The Necessary Failure of David Bentley

Former footballer David Bentley has moved to Russian club FC Rostov on loan. He was 28.

Some have mourned a wasted talent, others have been splashing each other playfully in the fountain of schadenfreude, where football fans congregate to mock the unfortunate. Bentley’s career has finally derailed completely, having teetered on the brink throughout his disastrous spell with Tottenham. This is not to suggest that the Russian Premier League is merely some decrepit backwater. Zenit’s £64m joint purchase of Hulk and Alex Witsel speak of a league that is plainly upwardly mobile, even if it is thanks to petro-chemical lucre. But is this really where anyone had expected Bentley to be when Spurs signed him for £15m in 2008?

There was a time when it was simply assumed that David Bentley would be destined for great things. When Steve McLaren bought his workshopped teeth and publicity-friendly dossier to the vacant England post, he vowed to usher in a new era of youth, the type of thrusting manifesto so often suggested but seldom implemented. As such, David Beckham was jettisoned to make space for fresh talent. A nervous tabloid press wrung its hands nervously as it looked for an alternative superstar entity, and one man looked sure to be the natural heir.

Bentley had been busy winning rave reviews for Blackburn Rovers, and had much in common with Beckham, even down to the matching initials, which ‘Bents’ would unwisely have stitched into his boots in a fate-tempting effort to ape his idol. The similarities didn’t stop there: the cheekbones, the hipster haircuts, the Cockney heritage, the lack of pace, the right hand-side of midfield. McLaren would add further weight to these claims when he gave Bentley his full England debut. Perhaps seeking vindication of his scrapping of Beckham he would say: “I can see that [comparison]. His right foot is pretty similar to David’s. He’s got a great touch, great feel on the ball, and he can deliver that pass.”  He would go on to win seven caps for his country.

The TV channel ESPN Classic shows repeats of ‘classic’ England games, which are preceded by a brief video montage of England stars knocking the ball around in their England kit, being all English for the England team. Amongst shots of the likes of mainstays such as John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard was our man Bentley, no doubt selected as the stand-out young prospect that would surely go on to greater things. Today, his presence in this clip is a mere curio, a stark reminder of a time when people operating video cameras genuinely had cause to believe that footage of Bentley in an England kit wouldn’t prove to be a colossal waste of time and resources.

His ascension to superstardom was made official when he was anointed as a columnist for The Sun, which usually reserves its pages for such renowned men of letters as Terry Venables and Ian Wright. That Bentley was proffered such a mouthpiece seemed like a contrived effort to raise his profile to anywhere as close to Beckham’s as possible, the better to augment his celebrity. It’s perfectly feasible that the gilded profiteers riding the Beckham gravy train were actively seeking to fill the void that his imminent demise looked set to create, and so set about fast-tracking Bentley’s way to fame.  Bentley, it seemed, had made it.

Of course now, he is largely remembered for two things. There was the stupendous lob for Spurs against Arsenal, a goal of the season contender, which spoke of his promise and confidence. There was also the moment when a jubilant Spurs dressing room celebrated Champions League qualification, reaching its zenith when Bentley’s cup – full to the brim with both banter and energy drink – runneth over, and was duly dumped over Harry Redknapp’s head. These two contrasting moments sum up perhaps not just Bentley’s time at White Hart Lane, but indeed his whole career: moments of genuine promise interspersed with the bone-headed boorishness of the LAD. It now seems reasonable to suggest that he was no more than a prettier Jimmy Bullard, and perhaps nothing more.

Why has his career ended up this way? The general consensus seems to be that it’s down to a lack of focus and effort, but Bentley has other theories: “He never said anything to my face about it – he didn’t really ever say much to me at all – but I knew I was always up against it after that.” It’s interesting to note his Wikipedia page too, which is most likely edited by someone close to him, and mentions how he “is often talked about as a should-be midfielder, but [he] he is often used out of position as a winger despite lacking the pace of some of his Premier League counter-parts.” The problem with pace is clearly an issue for him, as he alluded to shortly after joining Birmingham on loan in 2011: “They don’t deserve me to come here and think I’m this creative player who doesn’t have to run much. I’m going to have to graft.”

Regardless of these issues, Redknapp would deliver the most telling career appraisal (as well as an embarassing indictment of Bentley’s star worship) after the player had been arrested for drink-driving in August 2009: “He needs to lose that tag of ‘he’s another David Beckham.’ I’ll be honest, the lads call him Becks and I don’t think that helps him.”  Bentley would downplay these suggestions while at Birmingham: “There’s probably a misconception of me. People sometimes get this perception that I’m a big-time Charlie. But that is not the case.” This stab at humility would fall short when revealing his hopes for the transfer: “If I do the groundwork, do the running, I know my quality will come through.” His time at Birmingham, much like last season’s loan to West Ham, would both yield little in the way of quality – 20 games, 1 goal, 1 assist.

