-assured manner is justified but he has always had the tendency to fizzle out after impressive patches and rub people up the wrong way in doing so. After his best ever season at Sunderland in 2009/10, where he scored 25 goals, Bent submitted a transfer request the following January and forced a move to Villa for £18 million.
It is still difficult to assess this transfer fee. Part of Randy Lerner’s lavish approach to the market that saw Martin O’Neill spend £120 million in four years, Bent was Gerard Houllier’s first major signing. He did have an immediate impact and finished the season as joint highest goalscorer at the club despite only joining in January. However, given that someone like Luis Suarez signed for Liverpool in the same window for fractionally more money, Bent’s price tag does look excessive in hindsight and is a cruel example of the premium paid for English players. His transfer was something of a watershed moment for Villa too and barring the £9.5 million Alex McLeish spent on Charles N’Zogbia, they have been reluctant to spend big ever since.
Bent’s subsequent seasons at Villa have been disappointing and the discord between him and Lambert has been costly. Last year was spent on loan at Fulham, where he scored a pitiful six goals in 30 appearances. At a club where Dimitar Berbatov’s languid style was adored because he had the quality to make things happen, Bent’s lack of work ethic frustrated fans who chanted “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” at him as Fulham were relegated.
And so the scene was set perfectly. A debut against his former club and a chance to silence those tormentors. Bent looked lively enough, playing in what should really be a level below him. He no longer has the pace which once made him so effective but a first half header that was narrowly saved by Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal offered proof that there was more to come. The goal came in the 52nd minute as Bent coolly slotted home in between the keeper’s legs in trademark fashion. As he sprinted up the other end to celebrate cockily in front of the away end, the Fulham fans probably mused that they had never seen him move so fast. Fittingly, it was they who would have the last laugh.