Bruce: Ollie is year’s top boss

Darren Bent signed for Villa this week

Darren Bent signed for Villa this week

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TODAY’S rival boss Steve Bruce is the latest to hail Ian Holloway “manager of the year”.

But while praising his Seasiders counterpart, the Sunderland boss couldn’t resist another dig at Gerard Houllier following Aston Villa’s £24m swoop for Darren Bent.

The Black Cats manager said: “Ian Holloway has to be manager of the year; he has to be, for 2010 anyway.

“He’s fantastic for what he has done, and for me he has been a breath of fresh air in the Premier League.

“It’s quite refreshing to listen to him and see his different opinions.

“I know one thing: he would have rung me and marked my card (about Bent), I am convinced about that.”

That’s a reference to Villa boss Houllier’s failure to contact his Wearside counterpart over his club’s interest in Bent, but Bruce promised there will be life at the Stadium of Light after Darren Bent.

He said: “Make no mistake, any club is bigger than one individual and the club will always march on, that’s my determination.

“Yes, we have had a setback and it’s probably our first one in the 20 months I have been here, but we will need to be bigger and stronger.

“Certainly the money it has generated gives me a chance to improve the squad in the long term, but we will have to be a little bit patient for that.”

Sunderland are pursuing Paris St Germain midfielder Stephane Sessegnon as well as Inter’s Sulley Muntari, but Sir Alex Ferguson says they can forget about signing Danny Welbeck on a permanent basis.

The 20-year-old has enjoyed a splendid half-season on loan with Bruce’s club, though he is currently sidelined after a minor knee operation.

But with Michael Owen unlikely to be handed a new contract in the summer, Welbeck is set to become United’s fourth-choice front man.

“Steve has as much chance of signing me,” replied Ferguson when asked if Welbeck could be released.

United’s Rafael has escaped with an £8,000 fine and a warning about his future conduct following an FA disciplinary hearing into his reaction to his red card at Tottenham.

The 20-year-old remonstrated with the official before finally being ushered to the dressing rooms.

The verdict will be welcomed by Ferguson, who felt referee Mike Dean was wrong over Rafael’s second booking.