David Bentley: A Ready-Made Replacement for David Beckham

So Capello named his squad last week, and as usual all the attention was centred on one man. Not the likes of Curtis Davies or Gabriel Agbonlahor, who received their maiden England call ups (but surely not their last). Not even the likes of Ashley Young or Jermaine Jenas, who are two of the in-form players in the Premier League right now. It wasn’t even the seasoned internationals such as Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney who were getting the headlines. No, it was a man who wasn’t even named in the thirty man party who had every tongue in the country wagging.

And not for the first time either. Since he was first named in an England squad in 1996 by Glenn Hoddle, David Beckham has attracted the most incredible and sustained publicity imaginable for the England squad. He is unique in world football as a player who dominates both the front and back pages of newspapers, whether it is for his football, his fashion or his seemingly endless commercial work. Indeed, the nation right now could realistically be split into two camps. Those who respect Beckham for the footballer and professional that he is, and those who resent the corporate cash cow that he has become.

It isn’t entirely Beckham’s fault, he can’t help scoring goals from the halfway line or ridiculously regular and important free kicks. He can’t even help falling in love with a Spice Girl. But with Fabio Capello ushering in a new era for England tomorrow against Switzerland at Wembley- minus Beckham- it would appear that Beckham will be forced to hand over the reigns to another supremely talented right footer with the initials DB. Step forward, David Bentley.

Bentley entered the public’s consciousness in 2004 when he scored a peach of a chip for Arsenal against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. His impudent finish and confident aura drew immediate comparisons to his idol, and fellow initial-sharer, Dennis Bergkamp, and he looked set for a bright future under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger. The following season, however, saw him loaned out to Norwich City, where he struggled to find his feet in a struggling side heading for relegation. He has since admitted that after his return from Carrow Road in 2005, he began to grow increasingly disillusioned with life at Arsenal, as he waited behind the likes of Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires & Aliaksandr Hleb for a first team chance. Bentley has stated in recent interviews that he disliked going into training, and had stopped enjoying his football. Hard to imagine given the drastic change of circumstances he has enjoyed in the past eighteen months.

In August 2005, Mark Hughes snapped up the unhappy Bentley on a season-long loan for Blackburn, and whilst he started unspectacularly, he still did enough for Hughes to make the move permanent in the January transfer window. Bentley’s form snowballed, a hat-trick against Manchester Utd confirmed this, and playing in a new wide midfield role, he began to earn plaudits with his running ability, delivery from wide areas, and creative passing. His re-found confidence was in evidence the following season as he began to add a more consistent end product to his game, chipping in with seven goals and twice as many assists, earning him the Player of the Year award from Rovers’ fans.

His withdrawal from the England U21 squad for last summer’s European Championships, due to fatigue, led to hefty criticism from a lot of angles, not least England boss Steve McClaren and U21 boss Stuart Pearce, but Bentley has vindicated his decision by continuing his excellent form for Blackburn. Already this season he has topped last term’s goal tally- eight and counting so far- and his consistency is as good as any winger in the Premiership. Like Beckham, he is the master of engineering enough space for a cross and delivering with devastating pace and accuracy. He may not be as much of an all-action player as his predecessor, but he has plenty of other strings to his bow, he is able to use either foot to good effect, and tends to pose a greater threat when drifting into a central position, where he has shown plenty of times that he can unleash ferocious strikes from distance.

With Aaron Lennon & Shaun Wright-Phillips coming back into form this season, and Beckham still likely to be lurking around come the World Cup qualifiers in September, competition for the right hand side of midfield is fierce, but Bentley for me is the man Capello should turn to. His end product is a lot more consistent than Lennon or Wright-Phillips, whether it be a shot, a pass or a cross, and with Beckham months away from match sharpness, he has a great chance to nail down the number seven shirt as his own and England fans may very well have a brand new DB to worship.

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