This is borne out by the fact that he now finds himself at FC Rostov, when some lower-scale Premiership clubs could surely benefit from his presence. It is plausible to read something into the fact that Mark Hughes wasn’t tempted to give him a chance at QPR, given that Bentley fulfils many of the criteria adopted by the club for several of their summer signings: discarded by his club, past his best, a former charge of Hughes. It’s possible that Bentley is happy to be free of the stigma which he feels he has unfairly accrued. Perhaps he should be applauded for trying to advance his footballing education as part of a different culture when so few English players do. But this transfer has far more in common with the paucity of options reflected by Joe Cole’s move to Lille, or Joey Barton’s to Marseille, than, say, David Beckham (that man again!) joining Real Madrid.

Bentley’s greatest contribution to the game could well be in his ultimate failure, a very modern, paradoxical triumph. In this lamentable age of the cosseted, self-absorbed tosser-footballer, it should be celebrated when someone who appeared to twin arrogance and laziness fails to make it to the top. There is no shortage of wasted talents in the game, and fans of every club in the world can add to the litany of crudely extinguished flames: Sonny PikeNii LampteyPaul LakeSebastien DeislerFreddy Adu.

There are always reasons why players fail to live up to their potential. When those reasons are clear to see, as they were in Bentley’s case, we should be thankful that this sort of malaise only struck someone such as him, rather than a Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Andres Iniesta, as their failure would’ve been a genuine loss, rather than a justified squandering. New players will always remind us of old players. If Bentley had successfully carved a niche for himself as a preening footballing tribute act, that could have set a precedent nobody would wish to see repeated.

This article was originally published on Soccerlens.

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Scott Parker’s Personal Hell

Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Scott Parker has vowed to fight for his marriage, after rumours began to circulate last week that his wife had requested a divorce. Trouble first became apparent when it was revealed that the rakishly hairstyled box-to-box midfielder likes nothing more than to slide-tackle his spouse around the house.

Carly Parker is believed to be jaded by the constant rough-housing, and said in a recent interview with Gusset! magazine that she has taken to wearing shinpads around their home, which one can only assume is full of broken furniture and second-rate football memorabilia. “I’d never worn shinpads before and they didn’t go with anything in my wardrobe, so Scotty got me some Louis Vuitton ones. I love Scotty really, but he’s so combative and it bloody hurts.”

Parker’s manager, bollock-jowled bonus-bungler Harry Redknapp, is confident that it won’t affect his game: “Scotty is a top, top player. But he’s a topper, topper husband. He might not have much experience in big marriages, but who’s a better husband than ‘im in Europe right now? I can’t fink of one.”

It is the second scandal to blight Parker in as many months. A recent drugs test found that Parker’s urine, much like the man himself, was “full of heart”, which contains traces of the banned substance nandrolone. The club have appealed for a re-piss.

Alan Partridge – Lessons in Football Broadcasting

Alan Partridge is not real, despite the desperate protestations of a special kind of idiot who can still be heard shouting “DAN! DAAAN!!” in plaintively wretched grief. He is a fictional light entertainer sub-par excellence, who cut his teeth on spoof radio show On the Hour, before appearing on television for the first time in its screen adaptation, The Day Today. The latter has widely been credited with presciently signposting the grim future of news coverage, which now poses before us today with its mixture of self-importance (“You know the saying ‘no news is good news’? It’s BALLS!”), ostentatious graphics and over-emotional delivery.

Partridge appeared on these shows in his formative years, in the role of a sports presenter. What, if anything, has the man taught us about the nature of football broadcasting? Could it be that he was screaming unheard warnings into the abyss? Could he have prevented such abominations as Richard Keys idly threatening to basically ‘smash’ anything and everything with a backbone? ITV’s turn-of-the-millennium Premier League coverage? Mark Lawrenson’s genuinely harrowing collection of bloke shirts? Dr. Fact is knocking at the door. Someone, please – let the man in!

