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The big interview: David Bentley – “I joined Spurs thinking Ramos would be another Wenger – but it was a nightmare”

David Bentley, FourFourTwo
Photography: Solarpix

Breaking up with his girlfriend in the 1988 movie Cocktail, Tom Cruise says: “Everything ends badly – otherwise it wouldn’t end.” In April 2013, football ended badly for David Bentley. Hooked on the hour in a 3-0 defeat at Cardiff, the former Blackburn, Spurs and England man trudged off the pitch and, like Cruise’s barman persona, realised he was no longer in love. He never played again.

Today, though, the affable, cheeky Bentley – once dubbed the ‘new David Beckham’ – is relaxed, happy and mixing the drinks in the restaurant that he co-owns in Marbella on Spain’s Costa del Sol. Make FourFourTwo’s a large one and we’ll crack on with the questions...

Who were your childhood idols?
Ben Daniels, via Facebook

Eric Cantona and Gazza. I had posters of them on my bedroom wall. Away from football, my grandad was a huge hero. I was obsessed with the 1950s and people like James Dean; to me, Grandad was like that. He was a bit of a boy – a painter and decorator who liked a drink and a fight. I’m drawn to people who are a bit edgy. I liked Gazza and Cantona for those reasons. As a kid, I turned up for my first day at Arsenal wearing my Cantona shirt with the collar up.

Who do you actually support? I’ve read it was Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester United
Pablo, Oxford

[Laughs] Dad joined the RAF so I grew up all over the place. Eventually we moved to north London but I never supported a team. My first game was Tottenham and all my mates were Tottenham but I played too much to seriously support them.

What did it mean to you to score that chip for Arsenal against Middlesbrough on your debut?
Bill Vaulkes, London

I can’t really explain it. It was incredible. I couldn’t tell you how I did the good things I did. The ball would come to me and sometimes something really good would happen. It’s weird. It was never a conscious thing. My God, it was fun though. I think things changed when it became a job. By the end of my career I was having conscious thoughts and instead of chipping the keeper, I was thinking: “I don’t want to. I can’t be bothered.”

Was being compared to Dennis Bergkamp at a young age a help or a hindrance?
James Jalloah, Islington

Working with Dennis Bergkamp was a huge help, too. How could it not be?

A help. Working with Dennis Bergkamp was a huge help, too. How could it not be? He was brilliant, full of advice and support. And what a player – one of the best I’ve seen. I scored that chip on my debut and maybe the crowd saw a bit of him in me. I had no problem with the comparison. I was terrified working with these great players, though. I shat myself every day I went into work. I had to put on a cocky, fake act and pretend to be someone else, to get by.

Did you ever make Arsene Wenger laugh?
Steven Kelly, Facebook

I loved Arsene Wenger. He’s probably the best manager I ever came across. The dressing room at Arsenal was fantastic – a great laugh. I bet they miss that now. The manager wasn’t really the type to join in, although he probably laughed when I told him I was leaving: “Why do you want to leave here, you prick?!” But I just couldn’t wait to play.

Did staying at Arsenal so long hamper your progress? Do you think this is happening to other English youngsters at big clubs?
Keil Hampton, via Facebook

I didn’t stay that long. I left, and some probably thought I was mad. I felt that if I stayed at Arsenal, I could end up as nothing. I feared for my future. I’m sure there are youngsters at clubs today with the same fears.

How was your time at Norwich? Was being relegated on the final day by losing 6-0 at Fulham your worst moment in football?
Wesley, Needham Market

No. Experiences like that can be good for a young player. Norwich was great for me: I was playing and I enjoyed the setup. We were losing, though, and that is always hard. The dressing room was good; there were some big personalities and when they talked, they talked sense. I was gutted they went down but I learned a lot there.

How did you celebrate scoring that hat-trick for Blackburn against Manchester United?
Pete Robinson, via Facebook

That was the day after I signed for the club [permanently, while on loan from Arsenal] so it was very special. Manchester United were big at the time and to get three was incredible. I went out to play, really determined to do something. I played up front and it went well. We all went out in Manchester after the match. There was no social media back in those days so we could let our hair down a bit more. I think Twitter and Instagram have probably affected players’ freedom.

