Lambert raises transfer stakes as Bent exiled from first team
Darren Bent has returned to pre-season training at Aston Villa to discover he has been completely frozen out of the first-team squad by Paul Lambert as Newcastle United look into offering the England international an escape route.
Bent has been told to move out of the first-team dressing-room at the training ground and ordered to train with a small group of outcasts alongside Stephen Ireland and Alan Hutton.
He has also been informed he will not be considered for selection for any of the club's pre-season friendlies and will not be included in any squads should he remain at Villa after the close of the summer transfer window.
It is a painful fall from grace for Bent, who moved to Villa from Sunderland in January 2011 in order to strengthen his hold on a place in the England squad but spent most of last season on the bench and has not played for the national team in almost two years.
The 29-year-old is on £65,000 a week at Villa Park and Lambert appears desperate to get him off the wage bill in order to give him more flexibility in his recruitment in this window.
The move to ostracise Bent is a risky one given nobody has been willing to match Villa's £8m valuation.
Newcastle are understood to have had discussions with Villa over a potential deal for Bent, who could return to the north east, two and a half years after he quit the Black Cats. Newcastle are likely to open their bidding at just £5m.
Bent, though, has been unnerved by the doubts surrounding Alan Pardew's future, following Joe Kinnear's arrival as director of football. Bent played for Pardew at Charlton and the Newcastle manager has been the driving force behind the interest in him.
Pardew asked Kinnear to make the signing of Bent a priority when they met to discuss transfer targets almost a fortnight ago, but Newcastle have been pursuing another long-standing target, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
But, with the Gabon international looking set for a move to Borussia Dortmund rather than Tyneside, Bent looks an increasingly attractive proposition for the Magpies, given his proven goalscoring ability in the Premier League.
The only complication is that he may be too similar to play alongside Papiss Demba Cisse and Newcastle's owner Mike Ashley has previously opposed the signing of players as old as Bent as they have no re-sale value.
Fulham have also expressed an interest in Bent but, like Newcastle, believe he is not worth the £8m Villa are looking for in the current circumstances. Villa had hoped to start a bidding war for the striker, but it now looks certain they will have to lower their asking price. (© Daily Telegraph, London)