Bent for England. The cry was heard again after his latest goalscoring feats. But some observers feel Fabio Capello will not be swayed by his remarkable record in a team that – at least before our mini-run – had hardly kept him supplied with a consistent stream of quality service …
The Daily Star is not a newspaper to which Salut! Sunderland turns as a matter of everyday routine.
It may be a fountain of wisdom and truth, but we prefer other sources of information. But an item about Darren Bent’s suitability – or supposed unsuitability – for a place in England’s World Cup squad leapt from the laptop page.
“Darren Bent’s 21 goals for Sunderland this season have done little to convince his critics that he is England calibre,” the report began. “And even if Bent goes on to hit 30 in the Premier League this season – generally considered to be the mark of an outstanding goalscorer – he will remain a long shot to force his way into Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad.”
You don’t need too long a memory to be taken back to Euro 2000, when one Kevin decided that another was not good enough for England.
Kevon I was Keegan, a good player in his time who impresses some when it comes to managership but leaves many others cold. Kevin II was SuperKev, who had just scored 30 goals in the Premier; he also won that season’s Golden Boot award as the top striker in Europe.
At least he was taken along for the ride to Holland and Belgium, but he didn’t get a sniff of a place in any starting team, or even a call-up from the subs’ bench.
Keegan’s team managed to lose two of the three group stage games. The tournament lost nothing from our exit, or from the departure of that feral minority among the travelling support that had done its usual anti-PR job on the good name of England (how big or small a minority has been explored here on more than one occasion). But it was a relief for Sunderland fans that leaving aside the gross unfairness of his exclusion, Phillips could be blamed by no one for our failure.
In a rare outbreak of fairness towards Keegan, I would say Phillips’s all-round game improved after Euro 2000. He already looked a very good footballer even when not in front of goal, but he became a much better one, causing some Sunderland fans to start wondering only a few months later whether his best position might not be as an attacking midfielder.
Bent’s problem is similar to the one that handicapped SuperKev: he is, at this stage of his career, seen as a goalpoacher and little more.
Steve Bruce can recite, as often as he wants, the mantra that Bent has given a lot more to the side, that he “works hard for the team, his link-up play is decent, he’s quick, good in the air and all told, is an excellent all-rounder”. The words are lost on his striker’s detractors.
I got involved in a lively little debate at the VillaTalk site after posting a message thanking one of its subscribers, Josh Henwood, for his preview at Salut! Sunderland of tonight’s match at Villa Park.
The site moderator, “BOF”, entered into the spirit of goodwill: “Good stuff. And if you look around the ‘other football’ forum you’ll see that a lot of our posters have Darren Bent in the top 10 players in the world list.”
I reminded BOF that a Mackem posting to the BBC 606 site had cheekily offered the following equation should we come under unstoppable pressure from Martin O’Neill: “If he REALLY wants Bent…I’d say G Agbonlahor + A Young + £10m for D Bent + A Reid.”
It was all too much for “Warnock of Kidderminster”. “Sunderland fans expect better players than they can bargain for,” came his waspish retort. “All the time.”
At first glance, a very odd comment., even odder than “ClaretMahoney”s claim that the 606 taunt was very cheeky indeed because Reid was s*** (he’s not).
But rather than reply in similarly derogatory terms, I said: “Yes, the simple fact is that it’s even harder to get players of any stature – or, maybe as important, Mrs Players – to move to the North East than it is to the Midlands. You’d say people are mad to be negative about Birmingham and I’d say the same about my region, but it happens all the time. It’s human nature; I have spent most of my own life living and working elsewhere.
“That said, another simple fact is that Mr Bent is a more effective striker than anyone you’ve got. How can he be otherwise when he has scored so many goals in a team that has been useless for much of the season? Whatever happens tomorrow, Sunderland for once have players you’d have to break the bank for.”
BOF was still smiling on Salut!. “And a player many thought we should’ve broken the bank for when he was leaving Spurts,” he wrote.
“Carew-Villa” challenged my argument, insisting that Carew’s 13 goals from 10 starts showed he might be more effective if fit for most of the season. He seemed to change tack and admit that Bent was probably the better goalscorer, but added: “The reason why I don’t think he will get in the England squad is that he doesn’t seem to contribute much else to the team other than scoring goals but we’ve already got Rooney and Defoe to score us the goals and I think Capello wants two goalscorers and two hold up players and to be honest, Defoe just edges Bent in terms of goalscoring ability IMO.”
I know SAFC fans who support Carew-Villa’s analysis (on Bent vs Defoe); there are clearly many non-SAFC fans who agree with Steve Bruce and BOF.
But the jury is still out. It’s not a jury of 12, but of one and if the Daily Star is right, Darren Bent may yet have to settle for sitting at home and watching televised coverage from South Africa.
* With thanks to A Love Supreme for the images: the ALS Darren Bent T-shirt.and Kevin Phillips.