David Bentley insists his departure from Tottenham Hotspur was unconnected with the simultaneous arrival of a certain celebrity footballer from Los Angeles. All the same, the mantle of "the new David Beckham" may weigh less heavily as he begins his six-month loan to Birmingham City in Sunday's derby against Aston Villa at St Andrew's.
Bentley, 26, operates in the same position on the right of midfield as the iconic figure to whom he was unhelpfully likened by the then England manager Steve McClaren. Indeed, with his chiselled features, ever-changing hairstyle and designer stubble he could pass for Beckham's kid brother. Yet while Birmingham's players have already given him "a bit of banter" over the comparisons, Spurs' forgotten man aims to rebuild his career on his own merits.
"There are similarities in that I get up and down the wing like him, putting crosses in, though I've never really looked to base my game on him. I give you my word. Some people think I wake in the morning with a poster of him on the bedroom wall," he said impishly, bowing in mock worship before the imaginary picture of Beckham, "or thinking 'how's he got his hair today?'"
Far from being Becks Lite – an impression compounded by the fact that four of his seven England caps came as substitute for Beckham – Bentley was keen to correct "misconceptions" about his lifestyle. They arose after Juande Ramos, who he believed was going to be "the new Wenger", bought him for £15m from Blackburn Rovers. "People think I'm flash and go to premieres, but that's not me. Sometimes people think I don't want to play but I love what I do. I love coming in to work and sometimes it can get lost in translation that I toss things off."
His reputation as a prankster (he was one of three players who tipped a bucket of water over Spurs manager Harry Redknapp during a TV interview) may have contributed to his frivolous image. Bentley, however, insists he has "not lost touch" with his "working-class background", surrounding himself with friends and family as he did before leaving Blackburn. "Sometimes I could be a bit more media-savvy," he admitted. "I think with my heart instead of my head. And you can be a bit protected by PR teams who can make a pile of shit look like gold. I've always just played my football and smiled."
Snarls, rather than smiles, tend to be in evidence when Birmingham and Villa collide. Bentley anticipated "an intense day" albeit one he was "really looking forward to". He may start on the bench, having played barely three hours' first-team football this season. "Spurs had 25 players who could be in the first 11. I got injuries and certain players like Aaron Lennon were obviously playing so well in my position. So it's difficult for the manager.
"Now I'm in probably the best condition in my career, and hopefully that will show when I play. I've got to get the fundamentals right and work hard. Birmingham deserve that. They don't need me coming in thinking I'm a creative player who doesn't have to run much. I'm going to have to graft. If I do, I know my quality will come through."
As for Beckham, he expects he will have "a positive effect" at Spurs, both on the pitch, where as his former understudy noted, "neither of us has had to rely on pace" and in terms of their "worldwide appeal". For Bentley, the first challenge will be altogether more parochial.Reuse content