By Simon Glanville
I feel for Darren Bent. England’s upcoming European 2012 Qualifier with Montenegro was set to be the Sunderland striker’s big chance, a chance that he has more than merited to be presented with. Instead, injury has taken his chance away.
Bent has been on the fringes of the England squad for more than five years, a spell where he must have been asking himself what more he needed to do to get a go with his country.
His goal scoring record at club level has certainly been international class right from the word go. He sprung onto the scene at Ipswich, where, despite the majority of his goals coming in the Championship, he netted 47 times in just 103 starts; quite impressive for a young striker finding his feet in the game.
His goal scoring exploits saw him earn a move to Premiership Charlton in the summer of 2005, where he became the highest scoring Englishman in the Premier League with 18 goals in his debut Addicks season. He followed that up the season after by again leading the scoring charts for his club, despite their eventual relegation back to the Championship.
A big-money move then saw Bent arrive at Tottenham in 2007, where he faced stiff competition for a starting berth under Harry Redknapp. He managed eight goals in his first season at White Hart Lane but was used sparingly, with the partnership of Jermaine Defoe and Robbie Keane often preferred. In his second season at Spurs, the prolific Bent topped the clubs’ scoring charts, this time with 17 strikes in all competitions.
Despite leading the Tottenham scoring charts, it was no real surprise when Bent engineered a move to Sunderland after two years at White Hart Lane. A lack of starts was a clear frustration to a striker that obviously just wants to be playing football and scoring goals. Bent managed an excellent 18 goals from 32 league starts at Tottenham, a statistic that often goes unrecognised.
Bent even went to the extremes of using Twitter to vent his frustration at Spurs’ chairman Daniel Levy, who was holding up the move to Sunderland in the hope of a higher fee. His switch to the Stadium of Light eventually went through, and the goals have kept on coming.
The Tooting-born front man has already scored 49 goals from just 65 Sunderland starts, bringing his overall career record to a stunning 125 goals in just 248 starts, more than one goal every two games.
There is not much more that Bent could have done to warrant a go with England, but he has always been on the periphery of the international fold. Having represented his country at every youth level - including the Under-21s where he scored nine goals in 14 games – Bent received his first England call-up in August 2005 for a friendly against Denmark. He was an unused substitute.
He had to wait until March 2006 for his debut, this time in a friendly against Uruguay, but he failed to make the England World Cup squad for the 2006 tournament in Germany. He was unlucky to miss out then, but it was a travesty when he missed out for South Africa in 2010.
Bent was named in England’s provisional 30-man squad for the finals, after a season where only Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney scored more goals than him in the Premier League. But, shockingly, he once again missed out, a move that England may now regret after struggling for goals in South Africa.
He bounced back again last month – scoring his first international goal after coming off the bench in a 3-1 England win in Switzerland – to earn only his seventh England cap.
With Emile Heskey now retired from international duty and Jermaine Defoe and Bobby Zamora on the long-term injury list, Tuesday’s nights table-topping Group G clash with Montenegro was seen as Bent’s chance to shine.
Tipped to start alongside an out-of-sorts Wayne Rooney, Bent was set for his first real opportunity in an England shirt. Instead, a groin injury means he will be watching from the sidelines, and I fear he could be waiting a long time for another chance.
At the age of twenty-six he still has plenty of time on his side to establish himself in the England team, but Bent will know this was a big chance to show what he can do.
England don’t return to competitive action until March next year, when the likes of Defoe and Zamora may well be back in contention. Wayne Rooney should also be back to form a long time before then, which could push Bent back down the step he has been climbing up.
As a striker, all he can do is continue to score goals. I for one believe he deserves a real opportunity with England. Only time will tell if he’ll ever get it.