Whatever happened to David Bentley?

by Vincent Ralph

In the aftermath of the transfer window, a player once touted as one of the best of his generation moved to a club I’d never heard of.

The club was FC Rostov.  And the player was David Bentley.

Remember him?

In his early days at Arsenal he was compared to Dennis Bergkamp.

He scored a hat-trick on his Blackburn debut…against Manchester United.

He recorded 26 assists in two seasons, won the club’s Player of the Year award and got called up for England.

And now he plays for a team who finished last season 13th in the Russian Premier League.

Bentley is far better than his recent history suggests.  On form, he is fantastic – a scorer of great goals and consistent creator of chances.

The problem is he’s rarely on form.

His finest days were no doubt at Blackburn.  Under Mark Hughes’ management he shone.

It may have taken him a while, but he was finally proving true the hype that had followed him since his time at Arsenal.

I watched that 4-3 win against Manchester United and Bentley was immense.

Perhaps that was his game: the one and only 90 minutes in his entire career where everything went right.

Andrey Arshavin had a similar night at Anfield once, scoring every Arsenal goal in a 4-4 draw but never coming close to repeating it.  Alan Smith looked like a world-beater against Roma.

But Bentley’s issues seem deeper.

When he first left Arsenal, he cited the wish to play regular football; a wish that was granted under Hughes, first on loan and then in a permanent deal.

And yet, following a remarkable season where Blackburn finished seventh, he asked to join a bigger club.

Perhaps he thought he had proved himself now.  Perhaps he thought his second shot with a big club would end very differently to his first.

But at Tottenham, despite some great goals and a handful of good performances, he slipped back into obscurity.

Regular football versus playing for a “big team” – It seems he wanted both but ultimately got neither.

In the past Bentley has spoken about his gambling addiction, how at its worst he was placing up to 100 bets a day.  The year he overcame this addiction was the year he joined Blackburn; the year he started playing arguably the best football of his career.

I can’t help thinking that Mark Hughes had a huge positive impact on both his football and his life.  After all it was only after Hughes left for Manchester City that Bentley asked to leave.

With all QPR’s dealings this summer, I find it strange that Bentley wasn’t included in the spree.  Here was Hughes, trying to reinvent or at least reinvigorate his team, and there was Bentley, his once great play-maker, ready and available.

And yet instead it’s to Russia he goes: to play against Eto’o, Diarra and all, definitely; to find fitness and form, hopefully; and to take possibly the last of his last chances, well, we can only wait and see.

Bentley once talked about falling out of love with the game.  And he suffered injuries at the beginning of potential fresh-starts.  But he’s also not helped himself.

At his best there were glimpses of Beckham, and you wonder what may have happened if he’d had even half that player’s application and desire.

Bentley’s 28 now, playing for his fourth club in two years.

He may become the great player we once saw only in glimpses.  Or he may, I fear, just move from club to club, kicking a ball for money.

5 Responses

  1. Giancarlo Marcelli says:

    I was actually thinking of Bentley the other day when I saw his transfer to Rostov had gone through, which surprised me quite a bit. I can understand the ups and downs of professional football, but I think that at 28 he can still contribute quite a lot. I wonder why he chose Rostov as I’m sure there were English clubs he could’ve gone to, but perhaps in the Championship and lower. I think if he begins at a team where he is seemed as integral he can regain his form again. Confidence is such a big part of sport and I think that’s a big factor that needs to be regained for him to flourish once again.

  2. Alan Moore Alan Moore says:

    Vincent, if there was a club to go to in Russia Rostov would be it. A nurturing and quality head coach (Bozovic), energised fans, nice area to live and away from the distractions and pressure of Moscow. He’ll line out alongside some quality players – Pletikosa (who is still a good keeper), Blatnjak (a player who can perform miracles), powerful striker Jan Holenda and the excellent Razvan Cocis. He will be appreciated in Russia as his speed and skill are wasted in leagues where playing to a lump it system or premium on fast frenetic play are preferred. He will most likely return by the winter break or sign fully for the Russian side. He played a full 90minutes today and was integral to a fine 1-0 win over a resilient (if struggling) Dinamo side. He showed his commitment in getting carded, though in fairness it would have gone unnoticed in England.

    1. Vincent Ralph says:

      Thank you Alan. I truly hope he takes this opportunity as there’s no doubt he’s an extremely talented player. I’ll certainly be paying more attention to Rostov’s results from now on.

  3. rob says:

    Vincent, you are too blinded by the EPL if you have never heard of Rostov! As far as I’m concerned not enough young home grown talent try their luck on the continent and decide on the easy option of sticking to what they know. This is no truer than with young Irish lads who dream of making it over to England, at any level it would seem. Why not try to develop some technical skills abroad instead of the rough and tumble of the English game?

    1. Vincent Ralph says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. I wouldn’t say I’m blinded by the EPL as I didn’t feel the need to write similar articles when Cole temporarily moved to France, Mancienne to Germany or even Fryers to Belgium. I just felt that it was a very left-field transfer, to a team that the vast majority of football fans outside of Russia won’t have heard of (until now).

      I agree with you completely that more players should try their hand abroad. It’s always struck me as strange that our leagues contain players from across the globe but for some reason it is on the rarest of occasions that British and Irish players move the other way. The technical skills many of our players lack are exactly the skills that show us up in major competitions every other year.

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