Gerard Houllier's green light to smash Aston Villa's transfer record is a ringing endorsement of the faith club owner Randy Lerner and chief executive Paul Faulkner have in him.

Houllier was perceived to be under pressure after a difficult opening four months to his Villa reign as Martin O'Neill's successor. But the support of Lerner and Faulkner has been unwavering despite Houllier being bracketed with the likes of Roy Hodgson and Avram Grant as odds-on to be axed sooner rather than later.

Hodgson has left Liverpool and Grant's reign at West Ham appears to be hanging by a thread, but Houllier has been backed in his pursuit of striker Darren Bent, whose club Sunderland are holding out for in excess of £20million after an initial £18million bid was rejected.

The former Liverpool boss has already snapped up Lyon midfielder Jean Makoun this month for £6million and Bent's expected arrival will smash Villa's transfer record of £12million for James Milner and Stewart Downing.

It is not the sort of move Lerner would sanction if he had lost confidence in Houllier, who had to pick up the pieces after O'Neill quit five days before the start of the season.

In effect, Houllier has been given the money to spend from the £24million deal which saw Milner move to Manchester City, while it is also understood that Lerner will do everything possible to resist offers for wingers Ashley Young and Downing.

Young, who has only 18 months left on his current contract, has often been linked with a move to Tottenham, while Sunderland boss Steve Bruce is known to be an admirer of Downing.

In any case, Lerner recognises that it will be the likes of Young and Downing who would provide the kind of service that Bent would thrive on if his move to Villa goes through.

The arrival of Bent could also allow John Carew's potential move to West Brom to go ahead.

Houllier is also believed to be interested in signing Wigan left-back Maynor Figueroa as a replacement for the out-of-favour Stephen Warnock.

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Topics:
Tottenham Hotspur
Sunderland
West Bromwich Albion
Stewart Downing
Football
Manchester City
James Milner
John Carew
Premier League
Steve Bruce
Maynor Figueroa
Ashley Young
Stephen Warnock
Wigan Athletic
Aston Villa
Darren Bent
Liverpool