The Monday Profile: David Bentley
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.