Darren Bent’s scoring record speaks for itself. Since his difficult spell as a bit-part player at Tottenham ended, Bent has produced the goods week in, week out in three Premier League seasons with Sunderland and Aston Villa. He has scored 41 goals in the last two Premier League campaigns – more than any other English striker.
Bent’s record in the England youth teams is no different. He produced nine goals in 14 games for the under-21 side, having managed three in three at under-19 level. And yet, in the five years since his England debut, the pre-World Cup 2006 friendly against Uruguay at Anfield, Bent has amassed just 11 caps. He started his first competitive international when England faced Wales in Cardiff back in March (and scored). In all, Bent has four goals in those 11 appearances – not bad as half of them were cameo run-outs as a substitute.
And yet whenever Bent’s name is seen in an England squad, even now, he appears to inspire only doubt and concern among national team supporters. It is as if Bent is becoming the 2010s equivalent of his current club teammate, Emile Heskey. He has neither the trust nor the confidence of the England faithful, and except for the few minutes after he scores, it is none too difficult to find yourself a fellow detractor with whom to share a complaint about his performance.
Are England fans right to doubt Bent’s value in the national shirt, though? This is a man who has demonstrated an instinctive predatorial ability ever since he burst onto the Championship scene at Ipswich Town, forming an unstoppable strike combination with Shefki Kuqi. (I know that sounds absurd, but I watched them a lot, so trust me.) Only Wayne Rooney among English strikers challenges Bent’s strike rate over the duration of his Premier League career – the likes of Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Ashley Young et al are lagging some way behind.
There are certainly elements of Bent’s game which appear to diminish his value to Fabio Capello’s squad. Bent tends to be very quiet for spells of a game when his team is in the ascendancy; although there are signs of him developing the ability to drop deep and link up in a Villa shirt, it has never been a strength of his and it is yet to be witnessed of him at national level. As a result, his work rate has often been criticised as sub-standard for an England player.
Bent is much more comfortable, quite clearly, using his pace and power to lead the line, making runs off the last defender for through balls and poking in loose balls in scrambled penalty area situations. I have also heard criticisms of his passing and he either does not possess, or at least has never showcased, a regular ability or affinity to shoot from range.
It should be remembered, though, that these are not the skills on which Bent’s career has been built. He is, purely and simply, a goalscorer. He is a proven goalscorer who now has a decade of experience of leading a line. In six Premier League seasons since leaving Ipswich, Bent has scored 92 goals in 209 Premier League appearances. And in the post-Rooney preparations for England’s 2012 European Championships, a record of practically one goal in two should be enough to merit Bent a prominent role in the construction of England’s new strike force.