How much longer can Darren Bent be ignored?
What is it with Darren Bent? The Sunderland striker has scored goals wherever he has played his football but he is still yet to be given a real opportunity to produce the goods in an England shirt. In fact, it seems as though he will once again be overlooked for the Three Lions World Cup squad, as he was in 2006, when Fabio Capello has to make his final 23-man selection.
Four years ago Bent was the highest placed English goal scorer in the Premier League but he missed out to Theo Walcott. This time he will more than likely finish only behind Wayne Rooney in the charts of English front men, but it looks ever more likely that the 26-year-old will once again miss out despite bagging 20 goals in 30 games this year in the league in a struggling side. Bent have proven to be a revelation in the North East after leaving Tottenham where many fans didn’t take to him, suggesting that he needed to be the main man and the focus point of attacking moves in order to be truly effective. If this is true then it would suggest one reason why Bent has struggled to get a regular England call-up. But nevertheless his stats are very impressive. Since moving to Charlton Athletic five years ago he has scored 69 Premier League goals, a total only beaten by Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in the same time frame. And you would think such a consistent goal-getter would have seen more playing time for his national side than his five caps so far. Claims that Bent is not a natural finisher can also be quashed by the fact that this season his shots-to-goal ratio is 27 per cent – only Fernando Torres has a better percentage.
Bent’s manager Steve Bruce has recently been keen to knock back suggestions that his number nine is purely just a poacher, too – stating that he has an all-round game that would definitely benefit England.
Bruce said: “I keep hearing that Darren is just a goalscorer. But he’s been a lot more than that for us. 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. I hope for the kid’s sake that he goes to South Africa because he’s had a wonderful return for us and certainly wouldn’t let anyone down.’’
But perhaps Bruce also inadvertently gave the answer as to why Bent has not been given more opportunities with the Three Lions.
The Sunderland boss added: “Darren is a different type to Heskey. To get the best out of him, he has to play off someone. And I know he’d love to play alongside Emile. In fact, every striker who plays with him enjoys it because he is so unselfish, leads the line so well and brings others into games.’’
Everybody knows that Rooney is the first name on Capello’s team sheet and the other strikers will need the capability to partner him in attack. If what Bruce says is correct then it links back to the murmurs from Spurs fans that Bent needs to be the main man and is at his devastating best when performing alongside a target man – someone who can feed him the ball in order to produce the goods. While Rooney is a fabulous creator, maybe a partnership with Bent would not suit either of them. And the question is then, how effective would the Sunderland forward be coming off the bench for England? I’m sure his pace would cause problems and I would personally like to see him involved with the squad. But Capello obviously has other ideas and shares the doubts of many that Bent cannot hack it at the very highest level. His fantastic strike-rate this season hints that this is not the case, but unfortunately for Bent it will more than likely not be enough to save him from another summer watching England from afar.