Aston Villa will have to come up with more than £20million to persuade Sunderland to part company with striker Darren Bent.
The 26-year-old England international stunned Wearside yesterday when it emerged that he had submitted a written transfer request after Sunday's 1-1 derby draw with Newcastle.
Sunderland confirmed the move in a brief statement which said: “The club can confirm that it received a written transfer request from Darren Bent following the Wear-Tyne derby match.”
It is understood that the Black Cats have not yet accepted Bent's request, nor a bid of £18million from Aston Villa which reportedly could rise to as much as £24million.
Furthermore, it is understood that they will not even consider doing business for a man who cost them an initial £10million in August 2009 unless any offer significantly exceeded the £20million mark.
Manager Steve Bruce had predicted that the January transfer window would pass without major incident on Wearside, with some players who have spent the first half of the season out on-loan possibly leaving for good while he attempted to strengthen his hand with a couple of loan signings.
He has played down speculation linking him with the likes of Adam Johnson, Charles N'Zogbia and Stewart Downing, all players in whom he has more than a passing interest — and it is understood that the Villa winger has not been offered as part of the Bent bid — and dismissed reports he will try to sign Michael Owen.
However, Bruce has been rocked by Bent's decision to submit a transfer request — and not for the first time.
It is believed Bent asked for a move during the summer, but the club managed to persuade him to stay and also keep the news under wraps.
The Black Cats are weighing up whether to cash in on last season's top scorer, or to hold him to the remaining two years of his contract, but what is certain is that, if they do decide to let him go, they will not accept anything less than their valuation of him.
Bent scored 25 goals during his first season in the north-east and was widely considered unfortunate not to have made the England squad for last summer's World Cup finals in South Africa.
He has 11 to date for the current season, but has looked short of his best form in recent months and has scored only one Premier League goal in eight appearances since the end of November.
Should owner Ellis Short and chairman Niall Quinn decide to take the money, they would face a race against the clock to replace Bent with less than a fortnight of the current transfer window remaining.