The Monday Profile: David Bentley

Posted by on Oct 10, 2011 in The Monday Profile | 10 Comments
The Monday Profile: David Bentley
Everyone’s got one: the professional sports connection. Maybe you once had a trial with Chesterfield. Perhaps your mate once marked Rob Hulse in a school game. Or you could be Carlton Palmer’s cousin.One of my two tenuous sporting links is that my cousin played in the same youth club side as David Bentley. He was the goalkeeper (trials with Tranmere and Carlisle – dismissed for being too short), and recalls spending hours after training on one on ones and free kicks with Bentley. Apparently they were never allowed to leave the pitch before Bentley was satisfied that he’d got the upper hand.It’s the sort of drive you’d expect from someone destined for professional success; the sort of dedication that attracted valuations towards the £20 million mark only a few years ago. In 2007 he was “widely regarded as one of the best young players in the country” according to Blackburn’s then chairman John Williams – and in perhaps a more ringing endorsement, was rumoured to be on his way to Old Trafford as a belated heir to David Beckham. Bentley’s back to back seasons with thirteen premiership assists – not to mention fifteen goals – probably talk loudest.

During that stretch in 2007 and 2008 Bentley flourished as the creative fulcrum for an enterprising Blackburn side that finished 10th and 7th. Often pigeonholed as a statuesque cross machine in the Beckham mould, Bentley’s experience at Arsenal and Norwich of playing more centrally made him much more than that. Technically adept, with a left foot that wasn’t just for standing on, confident enough to trick his way past markers, or even beat them with pace (yes, really, Spurs fans – he led the league in dribbles and runs with the ball and crosses at the halfway mark of the 2007-8 season), he combined with the (also sadly diminished) Morten Gamst Pedersen to fill a DVD’s worth of stunning goals and highlights. His goal against Reading in February 2008 remains a thrillingly exuberant strike. Happily Bentley’s stay at Blackburn even saw him overcome gambling problems that famously affected his earlier career.

We’ve all heard this story before though, and we know how it ends. The exciting young prospect secures a big money move and a bigger contract, and the magic begins to runs out. In Bentley’s case suspicions of a lack of motivation began with his withdrawal from the U21 squad for the 2007 European Championships due to fatigue. Gurning pundits accused him of big-timing it; more charitable commentators put it down to his youth (22 at the time) and the rigours of a long season. By 2009 his form had begun to dip with Spurs – although not until after he’d treated them to one of the classic North London derby goals with a preposterous half-volley.

He was in part a victim of Spurs’ embarrassing crisis of confidence under Juande Ramos at the start of the 2008-9 season – but as Spurs’ form improved and Bentley’s didn’t, whispers about his motivation resurfaced. At one point Harry Redknapp felt the need to publicly remind the player that he was supposed to be playing football, not running a chain of nightclubs in Spain. Very much a bit part player in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons (that latter half of which he was shipped out on a thoroughly unsatisfactory loan to Birmingham City), for many Spurs fans their last memory of Bentley was of an abject performance against Arsenal in the Carling Cup, where he looked ponderous and desperately off the pace.

Sam Allardyce has added Bentley to his reclamation project at West Ham, with mixed results so far. His 5 appearances to date have resulted in a few dangerous crosses, an apparent reticence to use his left foot, and a missed sitter against Millwall that might have won the game. He appears to have the support of his manager at least: “We are hoping to resurrect his career and produce the sort of form I used to him watch him do at Blackburn Rovers” Allardyce told The Newham Recorder. Perhaps most encouraging is his returning fitness – after three successive appearances as a sub, he’s started the Hammers’ previous two games. West Ham fans will be hoping he can recapture some of his form of four years ago.

But does he hope so too? Maybe the naysayers are right, and he’s not really bothered. Maybe he’s more interested in Spanish nightclubs and betting. Maybe he’s happy to be Winston Bogarde. I’m not so sure. Bentley’s play, and character, at their best are marked with enthusiasm and vitality. In a revealing interview with The Independent in 2008, he comes across as lover of football, an entertainer. Football’s “a bit of a pantomime” he says. Perhaps football just stopped being fun for him – let’s hope it starts again.

