David Bentley, One-on-One: “I joined Spurs thinking Ramos would be another Wenger – but it was a nightmare”

David Bentley, FourFourTwo

Does he regret his U21 snub? Did he ever make Wenger laugh? And did he really kick a ball off an office block into a skip? The ex-England international revealed all in the May 2016 issue of FourFourTwo

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...

David Bentley

A year after leaving Blackburn, Bentley retired from football aged 29

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.

David Bentley, FourFourTwo

Photography: Solarpix

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.

Dennis Bergkamp

Bentley observed Bergkamp closely during his younger days at Arsenal

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.

David Bentley

Bentley decided to leave Arsenal for the sake of his career

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.

Robbie Savage

Robbie Savage: "perfect" for Bentley

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