The curious case of Darren Bent

Despite scoring 20 league goals this season Darren Bent’s place in England’s World Cup squad is in doubt. The Sunderland striker is behind only Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba in this season’s scoring charts but is yet to convince Fabio Capello of his international pedigree

This would not be the first time Bent has been ignored by an England manager. Sven-Goran Eriksson left Bent, then at Charlton, out of the 2006 World Cup squad after he had scored 18 league goals, the top English goal scorer that year, instead taking the unproven Theo Walcott. Why is it that Bent is being ignored despite doing what is asked of him? Since arriving back in the Premier League after a three year spell with Ipswich in the Championship, Bent has scored 69 top flight goals. Only Wayne Rooney and Crisitano Ronaldo have more goals in the Premier League in that space of time.

The ex-Ipswich man has often been accused of missing easy chances. The bad publicity Bent gained after missing a header from two yards when playing for Tottenham Hotspur may stick in people’s minds. The striker’s confidence – if not dented enough by the miss – was diminished further by the comments of his then manager Harry Redknapp who proclaimed: “My missus could have scored that.” After this outburst Bent’s time at Spurs was all but up. In the summer Sunderland made another approach for Bent after failing in their first attempt in January. The deal was drawn out – Bent brought further bad publicity this time on himself by criticizing Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy, saying: “Do I wanna go Hull City no. Do I wanna go Stoke no. Do I wanna go Sunderland yes. So stop f*****g around, Levy.

An outburst such as this would hardly prove to Capello Bent’s attitude is right for a tense World Cup campaign. However, since then accusations have been made over John Terry and Ashley Cole’s conduct – would this put doubt in Capello’s mind if the Chelsea players could handle the rigours of the biggest football tournament in the World? Or is it a different story if the players play for a big four club? On the subject of ‘big four’ clubs an amazing fact about Bent is despite the struggles of Sunderland over the recent months his goal scoring form has never dipped. His shots-to-goals ratio of 27 % is only bettered by Fernando Torres, who has played fewer games, and is above that of Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe. The ratio is so high because of the few chances he gets playing for Sunderland, who are not the great attacking force of Manchester United and Tottenham. How many goals would Rooney get if Valencia, Nani and Giggs were not providing the crosses?

This would not be the first time a striker’s good form at Sunderland had gone unappreciated either. Kevin Phillips, the only Englishman ever to win the European Golden Shoe, was only ever awarded eight caps by his country, despite prolific form for Sunderland. Had Phillips secured a move to a big four club would this feat have gone unnoticed? Back to Darren Bent and his form at Charlton. If Bent had scored 18 goals for Liverpool the media would have made a huge hype over him being left out of the 2006 World Cup squad. Eriksson, despite not seeing Walcott score a Premier League goal decided to take him to Germany. Why? Probably because he played for Arsenal and not Charlton. Make no doubt about this – had Walcott done as Victor Moses has and gone to a lower Premier League side he would have been nowhere near the squad.

Bent will probably be over-looked in the England squad in favour of players such as Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole and Peter Crouch. Cole deserves his place in the squad and has a decent record this season – he is a handful for defenders with his physical presence and can score goals. Crouch also deserves to go South Africa – he has a decent record for Spurs this season and a quite sensational record at international level, albeit many of his goals have come against weak opposition. Heskey however is a mystery – he can be a handful at times but his finishing in front of goal leaves much to be desired. In a world where chances will be sparse – particularly in the latter stages – would the spot be better filled by someone who knows where the back of the net is? Is it worth the gamble of taking someone who is a handful against players such as Lucio, Walter Samuel and Carles Puyol, especially as the former made Didier Drogba look distinctly ordinary at Stamford Bridge last week? If England are 1-0 down in the World Cup final, this writer would prefer to see Darren Bent coming off the bench rather than Emile Heskey.

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