By Jamie Dunn
Almost exactly 16 years after a certain David Beckham made his international debut against Moldova, England take to the pitch in Chisinau today to kick off their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Meanwhile, the man once tipped to replace the former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder in his nation’s colours is making a similar journey east, but for reasons altogether quite different.
For while many of his peers have travelled to Chisinau hoping for a repeat of the 3-0 victory picked up by Glenn Hoddle’s side on September 1, 1996, David Bentley has made a surprising move to resurrect his career on loan in Russia, with FC Rostov.
It is a modern variation on a classic tale, but it might have all been very different for Bentley.
The winger, like Beckham before him, announced himself in English football in flamboyant fashion, coming off the Arsenal bench against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup to round off a 4-1 win with a beautiful chip over Mark Schwarzer from the edge of the penalty area in one of his first appearances for the club in January 2004.
The goal hinted at his precocious talent, and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was quick to associate Bentley with one of the greatest players to ever grace Highbury.
“I believe that he has a bit of the characteristics of Bergkamp, who is his idol,” Wenger said. “If a young boy comes on for five minutes and chips the keeper, you cannot say he lacks confidence.”
But after loan spells at Norwich and Blackburn Rovers – par for the course for an aspiring young talent – Bentley became impatient in north London and agitated for a move away from the club, despite Wenger’s record for blooding young players.
|THE DECLINE OF DAVID BENTLEY
| APPEARANCES SINCE 2008
2010-11 (SPURS & B'HAM LOAN)
2011-12 (WEST HAM LOAN)
Bentley made the permanent switch to Ewood Park in January 2006 and announced himself once again, scoring a hat-trick against Manchester United in a shock 4-3 win. Blackburn finished sixth in the Premier League that season, and the midfielder proved to be a key creative player for Rovers the following year as well, as Mark Hughes’ side reached the FA Cup semi-finals, with Benni McCarthy scoring 21 goals thanks in no small part to the wide threat offered by the winger.
Bentley’s form had escalated him into Steve McClaren’s England plans in 2007 and he would eventually make his international debut, which was to be preceded by controversy.
Stuart Pearce had named the midfielder in his Under-21 squad for the European Championships that year, but Bentley had withdrawn, citing fatigue as the reason. McClaren refused to include him in the senior selection to face Germany in a friendly shortly after, and when he did eventually make his debut against Israel, the Blackburn man was roundly booed.
McClaren would continue to include the winger thereafter, though, and after featuring in friendly victories over USA and Trinidad & Tobago, he made a big-money move to Tottenham befitting of a full international.
Spurs would pay £15 million – a club record at the time – for Bentley, but the north London club made a poor start to the 2008-09 season, which would cost Juande Ramos his job.
However, Bentley would grab his fair share of the limelight once again in Harry Redknapp’s first official game in charge of Spurs.
In late October, in the 13th minute against his former club Arsenal, Bentley let fly from all of 40 yards, eluding an out of position Manuel Almunia with a powerful dipping volley to give Tottenham the lead. Spurs went on to snatch a 4-4 draw.
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|7/1||England are 7/1 to beat Moldova 3-0 with bet365
After making just three appearances at the start of the 2010-11 season, the midfielder was loaned to Birmingham, but could not help them avoid relegation. A season-long loan to West Ham the following year promised much, but after appearing five times in the Championship, Bentley suffered a knee injury which would force him to return to Spurs Lodge and keep him out for six months.
Had that injury not cut short his stay at West Ham, who is to argue Bentley would not have put in dominant performances in the Championship and earned a permanent move to Upton Park? The winger could well have been providing the ammunition for loanee Andy Carroll for the rest of the current Premier League campaign.
But, as has often been the case in Bentley’s career, for one reason or another, of his own doing or otherwise, it wasn’t to be, and at just 28 years old, he finds himself in Russia, desperately needing four months of football uninterrupted by controversy or injury.