Part eight of this series looks at an ex-player who was once tipped to be the next big thing and a successor to David Beckham. David Bentley seemingly had a long a successful career ahead of him. He played for the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal as well as England. He retired at just 29 years old stating that “he never felt like a footballer”. He now lives in Spain where he co owns a restaurant. It’s a case of what could have been for a player who unfortunately fell out of love with the game.
For parts one to seven please click on the links below. For criteria please see part one.
They Could Have Been One Of Football’s Greatest: David Bentley
David Bentley began his career at Arsenal, however The Gunners had a strong squad that included the likes of Henry, Bergkamp and Vieira and co, so Bentley found his chances limited. He went out on loan, firstly to Norwich City where, although he was out injured for four months of the season, he still managed to make 26 appearances for the Canaries.
While at Norwich, he beat a demon all too common to footballers: gambling. He began gambling as a teenager and it continued into the early stages of his career. “As I started earning more money I really started getting heavily into it. You just get addicted. I was on everything, the horses, the dogs, online with poker, betting on bingo, all sorts … I’d wake up in the morning and the first thing I thought was to have a bet.” (via thesefootballtimes). By the time he had returned to Arsenal from his loan spell, his addiction was behind him. However another addiction had came into play, this time it was playing football on a regular basis.
Once David Bentley returned to Arsenal he handed in a transfer request. Arsenal initially didn’t want to lose him permanently as his potential was there for all to see, so they agreed to another loan spell. This time at Blackburn, a place where Bentley would have his most successful and happiest time during his career. “Wenger didn’t want me to leave but I was eager to. I was scared of my future back then, what was going to happen. “Arsene Wenger was the best by a mile, he was the best manager I played for.” (via mirror.co.uk)
Although the Blackburn deal was initially a loan, it wasn’t long before Bentley signed a permanent deal at Ewood Park. He began his permanent career with Blackburn in spectacular fashion, scoring a hat-trick against Manchester United. His first season ended with Blackburn qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
He finished the following season with seven goals, 13 assists and the clubs player of the year award. He scored some spectacular goals, for example his 25 yard volley against Salzburg helped Blackburn achieve a place in the group stages of the UEFA Cup. With Bentley’s help, Rovers finished seventh in the Premier League. Their chairman stated that Bentley “is widely regarded as one of the best young footballers in the country.”
His form continued into the next season where he scored eight goals and provided 13 assists. “Bigger” clubs had started to take notice and began watching him more carefully and more regularly. He was now an England international and the likes of Manchester United were reportedly very keen to seen him.
Bentley played for various England sides such as the Under-15, -16 and -18 teams before becoming a regular with Under-21 side. He has the honour of being the first Englishman to score at the new Wembley in 2007 when he scored direct from a free kick during a 3-3 draw with Italy U21’s. Soon after he received the man of the match award for his display for the team and the next day he was named in the England senior squad for the first time.
His England career however was not the one that everyone expected. Even though he was now a member of the senior England squad, Bentley was still eligible for the England U21 side and was called up by them for the European under 21 Championships in 2007. He refused to play claiming he had fatigue. He was excluded from the next England squad and by the time he made debut for England against Israel, he was starting to fall down the pecking order and was also jeered by some fans due to his refusal to play for the U21 side.
In the summer of 2008, Bentley believed it was time for him to move on from Blackburn. Tottenham Hotspur were the team to come calling and they announced the signing of their new £15 million man on the 31st July 2008. He signed a five year deal reported to be worth £50,000 per week in wages. This move however did not go according to plan for either player or club.
In five years at White Hart Lane he played just 42 times, scoring 3 goals. One of those goals produced the only real highlight of his time at Tottenham. Playing away at Arsenal he scored a superb 43 yard volley to open the scoring during a 4-4 draw. This made him a massive fan favourite, if only for a short time.
The move to Tottenham was proving difficult for him to handle. He realized soon after signing that things were so much different at his new club compared to what he had been used too. “It was a difficult environment,’ he explains. ‘I had my opinion of football and I walked into the complete opposite of that. I didn’t see it coming. Being told what to say, what to wear, where to go, when to do it — do this, be here, say that.” He added, “I was never really good at that. My flaw was I’d never touch my toes and take it like a good boy.” (via dailymail.co.uk)
With a constant struggle adapting to life at White Hart Lane, his form suffered and he began falling down the pecking order and eventually he was sent out on loan, not just once but four times. He had spells at Birmingham City, West Ham, Blackburn Rovers and FC Rostov, where he became the first Englishman to play in the Russian Premier League. Unfortunately none of these loan spells could manage to get his career back on track. He had fallen out of love with the game. “I’d gone back to Blackburn to try to get ignited again, to love the game again,’ he remembers. ‘And I just thought, it’s not for me. I’d stopped enjoying it. I knew I wasn’t going to do it again.” (via dailymail.co.uk)
David Bentley, the man once described as David Beckham’s natural heir, a view Beckham seconded, retired from football in 2014 aged just 29. Speaking about his decision, Bentley had this to say, “I’ve given up football,” he revealed on live TV. “I’ve taken the decision to take my life in a different direction. I’ve just had little baby twins, three months old, and I’ve got a little four-year-old and I want to focus on that. My love for the game went a little bit and I didn’t want to carry on just for the fact of paying me money. I enjoyed every minute of it and had a smile on my face every day but I don’t want to carry on taking my family to a place we really don’t want to be. Life’s too short to do that.” (via theguardian.com)
David Bentley is another who had the ability and the opportunities to be a top player for both club and country, however the love for the game, the dedication and the appetite amongst others was either never there or faded away during a short career that promised much but ultimately failed to deliver. Where did it all go wrong? “Exactly” says Bentley.