Bentley must escape White Hart Lane to rediscover his old self

Neil Trainis THERE are not many things in football that grate as much as wasted potential but David Bentley appears set on charting a course to gross underachievement. A look at the career to date of a player with undisputed talent and who, at 24 and still making his

Neil Trainis

THERE are not many things in football that grate as much as wasted potential but David Bentley appears set on charting a course to gross underachievement.

A look at the career to date of a player with undisputed talent and who, at 24 and still making his way in the game, prompts a mixture of intrigue and frustration on his behalf.

The memory hardly requires much stretching to recount moments when a footballer, with the ability to put the ball on a sixpence for converging attackers inside the penalty area, enthralled his audience.


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Blackburn Rovers, via a spell at Norwich City, were the last true beneficiaries of Bentley, the unrelentingly confident right winger possessing the self belief to open up backlines with a combination of fleet-footed trickery and steely determination.

In those days, between 2005 and 2008, he simply believed he would drift past his marker and effortlessly find time and space in which to locate a telling delivery or accurate shot at goal.

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It was all so natural and seamless for a player described by Blackburn chairman, John Williams, as "one of the best young footballers in the country" after Bentley had signed a new contract at Ewood Park in February 2007.

Two years is a long time in football but to this footballer, it must feel like a century. The adulation of his gifts and, more significantly, of his performances, have long since dissolved into the past.

From emerging as the most cherished, marketable product on the playing staff at Blackburn, Bentley finds himself stuck in the bog of collective unfulfilment at Tottenham less than 12 months on.

Harry Redknapp, a manager with legendary motivational skills, has failed to garner the best from a player who arrived at White Hart Lane last summer with a �15m price tag dangling around his neck.

The fee was not expected to weigh heavily on Bentley, who was interviewed on Sky shortly before the transfer expressing, with the exuberance often reflected in his football, an intense desire to grace the Champions League.

A move to Tottenham raised eyebrows since that ambition was not to be fulfilled immediately, yet the player has suffered at a club that endured the worst ever start to a top flight campaign in its 127-year history.

Redknapp, and Tottenham, have been treated to tantalising flickers of the David Bentley whose football brain allows him to think quicker than anyone else on the pitch, visualising and executing extravagant scenarios with a deftness and nonchalance.

Talk to Tottenham supporters and, after berating the impact he has made, they will recount with glee the audacious long range shot that dipped viciously over Manuel Almunia and rejuvenated Tottenham in the north London derby at the Emirates in October.

Such exquisite individualism may have horrified a watching Ars�ne Wenger but it would not have come as any surprise to him. The Frenchman had long since been acquainted with Bentley's audacity.

After all, Wenger had no qualms about asking a raw 16-year-old to train with Arsenal's first team and had seen enough to hand him his senior debut in January 2003 as a substitute for Kolo Tour� in an FA Cup tie against Oxford United.

Another moment of impudence, a lobbed goal against Middlesbrough in an FA Cup victory in 2004, prompted some commentators to compare the youngster to Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal's peerless unlocker of defences over numerous seasons.

Yet Wenger decided, after one league appearance, not to persevere with Bentley and, after Carrow Road, there followed the realisation of his talents at Blackburn under Mark Hughes before the stunting of his progress at Tottenham.

His concession in interviews after his departure from Arsenal that he no longer enjoyed playing football came as little surprise, given that his opportunities were suffocated by the plethora of stars in his position in north London.

There were also fears his focus was being blighted by off-field issues, reinforced by his admission in April last year that he had beaten a gambling addiction in 2005 having at one time placed up to 100 bets a day.

Frequent football at Blackburn, though, brought the player out of his shell and there he was transformed from the burgeoning talent who caught the eye of Arsenal scouts to one demonstrating his colours like a peacock that had been freed from its cage.

The downward spiral that has followed his breakthrough at the pinnacle of the sport has befuddled and fascinated in equal measure, since Bentley was expected to flourish at a Tottenham with greater resources and supposedly more scope for exciting, attacking football than Blackburn.

He had more rivals for a place in the side than he had encountered in Lancashire but despite proving himself a better crosser of the ball than Aaron Lennon, Bentley has found himself out of contention and fighting to preserve his belief.

His Blackburn days brought England caps but adding to those is remote under national coach Fabio Capello, who selects players on form only.

Redknapp's insistence that Bentley finds another club this summer is fine career advice for a talented footballer desperate to unearth his old self.

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