Olly Cooper
Olly knew he was a Spurs fan on the morning of 30th March 1986, at home on the outskirts of Harlow. He was watching a recorded Match of the Day with his Dad, who seemed quite excited for some reason. During the highlights, Dad asked son which of the two teams on telly he liked. "The red ones," Olly answered. "No you don't," said Dad, "you like the ones in blue and white". Olly has been suffering ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Olly_Cooper

9 Comments

  1. John McGee
    October 10, 2011

    A really nice piece that. I've had a soft spot for Bellamy since that Indy interview – I think he's absolutely bang to rights about football being an entertainment business. Let's hope he recaptures his form and a bit of that old Blackburn twinkle.

    Reply
  2. essexian76
    October 10, 2011

    Bentley was unfortunate in many ways and can blame Harry Redknapp to a degree but really only has himself to blame for his current plight. He did himself more harm than good with his early form or lack of but not showing a little humility when things didn't go as we hoped. However he showed great character when being asked to play in Lennon's place during the latter's long term injury. He then fell out of favour through an act of stupidity and then never really given a chance by HR after the water incident. On loan at Brum, he failed yet again and is now only considered a sub in a championship side. He has the ability, but his application and attitude leaves much to be desired, shame, but I hope he comes back with a flourish, if only to raise his transfer fee

    Reply
  3. Lanterne Rouge
    October 10, 2011

    I had forgotten about the spell at Birmingham. He seems like someone who blows hot and cold – occasionally something of a Jack the lad and occasionally someone who can be more introspective than most footballers. He's clearly a confidence player and perhaps he does need the proverbial arm around him. I was there in that game where he crashed in that amazing goal versus Reading and he was equally good in the return match that season.

    Reply
  4. Matthew Rudd
    October 10, 2011

    Bentley's problems began the moment he gave an interview to Sky Sports, holding a glass of champers at some plush event, saying that he wanted to leave Blackburn “to push on in my career” – ie, because he thought he'd paid his penance for not quite making it at Arsenal and didn't want to be associated with a smaller, northern club for any longer. He'd been at Ewood Park a very short period of time and assumed that the player he thought he was at Arsenal had now fully proved himself. He should have stayed at Blackburn at least another two years.

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  5. Olly
    October 10, 2011

    Thanks John….
    Matthew, I think he's probably regretting leaving Blackburn on some level, but I don't think you can blame him for leaving for a bigger contract and yes, a chance at a better league position (not to mention the fact that he's a Spurs boy). In that sense you could draw an interesting parallel with Michael Carrick, who hasn't fallen as far as Bentley ability wise, hasn't exactly pushed on as a player since making a very understandable move.

    Another thought – Blackburn were probably pleased to turn a profit on him – and that in no way is London club bias towards northern clubs, as Spurs have been “guilty” of the same thing a lot of times.

    Reply
  6. footyramblings
    October 10, 2011

    Very interesting piece. I remember thinking he was the obvious successor to Beckham for England, but he seemed to try too hard on his fleeting appearances.

    Spurs never seemed keen on him, even once they bought him. He should have kicked on from the goal against Arsenal but it didn't happen for whatever reason.

    Interesting piece, will be intrigued to see how he progresses this season.

    Reply
  7. Lanterne Rouge
    October 10, 2011

    I think the press want 'Arry' to take over just so they can have good copy for a few years.

    Reply
  8. Bigbrandjohn
    October 11, 2011

    Really good piece on Betnley as he affectionately known at Blackburn. Matthew hit the nail on the head with his comments about the Skysports interview. Such a shame as he was a tremendous player at Blackburn for a period of time. Hughes got the best out of him and no Rovers fan can ever forget his hat-trick against Man Utd.

    I wish him well under Fat Sam. I hope he can get the best out of him .I was secretly hoping he would sign on loan for Rovers but you can never go back-unfortunately.

    Reply
  9. Geoff
    October 11, 2011

    Unfortunately, rumour is he's now injured. Real shame.

    Reply

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