#10 – Darren Bent
While the rest of the country gawped over Sven Goran Eriksson’s bravery in picking an inexperienced teenager for the 2006 World Cup, Charlton supporters were left understandably frustrated.
It remains a complete farce that Theo Walcott’s potential was deemed more worthy of selection than Darren Bent’s actual ability. Faith given to a boy with no Premier League appearances; the Premier League’s top English goal scorer ignored.
There was, of course, bitter disappointment for Bent himself. Apart from have scored his 22 goals in all competitions for a club the England management paid attention to, there was little else the prolific forward could have done to get himself selected.
But there was also a personal sense of sadness among Charlton supporters that they would not be able to support a player at the World Cup who had wowed them so frequently at The Valley.
For by the time that World Cup squad was announced, the prolific forward was religiously adored by all in SE7. The then 23-year-old was exceptional throughout the 2005/06 season, genuinely having that aura about him that meant there was a roar of expectation each time he had a sight of goal.
In fact, owing to some scintillating pre-season form and two extraordinarily composed finishes in his debut at Sunderland, Bent had become something of a cult hero before he’d even played a competitive home game.
Or that was at least the case for myself. Completely thrilled by the prospect of such a quality finisher playing for Charlton, ‘Bent 10’ found its way onto the back of my shirt before he’d made any sort of appearance at The Valley.
His first league outing in SE7, coming against Wigan Athletic, failed to disappointment. His goal, an excellent header, enough to give the Addicks a 1-0 win. Fears that the £2.5m paid to Ipswich to secure the striker’s services was something of a gamble, despite his impressive record in the second tier, averted.
If anything, without even taking into consideration the profit made, that fee proved to be something of a bargain. There’s been a criticism throughout his career that Bent provides goals and nothing more, but his pace, drive and frequent running of the channels in his early days as an Addick provided an all-round package that was simply a joy to watch.
That £2.5m also provided me with something priceless. It meant Charlton, or at least a Charlton player, became almost relevant among my school friends who followed top four clubs. So often laughing off my claims that Talal El Karkouri was the best player in the world, even they had to admit that Bent had a touch of quality about him.
So that some of his best performances in that season came against the Premier League’s big boys was very pleasing. His two goals in vein against Tottenham, his strike against Chelsea in the League Cup victory and a penalty converted passed Jerzy Dudek on a night where he was simply unplayable against Liverpool all marvellous.
An England debut soon followed, slightly underperforming as the national side beat Uruguay, but there was genuine pride in seeing Charlton’s forward starting up top for his country. That he broke into the England side so close to the World Cup makes it doubly frustrating that he was ignored for a kid.
But that did not stop him from scoring goals in the following campaign. In fact, Bent’s cult status only increased as the Addicks became reliant on his goals and Scott Carson’s goalkeeping exploits to even stand a chance of avoiding relegation.
Bent, even with the captain’s armband given to him, couldn’t do it on his own. Not least because he was unable to remain fit for the entire season, missing six games that produced just one win across January and February, but also because his goals couldn’t paper over the cracks in Charlton’s side.
His goals against Everton and Blackburn towards the end of the season should have galvanised the Addicks, but his teammates conspired to capitulate in emphatic fashion.
But those efforts didn’t go unappreciated. By the time he left for Tottenham in 2007, his 13 league goals not enough to save Charlton from relegation, there was such a level of respect for Bent that there was not the selfish anger that meets the departure of most key players.
Of course, there was disappointment among those who had adored Bent for two seasons, and had refused to accept that relegation would signal the end of his Charlton career. But not only was there no realistic hope the Addicks would keep their prolific forward, not least when clubs could offer £16.5m for him, but such were the extent of his efforts, no one was begrudging him the chance to move to a much bigger club.
Especially when such a move would surely enhance his prospects of playing for England. Once the tears had been whipped away, Charlton supporters could still follow their talisman for their national side.
But that wasn’t quite the case. For a man who is one of just 24 players with over 100 Premier League goals (106), there’s a sense that Bent’s career hasn’t quite reached the heights his days in SE7 suggested it would.
Any Charlton supporter could sit you down for several hours and quite literally sing the praises of Darren Bent (Bent Bent). The best years of Bent’s career were spent at The Valley.
At Spurs, Sandra was considered more potent. At Sunderland, his record was impressive, but the Mackens would sooner be seen in a Newcastle shirt than admit they appreciated Bent’s efforts. At Aston Villa, an unhealthy combination of Paul Lambert’s stubbornness and dodgy knees have seen him banished to the Championship; a loan move to Premier League Fulham, despite a goal celebrated with some vigour by myself against Manchester United, not doing his top flight career any favours.
Having only recently turned 31, it’s not unrealistic to suggest Bent should still be playing to the level that he was at Charlton. He should still be scoring Premier League goals and be around the England team.
But, in truth, Bent hasn’t been at that level for a number of years. His last relatively prolific season came in 2011/12 (ten goals in 25 games) and what will probably be his final England cap came in November of that season. 13 international appearances, none at a major tournament, and four goals a touch disappointing for a player who showed so much in SE7.
And while it’s fantastic to see him scoring again on a regular basis, with six in ten for Brighton and Derby, those goals should really still be coming in the top flight. Not least because it means he wouldn’t be scoring against his former club, which he’ll no doubt do at the end of this month.
It means there’s an argument that Bent’s career could have been something more. It’s something, certainly from an international perspective, I go along with.
But what Sven ignored, I got to see on a regular basis for two seasons, and I’m so glad I did. While the recent years of Bent’s career have led to some laughing at his early demise, the forward will always be something of a hero in my eyes.
Although the rest of his career hasn’t quite panned out how I expected, it takes absolutely nothing away from the quality, excitement and goals he provided in a Charlton shirt.
In terms of ability alone, Bent is best player I’ve seen in a Charlton shirt.