FACT FILE

Full name: David Michael Bentley

Date of birth: 27/08/1984

Height: 5ft 8in

Position Winger

Place of birth: Peterborough

What’s Mark Hughes like as a manager?
Andy William, via Facebook

He was good. He played me, so I liked him [laughs]. He let me be. He was a great man-manager and he gets what it is to be a player. I’ve heard he was quiet as a player and a really bad trainer, but he has turned into a great coach. Chelsea and Manchester United could do worse.

I once had a party at my house and he came along. He brought a massive magnum of red wine with him – vintage. We had played Newcastle that afternoon, and I knew that I was having this big party afterwards so I knew we had to win. I scored two just to make sure the party was good.

Robbie Savage: an individual with some profound thoughts on life, fashion and football, or just a bit of a wally?
Tony Dunkley, Sidcup

Robbie is a great lad, I enjoyed every day working with him. You had to have thick skin, though: Robbie loved the banter and he was relentless. I love that. Today, people get the hump with it all and start crying, and that’s boring. Robbie was perfect for me. I was terrorised by him, but it made me stronger.

Next: Why did he withdraw from the England U21 squad?

What did the people of Blackburn think of your baby blue Ford Mustang?
Luke Bowers, Newcastle

I’m not sure, but I loved it! I was obsessed with Steve McQueen and his movie Bullitt. That’s why I bought that motor – I had to have one. It certainly looked different in the club car park, that’s for sure.

Do you regret leaving Blackburn? That was your best period as a footballer...
Hasan Haq, via Facebook

I regret the way I left, because I forced it through a bit. [Chief executive] John Williams was always good to me and the club were great, but I did force the move. I did what I had to do – I wanted to be back in London and Spurs was a big move for me – but it might’ve gone smoother.

What was the reason you withdrew from the England Under-21 squad in 2007, and were you surprised by the reaction?
Colin, via Facebook

This was 10 years ago and everyone called me a wanker; today everyone’s in ‘the red zone’ and getting rested!

I wasn’t surprised by the reaction, but I’d played 60 games that season. I explained it to Fabio Capello: if we had made the [European Championship] final with the under-21s then I wouldn’t really have had a break at all, as Blackburn were in the Intertoto Cup the following season. I couldn’t do that. This was 10 years ago and everyone called me a wanker; today everyone’s in ‘the red zone’ and getting rested!

I was adamant, though, and I knew my body. I was shattered. I phoned Stuart Pearce and said: “I can’t do it.” I wasn’t disrespecting the under-21s. Pearce didn’t say much, but the next day he was in the papers, slagging me off, and he even compared my decision to soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. That was strange.

I think that may have been when I started to fall out of love with the game a little. I thought: ‘What a load of shit this is’. I could have just told Blackburn to say I was injured, because they didn’t want me to go, but I didn’t. I called Pearce and was honest, and that’s what I got.

PAL'S POSER

Do you regret saying, in the infancy of your England career: “I’m here to take Beckham’s place and that’s what I’ll be trying to do”?
Jake Spencer, via Facebook

There’s loads of questions about regret here – I don’t regret anything! What else was I going to say: “I’m here to clean Beckham’s boots”? I was there to try to take his place, wasn’t I? People wanted me to say: “I’m here to learn from him”, but that’s not me. David might have thought I was a lunatic but he was great. I’d tell him I was better than him, and offer him free-kick competitions. We had a laugh.

What do you remember now about your England debut? How did it feel at the time?
Alan Hall, via Facebook

Getting booed was interesting. Especially with all my family there. I clapped [the fans] when they booed me and I got stick for that, too. We can be a very envious nation, I think. Some fans got it into their head that I was flash, and they wanted to see me fail. It was another strange moment for me.

I had an England cap, which was always my dream, but all I could think was: ‘That wasn’t what it was cracked up to be’. I had watched Italia 90 and seen Gazza having a laugh by the pool, with all the emotions involved, and I dreamt of being part of that one day. I was only six. Then it happened and I thought: ‘Is that it?’

You made the squad, but not the bench, for that Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia. Could you have saved Steve McClaren?
Eli Daniels, via email

Who knows if I would have helped that night? I was sat behind [Steve McClaren] and as soon as the brolly went up I said: “What is he doing? He’s going to get caned for that.” He had that little tuft of hair he didn’t want to get wet!

