Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Curious Case of David Bentley

Andy Greeves

Once touted as a long-term replacement to David Beckham on the right of England's midfield, the career of former Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur winger David Bentley seems to have gone seriously off course, writes Andy Greeves.

Ten years ago, David Bentley scored the first goal of his professional career for Arsenal against Middlesbrough on January 24, 2004. His delicate chip over Boro goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer from the edge of the box spoke volumes for the huge natural ability the 19-year-old midfielder possessed.

Loan spells at Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers followed between 2004 and 2006, in which time Bentley proved that he could compete at the highest level, playing 26 Premier League games for the Canaries, scoring twice and 14 further games at Ewood Park. He permanently signed for Blackburn in January 2006 and within days achieved his career highlight to date - a hat-trick for Rovers in a 4-3 win over Manchester United on February 1, 2006. By this stage, Bentley was a regular fixture in England's U21 team, indeed he was the first Englishman to score at the new Wembley Stadium against Italy's U21 side on March 24, 2007. After an impressive season for Blackburn in 2006-07, he was called up for an England B game and thereafter found his way into England's full international squad with call-ups for matches against Brazil and Estonia.

In June 2007, he was named in England's U21 squad for the UEFA European U21 Championships but pulled out shortly before the tournament began. Then-U21 manager Stuart Pearce questioned the player's commitment and many have done the same think since as Bentley's career has gone off course.

The following year Bentley made his first England start against Switzerland on February 9, 2008 and signed for Tottenham Hotspur for a fee of around £15m that summer. Early displays for Spurs were impressive, including a long range opener in the North London derby against former club Arsenal on October 26, 2008 in a 4-4 draw at the Emirates Stadium. While fellow right-winger Aaron Lennon shone during the 2008-2009 season for Tottenham, Bentley was in and out of the starting eleven. During the same season, he was arrested for drink-driving after crashing his Porsche into a lamp post. Cue The Sun headline 'Smashed Bentley Smashed Porsche'. His appearances during the 2009-2010 were even more sparse, with just 15 league run-outs for Spurs compared to 25 the previous campaign.

He came on as a substitute for Tottenham in their pivatol match away at Manchester City on May 5, 2010 in which Peter Crouch's 82nd minute header saw the North Londoners win 1-0 and qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history. Bentley celebrated by throwing a large bucket over Spurs manager Harry Redknapp during a live TV interview. He laughed off the incident and even auctioned his water-damaged suit for a charity. However, those close to the current QPR manager say he was less than impressed by the stunt and indeed Bentley made just league two appearances under Redknapp during the following season.

Rarely starting in the league, Bentley was handed a number of opportunities to play for Spurs in cup games when Redknapp rotated his squad. Rather than perform to levels he set at Blackburn and try to get back in contention for Tottenham's Premier League team, he squandered his chances. Memorable, for all the wrong reasons, was his performance in a 2-0 League Cup defeat at Manchester United on December 1, 2009 when he spent 90 minutes showboating rather than focusing on any end product.

With his Spurs career going nowhere, Bentley was loaned to Birmingham City during the 2010-11 season and West Ham United in 2011-12. Albeit hampered by injury, he only made a total of 18 league starts for the two clubs. He even moved to Russia to join FC Rostov in 2012-13 but made just seven appearances for them and returned on an emergency loan to Blackburn for a spell last year. Having once commanded a single transfer fee of over £15m, the winger left Spurs on a free transfer during the summer of 2013.

Despite being linked with a number of clubs around Europe and America, Bentley started the 2013-14 season without a club and now in the January transfer window, is still available on a free transfer. It will be interesting to see whether the coming weeks offer an undoubtedly talented footballer a way back into the game. At 29, he still has age on his side but the big question potential suitors will be asking is whether he has appetite and application to match his footballing ability anymore.

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