David Bentley: Lost Talent

blackburn rovers winger david bentley

Player Profile: David Bentley

Date of Birth: 27/08/1984

Height: 1.78 m

Position: Winger

National Team: England

International Caps: 7

International Goals: 0

Club Career

Not everyone gets labelled the next David Beckham, yet that’s precisely who David Bentley was compared to from early on in his career. And it wasn’t just that he and Beckham shared the same first name – like the former Manchester United winger, Bentley too had a killer right foot and a penchant for pin-point crosses.

Unlike Beckham though, Bentley never quite fulfilled his promise. Apart from a spell at Blackburn Rovers, Bentley’s career was largely underwhelming, and he ended up walking away from the game at a young age.

But before he was dubbed Beckham’s heir, there was another legend that Bentley was compared to – Dennis Bergkamp. Bentley’s first club was Arsenal, whom he joined as a 13-year-old despite being a Manchester United fan. He would go on to make his debut for the Gunners as a substitute for Kolo Toure in an FA Cup match against Oxford United in 2003. 

It was no until the following season in another FA Cup match, this time against Middlesbrough, that he really caught everyone’s eye. From just outside the box, a young Bentley executed a perfect chip that sailed over Middlesbrough’s Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and into the back of the net. The story goes that, after the match, a young Bentley travelled home unrecognised alongside Arsenal fans, listening in delight as they raved about his performance.

Despite his heroics that day, Bentley’s Arsenal career never quite took off. Of course, it was never going to be easy to break into an Arsenal side that had just finished the season as Invincibles and boasted the likes of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Bergkamp himself. Bentley, who first trained with the Arsenal senior squad when he was 16, admits to being terrified when it came to training with these players.

He made an appearance in the Premier League that year and a few appearances in the League Cup before being shipped out to Norwich on loan the following season. Bentley didn’t exactly grab the headlines, but had a solid stint nonetheless, playing 28 games and scoring twice. On the flip side, he endured the agony of being relegated – a fate that was only sealed by a 6-0 loss to Fulham on the final day of the season.

His displays for Norwich were enough to persuade Blackburn Rovers to sign him on loan from Arsenal, and this was where his career really took off. Under Mark Hughes, Bentley was able to curb some of his more undesirable tendencies and develop into a solid player. He made 35 appearances for Blackburn in the 2005-06 season, scoring five times prompting Hughes to sign him permanently. That happened in the January transfer window, and Bentley joined Rovers for a fee of £1 million. 

Bentley wasted no time making that sum look like a bargain. In his very first match since joining permanently, Bentley scored a spectacular hat-trick against Manchester United as Blackburn secured a memorable 4-3 victory. His outstanding displays were a major reason Blackburn finished sixth in the Premier League that season, qualifying for European competition.

In the 2006-07 campaign, Bentley took things up another notch, scoring several crucial goals. He took to European football like a duck to water, scoring a 25-yard volley against Salzburg that ensured Blackburn’s progression from the group stages. The winger also scored a last-minute winner against Polish side Wisła Kraków. His displays had alerted other clubs, and a move to Manchester United was being talked about in the press. However, Bentley lay the rumours to rest by signing a new contract at Blackburn.

The following season was arguably the best in his career and certainly the most productive. Bentley scored eight goals and recorded 13 assists, helping Blackburn to a seventh-place finish in the league. But that would also prove to be his last season with the club. His manager Mark Hughes left for Manchester City, and Bentley soon decided that he too would like to leave the club. England coach Fabio Capello played a decisive role in Bentley’s decision. He told the winger that he’d need to leave the club if he wanted to further his career with the national team.

Understandably Bentley’s decision did not sit well with the club, and things got a bit ugly as he attempted to force a move. However, as is so often the case, the player eventually got his way, joining Tottenham Hotspur for £15 million in 2008.

That was where Bentley’s career began to unravel. He initially got off to bright start at Spurs scoring in Europe against Wisła Kraków, who he had also scored against while at Blackburn. Then he grabbed the headlines after scoring a wonder goal against his former club Arsenal in the North London derby – a 43-yard volley.

However, things began to sour by the end of the season. There were reports of a falling-out with manager Harry Redknapp, who rarely picked him. The excellent form of fellow winger Aaron Lennon was another contributing factor, meaning Bentley found it tough to break into the side. He ended up making just 15 league appearances in the 2009-10 season. 

That prompted him to seek a loan move the following year, and in January he joined Birmingham City, where he scored once in 15 appearances. Bentley then went on loan to West Ham United in the Championship but his season was cut short by a serious knee injury.

The next year, he went on loan to Russian club FC Rostov, becoming the first Englishman to play in the Russian Premier League. Bentley’s stay in Russia lasted just 7 matches before he returned to England. Another brief loan spell, this time at his former club Blackburn Rovers proved to be his last before being released by Tottenham.

After failing to find a club, David Bentley announced his retirement from football, aged just 29, claiming that he had fallen out of love with the game. Apart from an inspired spell at Blackburn, Bentley only ever showed glimpses of what he was capable of. For one reason or another he never quite reached the heights he was expected to, and as a result football fans are left to ponder ‘what if’. The search for the next David Beckham continues.

International Career

David Bentley represented England extensively at youth levels and captained the U18 and U21 sides. He made his England B debut against Albania, recording an assist in the match and receiving the Man of the Match award. His performance prompted England manager Steve McLaren to call him up for games against Brazil and Estonia.

That year, a major controversy affected his international career. Bentley, still eligible for the U21s, was called up for the U21 Euros in the Netherlands. However, he pulled out of the squad citing fatigue, a decision that prompted U21 manager Stuart Pierce to publicly criticize him.

That caused many England fans to jeer him when he came on during his first senior match against Israel. In his short international career, Bentley won seven caps for the Three Lions and failed to register a single goal. 

Where is David Bentley now?

After quitting football, aged just 29, Bentley entered the restaurant business where he has been quite successful. He co-owns a restaurant and nightclub in Marbella, Spain where he and his family reside. Bentley is also the co-owner of a bespoke flooring business in England.

Did you know? Interesting facts about David Bentley

– Early in his career, Bentley admitted to being addicted to gambling, placing as many as a hundred bets per day.

– After his dipping volley against Arsenal in 2008, a mathematical symmetry group was named in Bentley’s honour.

– He once built a snowman inside Spurs teammate Jermaine Jenas’ car in response to a training ground prank.