I think it’s fair to say that things haven’t yet worked out at Spurs for David Bentley.
He came into a team that slumped massively and could barely string three passes together. Given that possession football is one of the main strengths of his game, it didn’t bode well. Not only this, but he was frequently asked to play in an unfamiliar role.
Fans soon got on his back for not creating enough (I’m sure his price tag didn’t help) and were groaning and sighing at any mistake, and at any opportunity to use his tricks to beat a man. His confidence was sapped and he looked like a broken man for weeks.
A few weeks after Harry Redknapp arrived, he bawled Bentley out for a lack of effort. Bentley came back with a better defensive attitude and worked visibly harder to track back and help the team, even using his physical presence more; he challenged and even won more headers than the rest of our midfield in that brief period.
Since then, he has hardly been seen, mainly thanks to the good form of Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon in the wide roles. Clearly he hasn’t played to the levels that he has previously shown at Blackburn and Norwich, but I think (and hope) that there is more to come.
I think there are three main issues to consider:
- The story so far
- The Bentley “ego”
- Where he goes from here
The story so far
£16m is an awful lot of money. However, I tend to think that people worry too much about transfer fees. As long as the money we spend is sustainable, I try not to think twice about it and, I think that if the papers weren’t constantly highlighting our spending, then others wouldn’t either. I don’t like to use price tags against players – whether we’d spend £1m or £16m on him, I’d still be writing this.
It’s worth noting that David Bentley is not a Spurs fan, and has never said he is. What he did say was “Coming to this club means the world to me. Spurs is the first club I watched as a kid and Gazza was my favourite player. All my mates are Tottenham fans and season ticket holders, so there’s a piece of my heart at this club.” Some journalists and fans have thrown the line “he’s meant to be a Spurs fan, and yet he shows no passion” at him, so I think it’s important to set this straight.
Bentley has been greatly criticised by Spurs fans for his poor set pieces in a lilywhite shirt, and I can understand why. However, I don’t think his set pieces have been any more or less consistent than any of our other players’. One reason for this is that, in general, the rest of our team are not particularly good at attacking the ball in the opposition box. A prime example of this is Dawson, who is one of the best around in the air from a defensive viewpoint, but doesn’t score enough headed goals. At Blackburn Rovers he had better targets from set pieces – Santa Cruz and McCarthy obviously, but also Samba, Nelson, Ooijer, Emerton, etc.
The other factor is that you or I would concentrate on just floating the ball into the right general area; naturally it would be very difficult for a player meeting a cross like that to do anything with it. The “fashionable” corners and free kicks at the moment tend to be those fired in really flat and low, curling towards the back post. The margin for error with these is tiny, and I’m sure that, with Bentley, it’s a confidence issue. When he was in good form at Blackburn he was whipping in a good ball 7 or 8 out of 10 times, as opposed to the 2 or 3 out of 10 now.
When we analyse Bentley’s performances so far, I think it is vital to appreciate that he came into a struggling side. If we had bought Ashley Young instead of Bentley, and Aston Villa had bought Bentley instead of Young, I would speculate that Bentley would now be in the England squad (see Milner) and Young would be struggling for form. The talent of the two players is not too different – in my opinion it’s all about the bigger picture. Villa (at the start of the season) were a well drilled, organised, stable unit, who didn’t use too many players and played unspectacular but efficient football. Tottenham (also at the start of the season) were a poorly drilled, disorganised “unit”, who changed the manager and players too often to build relationships and/or a framework for attacking players to work within. Not really a situation where a “confidence” player was likely to thrive.
The Bentley “ego”
I have no idea what David Bentley is like as a person, but when I see him trying flicks, drag backs and other pieces of skill, I see it as trying to beat a man or get into a better position to play a pass – not as him trying to showboat to please his over-inflated ego. Not having much pace means that he has to use his technical ability to beat players.
I think people criticise him an awful lot for “showboating” and then also criticise him for a lack of acceleration. If you don’t have acceleration, you need a trick or two to work a yard for a pass or a cross. This, in my opinion, is why Bentley uses so many step-overs and Cruyff turns, and they are a necessary part of his game.
Where he goes from here
Bentley is a very good footballer. He is a technical player, with a neat first touch and, when on form and high in confidence, a very good delivery into the box – from a standing start or on the move. He doesn’t have Lennon’s acceleration, and never will have, but he clearly strikes the ball much more cleanly than Lennon, and tends to score more goals.
For the majority of his time at Blackburn Rovers, Bentley had Roque Santa Cruz and Benni McCarthy (as mentioned earlier) to aim his crosses at – both excellent at attacking crosses. At Spurs, he has had Pavlychunko and occasionally a midfield runner. It’s not easy. However, I think to Pavlyuchenko’s goal in the home win against Bolton – getting on the end of a superb Bentley cross – and I hope to see a lot more of that next season.
I still have a lot of faith in him, and think that, in a more successful Spurs team, with tails up, he will be an important squad player.
As of 14/04/09, David Bentley has made 29 starts and 10 substitute appearances for Spurs in all competitions, scoring 2 goals, with 3 assists. (ESPN)