There was something about the incident involving David Bentley’s arrest for driving under the influence that grabbed this writer’s attention on reading it. Whilst the likes of Bentley and also similarly Jermaine Pennant – English products of the Arsenal youth set-up – publicly spoke of the club’s – and particularly Arsene Wenger’s – anti-English stance, their subsequent actions, lack of professional advancement on the pitch and attitude on and off it clearly highlighted one glaringly obvious truth – these young men are mistaking xenophobia for the simple fact they are not at the moment professional enough to be playing at the top level. Furthermore, it highlights the poor attitude and drink culture that still plagues some young English players today.
The arrest and evident dip in Bentley’s form since leaving Arsenal (although he did show glimpse’s of the clear natural talent he does possess at his time at Ewood Park), will certainly cement the fact that Wenger was spot on in letting the young Englishman leave in 2005, especially as a clause in his contract meant that the Gunners profited a further £7m from his later transfer from Blackburn to White Hart Lane. One would perhaps even allow Wenger permission to feel slightly smug at recent incidents, especially after Bentley made it public on numerous occasions his discontentment with the way he believed he was treated at Arsenal, with the club favouring its foreign and particular French contingency of ‘home grown’ talent. Also after he publicly advised another Englishman at the Emirates, Theo Walcott, to leave the north London outfit if he wishes to further his career – comments which Wenger was extremely displeased about. “Bentley is entitled to his opinion but it does not mean he is right. I don’t know why one player should incite another player to leave a club. It is not his job. When you are in one of the biggest clubs in the world you have to accept competition.”
Jermaine Pennant is another prime example. The now 26-year-old, currently based at Spanish club Real Zaragoza, claimed that not only Wenger, but also more recently Rafa Benitez had favoured foreign players over home grown talent and therefore contributed to his continued lack of progress and development as a footballer. But yet again, it was the player’s attitude more than anything that contributed to this decline. It was common knowledge at Arsenal that Pennant was continually late for training sessions, something Wenger considered a serious disciplinary problem. He also suffered disciplinary issues whilst with the national U-21 squad, being sent off against Croatia for punching a player, and having to be disciplined by then Coach Howard Wilkinson for continually breaking curfews. During his loan spell at Birmingham whilst still with Arsenal, the player was arrested and jailed for drink driving, which inevitably ended his Arsenal career. The club felt that his behaviour was totally unacceptable for a Premier League footballer and terminated his contract. After he was released from jail, he signed for Birmingham on a permanent contract.
Numerous other English players once considered to possess the potential to shine both domestically and internationally have fallen some way off the mark in recent years, not just in regards to performances on the pitch but more specifically to their attitude and behaviour off it, suggesting a correlation between the two. Although however, there are a few exceptions to this rule – players such as Ashley Cole, have proven that on the field he can mix it with the best, whilst off it his behaviour has proven far from suitable for that of a highly-paid professional footballer. Recent incidents involving the Chelsea full-back and also Ledley King in and out of various London establishments are evidence that the English drinking culture, although not as drastic as to the antics of days of the Paul Gascoigne, Tony Adams, Paul Merson, is still prominent.
This type of behaviour is not specific to the English players, one might recall spotting Nicklas Bendtner outside Boujis nightclub last season with his trousers around his ankles, the likes of Didier Drogba and some of the foreign Chelsea contingent are often seen out on the town after a big game (although more often or not with either Frank Lampard or John Terry present) but it is a problem with the English football culture, a problem that has been highlighted by foreign players who have experienced it first hand in comparison to their own countries football ethos. Gerard Pique said after his spell in England:“At United there were some incredible things happening. Everyone was allowed to eat what they wanted and one must remember that the English diet is just like people say. Every two weeks we had to be checked out on a machine that measured the amount of fat we had in our bodies. It would be a surprise that none of the players broke the machine because of the amount of hamburgers and beer they had.” There is a large difference however between scoffing down the occasional Big-Mac after training and driving whilst under the influence – what is apparent though is that there is still off-the-field issues that plague potential English future stars in regards to drinking, diet and behaviour in the public domain. The appointment of Fabio Capello will no doubt stamp out any egos or bad attitudes amongst the England set-up at present, and his presence has clearly proved to have a positive impact on the players already.
The influx of foreign players into the Premier League in recent years has if anything been a good example for young aspiring English players, as we are now breeding a crop of new England stars with a different mentality in regards to training, diet and behaviour off the field. The importance of diet and fitness – exemplified by Coaches such as Wenger since joining the Premier League – will no doubt benefit the next generation of England stars, if they can show their Coaches the level of self-control lacking in predecessors Bentley and Pennant.
For Bentley however, it is clear that this young man has his own demons to contest with and is extremely fortunate to have the backing of such a strong man-management Coach as Harry Redknapp, who will no doubt be able to help the player through this difficult time. We hope that a player of his clear natural talent can truly shine. He’s a long way off from present from filling the mantle (not quite vacated) of David Beckham. One would assume that if Bentley is having trouble emulating Beckham on the pitch, the least you would expect is that he could try to emulate him off it.