David ‘I drive a’ Bentley was one of a rare breed of footballers. He walked away from the game on his own terms with no regrets at exactly the moment he chose.
Bentley, of course, was not entirely unique in deciding to walk away from the game whilst in his peak years – both Craig Johnstone of Liverpool and Peter Knowles of Wolverhampton Wanderers chose to retire from football when at the top of their games and the footballing world in general. However, both those cases were a relatively long time ago while Bentley’s was certainly unique in terms of the Premier League era.
That Bentley felt moved to make such a decision was met with a degree of surprise at the time, but perhaps anyone taking a closer look at the man, his career and his character wouldn’t have found it such a shock. After all, one thing David Bentley could never be accused of was being conventional.
Alongside such luminaries as Sol Campbell, Pat Jennings, and Willie Young, David Bentley also holds the distinction of playing for both North London rivals, Arsenal and Tottenham. Unlike the other names in this illustrious list who first played for Spurs before moving to Arsenal, Bentley made his bow in the red and white of Arsenal before ending up at White Hart Lane via Norwich City (loan) and Blackburn Rovers.
Perhaps it was Bentley’s early years that contributed to his quirkiness later in life. Growing up in a military family, Bentley moved around a lot as a child and during a spell living in Belgium learnt to speak Flemish. At the age of seven, he also developed a penchant for cutting his own hair, and indeed he boasts that he has never had a paid haircut since.
Signing as a schoolboy for the Gunners in 1997, Bentley was to stay at the club until 2006. Although he made a solitary appearance in Arsenal’s invincible season of 2003-04, first-team appearances were few and far between. A successful season spent out on loan at then-Premier side Norwich City, was followed by a further loan spell at Blackburn Rovers.
By January 2006 two things were becoming clear: firstly, Bentley had what it took to become an established Premier League star, and, secondly, for whatever reason, that was not going to happen under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. So it came to pass that Bentley joined Blackburn on a permanent transfer in the January 2006 transfer window.
In total, Bentley spent three seasons at Blackburn and made over a hundred appearances in all competitions. It was this spell that is largely regarded as the best and most consistent of his career at club level.
In his first game after making his move from Arsenal permanent, Bentley scored a hat-trick in a 4-3 victory over Manchester United. It was this form that brought him to the attention of England manager, Steve McClaren, and he was awarded an England ‘B’ cap in 2007 against Albania, with McClaren famously remarking that Bentley could become ‘the new David Beckham’.
Prior to this, Bentley had already been capped at Under 21 level by Stuart Pearce who went onto select him for that summer’s European Under-21s European Championship. Having already completed a 60-game season, Bentley took the controversial step of withdrawing from the squad citing fatigue. Sympathy was perhaps unsurprisingly in short supply from the media, but what hurt and annoyed Bentley was the public criticism Stuart Pearce subjected him to. Bentley was to say much later that this incident was the first chink in his armour that was to ultimately lead to him falling out of love with the game.
After a spell in the wilderness at international level, Bentley forced his way back into contention for McClaren’s last matches in charge and then kept his place in the squad upon the appointment of Fabio Capello.
David Bentley’s time working alongside Fabio Capello was marked by two stand-out occurrences. Firstly, it was Capello who advised Bentley he had to leave Blackburn if he wanted to push on with his career, particularly at international level, thus putting in motion Bentley’s summer 2008 transfer to Tottenham.
Secondly, Bentley and squad-mate, Jimmy Bullard, noted a supposed physical similarity between Capello and the children’s television character, Postman Pat, and so would amuse themselves and the rest of the squad by singing the programme’s theme song whenever in close proximity to the manager.
However, Bentley’s move to Spurs, who were then managed by Harry Redknapp, was not an unqualified success. An unspectacular first season saw a return of just one goal from twenty-five league appearances. Falling further down the pecking order the following season, Bentley made just fifteen league starts.
Towards the end of that season, 2009-10, Tottenham beat Manchester City away in a winner-take-all clash in the pursuit of a top-four finish. Whilst being interviewed live on national TV, Redknapp was less than amused to suddenly find himself on the wrong end of a soaking as a collection of Spurs players emptied a bucket of water over him in celebration of their success.
In the middle of the commotion was, invariably, David Bentley who then went onto to perform an impromptu dance for the cameras dressed only in a Spurs shirt and his underpants.
Again, Bentley highlights a manager’s response to one of his decisions as a contributing factor to his eventual disillusionment with the game. According to Bentley, this incident pretty much marked the end for him at White Hart Lane, as Redknapp barely ever picked him again.
Although Bentley was to remain a Spurs player for the following three seasons, most of that time was spent out on loan once more. Spells at Birmingham City, West Ham United, and FC Rostov of Russia all followed, before Bentley joined his old club, Blackburn Rovers, also on loan in January 2013.
After a further five games and two goals back at Ewood Park, the end finally came for Bentley. On being substituted in a league game against Cardiff City, he made the decision that he had played his last game.
Although some would no doubt contend that Bentley failed to make the most of his career and his undoubted talent, the man himself is adamant that he made the right decision and that he has no regrets.
Since retiring, Bentley has bought and run a restaurant in Marbella, and also owns a number of businesses in the UK.