Transfers

When Partridge broke the news that Tottenham Hotspur striker Clive Allen had been signed by Chessington World of Adventures (On The Hour, series 2, episode 2), could he have foreseen the frenzied madness that would become the Transfer Window? The act of signing a new player is merely the glamorous end of the admin spectrum, and was once realised as such. Time was, a player would join a new team and then the coach would have to mould him into the side’s image, smoothing off rough edges to fit him into the puzzle. Nowadays, signing a player is an attempted shortcut to success, particularly in the January window, when a player is immediately thrust into a new team without the soothing acclimatisation of pre-season. The period of time during which a manager can fill out the necessary forms required to allow a man to wear the shirt of a different team for money has now become a television spectacle (as deconstructed by Barney Ronay), with all the misplaced zeal witnessed in the aforementioned Clive Allen sketch, as well as in the news of Gordon Strachan being signed by a retired schoolteacher from Solihull. Partridge saw it all coming. If you play the aforementioned Allen/Chessington sketch backwards, you clearly hear him say “Jim White is coming, his incongruous enthusiasm must be destroyed”. Did we heed his warning? No, we did not…

Commentary

It ain’t what it used to be. Even Alan knew that sometimes less is more (‘TWAT!’), and that the best lines will stick with you for years (‘That was liquid football!’). Clive Tyldesley is ridiculed for his satisfaction with that most affectionate love letter to himself, the infamous line “That night in Barcelona“, which he has been dining on for so long you worry he may contract e-coli. As Manchester United were stumbling out of the Champions League at Benfica earlier this season, Tyldesley twice referred to his own commentary from the 1999 final (“Can they score? Well, we know they always score”), desperately trying to invoke the spirit of The Manchester United Comeback. Jonathan Pearce has subtly abandoned his Shouty Man USP over the years, so he now seems more concerned with regulating his volume than contributing anything remotely memorable, like so many ill-advised garage bands. John Motson is a parody of himself, forever sustaining his fact-boffin mythos in a perpetual cyclic renewal of sheepskin and statistics, like the ancient Greek symbol Ourobourous, only wearing a rubbish coat (See Barney Ronay again, on Motson’s misplaced canonisation).

Knowledge

Alan’s earnest ineptitude was the very essence of the man. His lack of knowledge was a comic device used to provoke laughter (see his USA ’94 ‘Soccermetre’, and this interview with a jockey), because, obviously, a sports broadcaster would be expected to know what he’s talking about. That doesn’t seem to matter these days. On the Match of the Day sofa it is a source of broadcasting braggadocio if one is unfamiliar with an obscure foreign signing, for fear of looking – what exactly? Enthusiastic? Commited? Interested? Alas, these are three words that Alan Shearer has lost in the transition from the football pitch to the television studio, as he continually fails to apply a fraction of the quality he showed in his old vocation to his new one. Partridge didn’t know what he was talking about, so people laughed at him. Shearer doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he is paid handsomely for the privilege, without having the good decency to even consider a hair transplant.

Sexual equality

When Alan was shocked to see a female horse-rider undressing before him on The Day Today, he had the gentlemanly courtesy to look away. Would unreconstructed sex maniacs Andy Gray and Richard Keys have had the good grace to do likewise? Or would they have made lewd, crass remarks, before comporting themselves in priapic menace, hands like penises clumsily stapled to beef burgers? I think we all know the answer to that one. Whither Partridge, and his fumbling, embarrassed asexuality?

Understanding

Alan Partridge: Bob Mariner, you missed the penalty. Why?
Bob Mariner: Yeah, Alan, it was a bad one. It took the top of me boot, it was all over in an instant.
Alan: You looked really stupid.

In the realm of football broadcasting, tact is a tightrope that wibbles precariously between turrets of doubt, over a steaming sea of ignominy. Misjudge a situation, and you could make yourself look foolish. As fast money and trash values continue to corrupt the modern footballer, it is becoming ever more difficult to handle the emotions of these cosseted chancers that have never worked a day in their lives. The managers aren’t much better, and a few poorly chosen words could provoke such incidents as renowned wheeler-dealer Harry Redknapp angrily denying that he is a wheeler-dealer, an Alex Ferguson press conference walk-out,  or a Kenny Dalglish compound nervous breakdown.

Entertainment

In the eyes of many, Soccer Saturday is the best football programme on television. Football fans across the land sit agape on a Saturday afternoon as they watch the genial Jeff Stelling and his ever-excitable colleagues jabber and babble in vague coherence as they react to images on the television. This sporting simulacrum is compelling despite the notable handicap of being no more than a bunch of men boasting about having a better Sky package than you, the viewer. Watching people reacting to football in humourous ways is as popular now, with the likes of football’s foremost hapless boob Chris Kamara, as it was when Partridge was shouting “Thriker!”.

Partridge’s shambling efforts at sports broadcasting now appear in different forms, stripped of the veil of irony. Shearer, Tyldesley, Keys and Gray – all share the same lack of self-awareness that made Partridge so amusing. But if he has taught us anything, it is that “self defence is not just about punching someone repeatedly in the face until they’re unconscious.”