Down in the mixed zone at Wembley Stadium – the area beside the dressing rooms where sometimes reluctant players briefly meet the media after a match – the familiar words of encouragement, hope and disappointment were trotted out by Tottenham Hotspur. And then Didier Zokora spoke. "David Bentley needs the confidence of the manager," the midfielder said. "When the player has the confidence, he wants to play 100 per cent."
Zokora's English is not the best and, maybe, the Ivorian's words sounded harsher than he meant. But it is clear that Bentley, all £15m of English international, and David Beckham's would-be replacement, is suffering from a crisis of confidence. And that crisis epitomises the problems faced by Spurs – and more immediately their manager Harry Redknapp – following defeat in the Carling Cup final on Sunday.
It is all the more galling for Redknapp because, despite Zokora's claim that his faith in the player may be diminished, Bentley was one of those the manager felt sure he could rejuvenate and re-build when he took over at Spurs. He still might. He certainly likes Bentley – as a player and a person – and responds to his chirpy character while no-one at the club has questioned his attitude or desire to train hard. It is understood Bentley reacted well to being left out of Sunday's starting line-up.
When Redknapp was at Portsmouth, he admired the 24-year-old although he realised he would not be able to meet the kind of asking price that Blackburn Rovers were demanding for the player. Now Spurs must be considering whether to move Bentley on, although a major stumbling block to that is the bare truth they are unlikely to realise anywhere near the price they paid for him.
The same can be said of others in the Spurs squad – the club tried hard to off-load Darren Bent and Giovani dos Santos and considered selling Jermaine Jenas in January. A major clear-out is expected during the summer. Redknapp's frustration is all too clear. His language – and his body language – is unmistakable. Home truths have been spoken, his agitation and anger grown. He has questioned the strength of character – such as following the away defeat to Wigan Athletic – and the ability.
This is not his squad, these are not his players and he does not particularly want to be associated with a team as unbalanced and underperforming as the one he inherited. Indeed, the list of those he wants to keep would be far, far shorter than the list of those he would happily move on in the summer.
For Spurs there is an alarming sense of déjà vu. Redknapp's predecessor, Juande Ramos, had similar concerns and even denied several players squad numbers as he drastically trimmed the squad – expecting it to be as lean as those he wanted to coach, with his questionable dietary regime. Meanwhile, the decision to sell and then quickly buy back Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane is simply bewildering. As organised a businessman as Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is – and he does well to squeeze every bit of cash he can out of running the club – he has to be deeply embarrassed by events.
Two years of relegation battles have followed two fifth-placed finishes and a realistic ambition of vying for Champions League football under Martin Jol. Redknapp's immediate ambition is to ensure it's not Championship football next season. "It gives us confidence going on these cup runs and playing the big teams in the finals," said captain Ledley King, trying to draw encouragement. "But we are not consistent enough and have to try and transform the form that we show in the cup into the league."
Bentley's case is typical. Where does he fit in? Spurs needed a left-winger and Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing – who they attempted to sign, again, in January and will return for once more in the summer – was the natural choice. They also needed more pace and, again, Downing has that. Instead, they bought a right winger, Bentley, although he is believed to have told Spurs he is comfortable on the left. And for all his passing ability and strength at set-pieces, Bentley is not quick.
He even found himself played through the centre, where he was lost, under Ramos. And his arrival – Spurs were the only serious bidders – complicated matters for Aaron Lennon, who is one of the few quick players in the squad. Lennon has now recovered and is key to Redknapp's plans.
Bentley's place is far less certain. A substitute, for Lennon, deep into extra-time on Sunday, he was booed by the Manchester United supporters, the only replacement from either side to receive such treatment. But then he has been there before – and at Wembley, having been jeered by England supporters when coming on against Israel in a Euro 2008 qualifier a few months after withdrawing from the under-21 squad at a European Championships because of fatigue.
Bentley recovered from that and starred in Fabio Capello's first game in charge of England, the friendly win against Switzerland, only to disappoint the Italian with his reaction to subsequently being left out of the starting line-up – in favour of Beckham – in the following match away to France. He has struggled to find a place since, with James Milner the latest to stake a claim ahead of him.
It is clear his career has again, following his time at Arsenal, hit a cross-roads. "For him it's difficult, but he can come back quickly," Zokora said of Bentley. "He is a strong personality and he brings a great atmosphere to the dressing room because he talks to everybody." Bent was equally encouraging of his team-mate, praising his desire to train and improve, although Bentley himself did not speak after Sunday's match, waving away attempts to make him do so.
That was understandable, although he is, usually, one of the players most ready to make himself available to the media, which has led to criticism that, perhaps, he talks too much and hones his image more than his football. It could be harsh but in that missed penalty in the shoot-out, Bentley encapsulated the lack of direction that the club he plays for – and not as often as he would like – is suffering from.
Five more who face Spurs exit
* Darren Bent Offered to West Ham and Sunderland in January, the striker is surplus to requirements.
* Jermaine Jenas Manager Harry Redknapp was initially unsure about the midfielder but has grown to value him. However, it is thought Jenas is unsettled.
* Tom Huddlestone Brought back into the side when Redknapp first arrived but has struggled to feature of late. Midfielder may want to leave for first-team football.
* Alan Hutton Still out injured, the Scottish right-back does not appear to feature in the manager's plans.
* Giovani dos Santos Has failed to settle or convince Redknapp of his worth. Fitness problems halted January move to Portsmouth.Reuse content