“I have played with so many good players and won the Champions League at Bayern Munich but I can imagine David playing in the best teams in the world.”
These were the words of Roque Santa Cruz speaking about his then Blackburn Rovers teammate David Bentley, who began his career at Arsenal, in March 2008.
Bentley, 23 at the time, looked destined for bigger and better things and sealed a £15 million move to Tottenham several months later.
But it was at Spurs where the talented winger, who earned a total of seven caps for England, began to lose his love for the sport.
After the most infamous moment of his career (drenching manager Harry Redknapp with a large bucket of water on live television after Tottenham qualified for the Champions League), Bentley fell out of favour and eventually ended up playing on loan at Birmingham City, West Ham, Russian side FC Rostov and finally Blackburn before announcing his retirement in 2014 aged just 29.
Speaking to The Athletic in 2020, Bentley said: “I played a lot that season (2009-10) but then, bucket over the head, and you watch — I barely played again.”
David Bentley relives the moment the Spurs squad soaked Harry Redknapp live on Sky Sports 😂 pic.twitter.com/ECIgaDqtOs— Football Daily (@footballdaily) March 26, 2018
What happened to David Bentley?
The retired Premier League footballer has been on quite the journey since hanging up his boots eight years ago.
“People want to focus on ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ but for me it’s ‘Where did it go right?’” he told The Athletic. “The age I’m at, I could still be a footballer but I couldn’t imagine still playing now. I haven’t played for seven years and have done so much. I lived in Spain with the family for three years, I’ve built businesses. I’ve had such a great time, being with my children every day.
“I can’t imagine now, still going through the same routines, playing until I’m heading towards 40. People say, ‘I bet you wish you were still playing’ and I’m like, ‘Why?’. ‘Because of loads of money,’ they say. Because that’s what is drilled into us. But I’ve got more money than when I started. If I’ve got £100, I’m alright.
“I loved football but then it ran its course.”
Bentley went on to run the Sala group, which comprises bars and restaurants in Spain and Gibraltar, and moved to Marbella in order to take a more hands-on role with the company.
Ever wondered what happened to local boy David Bentley?— 🆃🅷🅴 🅶🅰🅼🅴 🅼🅰🅶🅰🆉🅸🅽🅴 (@TheGameMag1) February 24, 2017
He swapped Football for pouring Cocktails in Marbella at his Bar La Sala Banus!! pic.twitter.com/N7RbNq3qyf
He later returned to the UK and had a range of business interests, including Sala, that he helped to run – including a bespoke flooring company, GFF Bentley and Howell, based in Stansted.
“I’ve learnt so many things being attached to businesses,” Bentley said, reflecting on life after football and his second career. “With what I do now, every day is different.
“It really is exciting. Football; yes, it gives you comfort but in the end it became… it wasn’t exciting.”
Bentley: The reality of football was a let-down
Bentley believes that footballers are too robotic these days and misses mavericks like England legend Paul Gascoigne.
“I grew up with Euro ’96 and Italia ’90, and that’s where the love of Paul Gascoigne and football came from,” he said. “After that, that was it. I was going to be a footballer. I was five years old and that was it, ‘bang’. You see all that and you think I want to be a part of it, I want to be in the dentist’s chair!
“That spirit, that’s what you wanted to be a part of. But the reality was a let-down.”
He added: “Football, for me, is an art form; a creative art form that you express with natural ability, which you maximise through the dedication of being fit. But I think things changed when it became a job.
“It was a rock-star life. You’re getting paid to play football every day. It was incredible. And then it got… halfway through my career, it was like, ‘This is a job’. Even though you took it seriously before, it was still like a rock star getting on stage and singing naturally. But then, if the managers are telling them exactly how to sing, it becomes robotic and too choreographed.
“I’d like to see that natural element come back into the game a little bit, that off-the-cuff maverick kind of expression.”
Bentley also wanted to help young players look after their money
As well as his business interests, Bentley also previously expressed a desire to help young footballers avoid wasting their money due to being mismanaged and misrepresented.
“Players are mismanaged and they don’t have the large amounts of money people think they have,” Bentley said in 2018, per The Mirror. “When you’re looking at global wealth, footballers are well down the list. They only have a 10-year period to earn their money and it’s something I’d like to help players out with because a lot of the time they are being misrepresented.
“It’s because of the lack of knowledge they have of managing money. I say to people that the years before I turned professional were my university years – all players are focused on then is making it as a footballer.
“So the money they earn when they’re playing has to last until they are 80-odd and a lot of players don’t think about that.
“They’re spending more than they should be spending given how their wages average out over the course of their lifetimes.
“They have to be managed properly and they have to take a personal view on it and keep control of their spending.”
And it seems that Bentley, who turns 38 in August, has no regrets about his life choices.
“I look back on my life and hopefully I’m only about halfway through it, and I think it’s been good,” he said. “It’s been one hell of a ride.”
That's how you do it! What a strike from David Bentley 🎆⚽🎆 pic.twitter.com/YL3AQhPwUA— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) September 21, 2019