In among his reasons for falling out of love with football, David Bentley mentioned social media. There are greater reasons for his retirement, announced through some tears on Friday, but this point was interesting from a man who doesn’t appear to have a Twitter account or a Facebook page.
A quick search on Twitter shows only one imitation profile. In context, Wilson Palacios, who once helped Bentley tip a bucket of water over Harry Redknapp, has a dozen.
That is not where the significance lies, though, even if it does illustrate just how far he slipped from footballing relevance. It is more to do with the views of others; the scrutiny and criticism of footballers that escalated through his career and exploded in its intensity with the onset of social media. Within hours of announcing his retirement, aged 29, one user wrote: ‘What a waste of talent you monumental **** up.’
Game over: David Bentley has retired from football having failed to establish himself at Tottenham
Letting flow: Bentley scored a stunning volley against former club Arsenal in 2008
Stunner: Manuel Almunia was left with no chance as Bentley’s dipping volley screamed past him
Bang: Bentley celebrates his goal… but his success at Tottenham was short-lived
Another added: ‘David Bentley retired because he fell out of love with football… Yeah 99% of football fans forgot about his existence.’
To an extent, most of the criticisms had solid foundations. He was extremely talented, a particularly gifted crosser of the ball who won seven caps for England. There was a time when he was spoken about with the same enthusiasm as today’s prospects, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling, who are about to take their next steps at a World Cup.
Alas, it never worked out for Bentley. And with it all said and done, his words were quite pertinent as he spoke of plans to leave the game, focusing his energies instead on his young family and restaurant business. ‘My love for the game went a little bit and I didn’t want to carry on just for the fact of paying me money,’ he said.
The joy has gone from a man who you always sensed loved the game but was a touch too sensitive to criticism – and a touch too irreverent to authority – for such a Darwinian environment.
Wet: Bentley tipped water over Harry Redknapp in 2010 after Spurs clinched Champions League football
Where it all began: Bentley started his career with Arsenal, spending four years with the north London club
False dawn: Bentley (right) was at one point considered the heir to David Beckham (left)
True, he made not so much a rod for his back as a missile with his behaviour. If you want to stay beneath the radar, it’s best that you don’t soak your manager in front of the Sky cameras, as he famously did after Tottenham beat Manchester City 1-0 in 2010.
Likewise, his suggestion to team-mates that they start referring to him as ‘Becks’. Jimmy Bullard’s recent book also revealed the time Bentley went up to Fabio Capello in an England camp and took the rather stupid decision to scream ‘Postman Pat and his black and white cat’ in his face.
Bullard wrote: ‘Bents was a great lad. The bloke is an absolute wrong ’un, make no mistake about that, but a lot of fun nonetheless. He was always laughing and I mean, always laughing.’
But those episodes also revealed a lot about his personality – a player with an almost childlike sense of fun. He spoke last month of the raw joy of his early days at Arsenal, turning up to work and staring wide-eyed at ‘characters, entertainers like Tony Adams, Ray Parlour’. He ‘wanted to be that guy, that character’. He wanted to be an entertainer.
But football and its mammoth community of supporters and media and sponsors tends to castigate the extroverts who don’t back up words with deeds. His failure to develop as a player – and it was a significant failure when you consider his talents – was used against him.
On Friday night, a Twitter use wrote: ‘Remember when David Bentley was meant be new Beckham? Hahahahahaha.’
Another highlighted that he has played only 53 Premier League games since his 24th birthday.
Football has always been this way, but social media has stuck a magnifying glass on the end of a telescope and parked it next to the goldfish bowl. It’s a great tool for a great many things, but the ability to give sportsmen a kicking has come with it.
That is modern football. And that is one of the things he fell out of love with. It’s a shame because he was a good player before it all got a bit too much for him.