Today is David Bentley’s 29th birthday. Happy birthday, David!
David is in the rare position of being able to do whatever he likes for his birthday. Firstly, because five years of Tottenham Hotspur payslips have left him rich enough to send three trolleys on a sweep and clear mission at Harrods and secondly because he’s currently unemployed. That a footballer of such unquestionable talent can drift inexorably towards his 30th birthday without a contract is an extraordinary achievement.
Bentley was identified as an exceptional prospect very early in his life. Indeed, this might have been part of the problem. A friend in television, working with a senior footballer on a commercial, was introduced to an adolescent Bentley by one of his representatives.
“Meet the future captain of England,” beamed the suit, presumably not for the first time. To send so much smoke up such a young bottom was bound to have an effect. Bentley has never been short of confidence.
A smattering of League Cup appearances and a wonderful goal for Arsenal against Middlesbrough vindicated the hyperbole, but despite frequent reassurances from Arsene Wenger, Bentley didn’t want to hang around at Arsenal and wait for his chance to break into the first team. He couldn’t see a way past the stars in front of him and, after a successful loan spell, he signed permanently for Blackburn in January 2006. By the summer of 2007, Arsenal’s stars had dimmed and the next generation, few of whom could hold a candle to Bentley’s talents, were receiving extended playing time. Tactical error number one.
Bentley could be forgiven for wanting to play first team football, not least because he turned out to be so good at it. A hat-trick in a 4-3 victory over Manchester United, a fans’ player of the year award, an England call-up and an improved contract quickly followed. But again, Bentley was impatient for the next big thing. In the summer of 2008, he left for Tottenham Hotspur, unperturbed by the presence of Aaron Lennon in their squad. Tactical error number two.
For a time, Tottenham attempted to crowbar both right wingers into the team, with one of them out of position on the left. But Bentley’s arrival galvanised Lennon, turning him from one of those wildly unguided rockets that impoverished dictators occasionally let off in the desert into something that could be fired through a letterbox from 20 miles away. Bentley drifted. He returned towards the end of the following season and played a part in Tottenham’s Champions League qualification campaign. Then he celebrated by tipping a large bucket of water over Harry Redknapp on live television. Bentley remains convinced that this is why he hardy ever played for Tottenham again. Tactical error number three.
Loan spells with Birmingham, West Ham, FC Rostov and a return to Blackburn have all followed, but never with any success, not least because of injury problems. He now finds himself linked with Levski Sofia, FC Utrecht and Espanyol, as if he’s been slapping the ‘Pick a Team For Me’ button on Football Manager.
It’s hard to know what awaits Bentley now. At 29, does he still have the hunger to start again? Is he still so achingly confident that he assumes his natural talent will be enough to sustain him wherever he goes? Will he drive another manager barmy by over-elaborating on the ball? Let’s hope that by the time his next birthday comes around, he’s settled down somewhere, enjoying his football. Otherwise, it’s all such a terrible waste.
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