Did Fabio Capello know that you and Jimmy Bullard referred to him as Postman Pat?
@dribsy27, via Twitter

[Laughs] Yes, he did. One of the other players grassed us up, I think. I loved going away with Jimmy. Capello wanted us in bed early and all that – he stopped us having ketchup, the skipper had to be there before we could all sit down to eat... it didn’t make any sense to us. I had a lot of respect for him, though. He had told me that I should leave Blackburn to further my England career. He has a villa near me out here in Spain. I never see him, though.

I remember Juande Ramos moving you to right-back in one game at Spurs – were you surprised by that? How was your relationship with him? And what was the mood like at Spurs at that time [autumn 2008, as the club made its worst ever start to a season]?
Gary Foster, Hemel Hempstead

Nothing surprised me – it was such a strange time. I joined him there, thinking he’d be another Wenger, but it was a nightmare. I was so excited to be there and it all went wrong. All my mates are Spurs fans and they were like kids, so excited that I was going to be playing for their team. I’m not sure I ever got over that bad start. I wanted to be part of something great at Tottenham, but it wasn’t happening.

What was it like, scoring that incredible long-distance goal for Spurs at the Emirates in that famous 4-4 draw? How many times have you watched it back? Do you think you could do it again?
@BigCub_, via Twitter

If I had been in a good mood I might have controlled it and played it wide to my full-back; instead, I smashed it

I’ve never watched it back. It was another moment when I felt, prior to the game, that I was going to do something good. All my mates were there, Harry [Redknapp] had just come in after Juande Ramos, and I felt that this was going to be a big night; that everything had been getting on my nerves and this was going to be different. The ball just sat up nicely for me. We had been in a meeting before the game and it was mentioned that their keeper [Manuel Almunia] liked to stand off his line, so I just hit it. I think I hit it out of frustration because of the way the season had gone. If I had been in a good mood I might have controlled it and played it wide to my full-back; instead, I smashed it. And yeah, I could do it again.

I heard that you love Kings of Leon. What’s been your best experience watching them?
Simon Massey, Bristol

I had my top off in the mosh pit once at Wembley Arena [in December 2008] – I was having a great night. The thing is, a picture got in The Sun and I ended up getting fined a week’s wages by Spurs! I’d seen them in Camden before they were famous and loved them. I met them eventually and ended up on a night out with the band. I’m not telling you about that night, though – rock ’n’ roll!

CAREER PATH

Clubs: 2002-2006 Arsenal 9 games (1 goal); 2004-05 Norwich (loan) 28 (2); 2005-2008 Blackburn 132 (20); 2008-2013 Tottenham 62 (6);

2011 Birmingham (loan) 15 (1); 2011 West Ham 5 (0); 2012-13 Rostov 8 (0); 2013 Blackburn (loan) 7 (0); 2007-08 England 7 (0)

Next: Is it true Jose Mourinho showed interest in signing him when he was Inter boss?

Is it true Jose Mourinho showed interest in signing you when he was Inter boss?
Adam Cooper, via Facebook

Yeah, he was keen, but it just never happened. I’m not sure why. It was probably something between the two clubs; something to do with money. He wanted to bring me to Chelsea when I was at Blackburn, too.

What was the highlight of your time at White Hart Lane? Finishing fourth in the 2009/10 season was pretty great, right?
Stuart Thomas, via email

I’m very much a team man. People won’t believe that, but I came to Tottenham to be part of a great team. Personal moments, such as the Arsenal goal, are great – but yes, my favourite memory is qualifying for the Champions League that season. It had all clicked under Harry and that was great.

Has it been overhyped, or was drenching Harry Redknapp with water after Spurs got into the Champions League by beating Manchester City really something that broke your relationship with him?
Darren Walsh, via Facebook

It got back to me that he wasn’t pleased, and that was disappointing because I really like him

I think it was, yes. He wasn’t happy; he thought I was being disrespectful. I did it because we all loved him so much. I had played a lot and been involved. I was dropped for the game, even though I had set up goals the week before – he picked Aaron Lennon ahead of me – so I could have had the hump with him but I didn’t. I was well happy. We’d done it. I was part of it, and because the whole dressing room liked him, I did him with the water. It got back to me that he wasn’t pleased, and that was disappointing because I really like him.

What’s the story behind that video of you kicking a ball from an office block into a skip?
Penny Hampton, via Facebook

It was when I was at Tottenham. We’d lost on the Saturday and I was having a bad time. Red Bull asked me to their offices in central London to do a stunt. I wasn’t interested but went along anyway, and the next thing I know I’m on the roof with a ball. I said I was going to hit a red bus, which worried them as they thought I might kill someone.

