Aston Villa boss Gerard Houllier believes the signing of Darren Bent is a "major milestone" that will send out a message about the club's ambitions.

Although Villa remain in a relegation fight in the immediate future, Bent was persuaded to leave sixth-placed Sunderland in a deal that breaks Villa's transfer record.

"We are absolutely delighted to have him here and we know he will be a tremendous asset for the months and the years ahead," Houllier said. "His arrival sends out a clear message about the ambition of our football club. We've brought him down here to spearhead our efforts and to help build something strong and lasting at our club."

The signing, for a fee of at least £18million, also represents a strong endorsement of Houllier, who has spent much of his tenure to date at Villa Park under pressure.

"Darren's arrival is a key element of our football strategy and philosophy, which the chairman Randy Lerner and chief executive Paul Faulkner and I have discussed since my appointment as manager," Houllier added. "This is what we want to do, to try to implement, and we know it will take time."

Bent put in a transfer request at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday to push through the deal, and said he never had any doubt he wanted to join Villa.

"I'm delighted to join Aston Villa," he said. "This is a big, big opportunity for me.

"I had some good times at Sunderland, but that's all behind me now and I'm just looking forward to getting going. We have a tough, tough game now against Manchester City and if I can play, hopefully I can help to start getting some points on the board."

The former Tottenham man also denied that he was taking a step down.

"Sunderland are having a fantastic season and I had great times there but at the same time I believe Aston Villa's position is false. This is a new challenge for me and as soon as I knew they were interested, I knew it was something I wanted to be part of."

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