Sandra Redknapp, wife of Harry and mother of Jamie, has never sought the spotlight commanded by her famous footballing family but in Darren Bent's career – whether she likes it or not – Mrs Redknapp will always loom large.
It was after Bent, then a Tottenham player, failed to convert a relatively simple chance against Portsmouth at White Hart Lane in January 2009 that Harry, unable to contain his frustration, uttered his most famous of put-downs. "Even my missus could have scored that," he said after the game, forever connecting Bent's ability in front of goal to that of Sandra's, whose football pedigree has never been verified.
It was an off-hand remark that would have been a lot more common in the age before football, and football managers, was as minutely scrutinised as it is now. Redknapp has never apologised, maintaining ever since that modern footballers are too sensitive and require far more kid-glove treatment than those of yesteryear. As for Bent, 27, it is a quotation that will follow him around forever.
For a long time he looked like the fill-in when he made England squads. It was a year ago yesterday that he was named as one of seven players cut from the England squad that flew to the World Cup finals in South Africa. It has taken him more than five years to win a paltry nine caps. He had a chance to equalise against Croatia at Wembley in November 2007, a goal that would have taken England to Euro 2008.
To say Bent looked like the nearly man was to credit his international career with too much importance. But three goals in his last three England appearances, his first three international goals, have changed that. Fabio Capello has fallen in love with 4-3-3, and even with Wayne Rooney in the team against Wales in March – he is suspended for Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland – he played Bent through the middle.
Asked yesterday where his goals for England had changed perceptions about him for the first time since that infamous Sandra comment, Bent agreed. "Maybe. To be honest with you, I can't really remember [when it was]. Since that moment, I've scored a lot of goals. I've not let it affect me. I've not thought about it for a while until you said that. Maybe that's what it was.
"I know Harry's a well-liked guy. A lot of people listen to what he's got to say. For me, I just got on with it. It was hard for me at the time. Once I left the football club [Spurs], I just got on with it and tried to show people that I'm a good footballer who can score goals. That's what I've done."
And what if Redknapp was to take over when Capello departs next July? "I'll just play as well as I can for my club side," Bent said. "If Harry gets the job, then good luck to him. If I keep playing well for my club and he doesn't pick me, then obviously something's going on. But, at the same time, I'm sure he'll do a good job. We'll have to see." It is still remarkable that Bent, with three goals, is automatically accepted as the man to start ahead of Peter Crouch, with 22 goals in 42 caps, just 19 of them starts, but such is life in Camp Capello. However much Bent feels he has been undermined by people buying into the perception of him rather than the reality, he does not have it as bad as Crouch. Bent's end-of-season form, especially his two goals against Arsenal on 15 May, has been good.
"I'm at a period now where I feel more confident than ever before in my career," he said. "I don't think I have even been in so many [England] squads consecutively and got on the pitch so often as well. I am playing really well and things are going in the right direction.
"It [his first England goal against Switzerland in Basel in September] lifted a weight off my shoulders. Before that, as a striker, I was always judged on goals and playing well for my country. Playing for England is the top, top level and people questioned whether I could score for England. It lifted a massive weight off my shoulders and I have grown in confidence since then.
"In the [pre-World Cup] friendlies it was difficult as half the squad knew they were on the plane and the other were fighting to go. In those friendlies the games tend to pick up and get exciting in the second half. For me to get only 45 minutes was difficult. In my own mind, I knew I hadn't done enough to get picked but I always hoped. I took the positives and moved on."
It has been an eventful season, even apart from the 23 goals in all competitions. He made the controversial £24m move from Sunderland to Aston Villa in January and now faces the reality that Gerard Houllier, the man who signed him, will not return to the club following his second aortic dissection. His team-mate Ashley Young is all but gone to Manchester United and Stewart Downing looks to be heading out.
"You have to worry," Bent said. "They are top players and you have to worry when those type of players are being linked to other clubs. That's why I went to Aston Villa, to play with these kind of players."
Bent is expected to start in a front three with Young and Theo Walcott on Saturday. It is more than five years since his debut as a 22-year-old against Uruguay. Injuries aside, only four players who were in the squad that night are in the squad for Saturday. Since then Bent's England career has not unfolded as he would have hoped but it may at last have started to get going.
Players on the button
The controversies at Fifa have been on everyone's minds this week. Well, almost everyone... as this Q and A with an England player yesterday suggests:
Q: Have any of the lads been talking about what is going on at Fifa?
A: I've not heard anyone talking about it. We don't really get involved in all that. I thought you meant [the computer game] Fifa 11 at first.
- More about:
- Fabio Capello
- FIFA World Cup
- French Football
- Gerard Houllier
- Premier League
- Shane Williams
- Stewart Downing