Instead, we aimed for a skip. Bang – it’s gone in. I'd bet my agent his expensive watch and the ball went straight in. It got lodged and just stuck. It was probably the best thing I ever did!

You were named man of the match on your Birmingham debut against Aston Villa. How did the Second City Derby compare to the north London one? Admit it: it’s more tasty!
Steve P, via email

They do hate each other, but it’s not as good as Arsenal vs Tottenham. Sorry!

How gutting was it to be injured so early on at West Ham? You’d started pretty well…
Greg Smyth, via email

That was a bit of a bummer because I was really enjoying it there. That injury was my first long-term knock, and I think I began to give up on it all. I had got some excitement back and the fans were good, so I was gutted.

Did you enjoy your spell in Russia at FC Rostov? How did the move happen?
Paddy Verrill, via Facebook

After West Ham I fancied a move away. Why not? It was sold to me well, the finances were very appealing and it was in the back of my mind that I might pack it all in soon. I thought three or four months would be good. Someone told me I would be the first English player to play out there and that milestone appealed to me, too. The club are in the south of Russia, the weather was great and I liked it. It was certainly an experience.

What was your second spell with Blackburn like? Did you find the club quite chaotic under Venky’s?
Chris Lawson, via email

When I came back from Russia, I went back to Spurs and waited it out to the end of my contract. Blackburn came in, and I’d liked it there first time around so I thought: ‘Let’s give that a go’. But I found a very different place. Venky’s had come in and the club was all over the place. The club I knew had gone. I think that was the last nail in the coffin for me. I had fallen out of love with football.

Your last professional game for Blackburn was away at Cardiff in a 3-0 defeat. What was going through your mind during that game? Were you thinking of quitting?
Gareth Benson, via Facebook

My dad was at the game and he knew I was on the edge. There were problems in the camp and I was getting caught up in all the political shit. I played and I was rubbish, and at half-time there was a big row in the dressing room. I hated that. I would always defend myself and players, but this time I wasn’t arsed.

We went back out, I walked around for 15 minutes and got taken off. I looked at my dad in the stands and just shook my head. I welled up and came off. As I took my pads off, I said: “This is the last game I ever play.” And it was. That was that.

Where do you get your hair cut? And what product do you use? Fabulous volume!
Chris Burden, via Facebook

I haven’t had my hair cut by a professional since I was seven! I do my own hair. I have funny hair – it’s a bit crazy. I use VO5. I get it from Morrison’s in Gibraltar.

You said you quit because football had lost its sense of fun. What was the craziest bit of ‘banter’ you ever suffered?
Harrison Prescott, London

I had my car stolen, but the worst was someone shitting in my wash bag when I was at Spurs. I think it was Jonathan Woodgate. I opened it up and there was a big turd inside. I found it funny. Every day, mad things would happen. Once, I walked out onto the training pitch in Ugg boots. Harry took one look at me and said: “F**k off.”

Is it true that at one stage in your career you were placing 100 bets a day?  
Alan Venn, via Facebook

Yeah, I was bit of a gambler. I had a dog and two racehorses. I loved it. I did have a bit of a problem, though. I struggled with it. I needed a vice, I think. I wasn’t into video games or DVDs. It was addictive, but I always had a lid on how much I’d bet. I was quite good at it. I started out with one grand in my online account and ended up with 70. But I was aware that it could have got out of hand.

You were involved in an Irish TV programme last year, playing a Gaelic football match for the well-known Crossmaglen Rangers. How did you feel about that experience overall?
John Britton, via Facebook

I got a phone call from a television company asking if I’d like to give it a go. I get loads of those – things like I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! – but this one interested me, so I became a Gaelic footballer for a week. We were up in Northern Ireland. It might have been tricky, as my family are all armed forces, but it was brilliant. The people were superb.

How did the restaurant business come about? Who’s the most famous guest you’ve had in there so far, and who would you most like to serve dinner to?
Reuben, Liverpool

I started La Sala in Marbella with my agent Rob Segal and a few others. We have one in Chigwell in Essex, too. I love it. We had the Prince of Monaco in here once. My ideal guest would be Leonardo DiCaprio – he’d be fun!

This feature originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!

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