Darren Bent burst onto the scene as a 17 year old at Ipswich Town, making 3 starts and scoring once against Middlesborough in the 2001-2 season. As an Ipswich fan, I take pride in our youth system, and Bent came through with the ‘other’ Darren, Darren Ambrose as two promising players who moved on in the future following financial woes at the club.
Darren Bent was exciting. He was a true goalscorer and had the pace and power to frighten defenders – and most of all, and most importantly, he knew where the back of the net was (as the cliche goes) – so what has gone wrong and why is Bent, one of the hot young properties in England, now a 30 year old struggling to get a game at Aston Villa (after being frozen out last summer, bizarrely after being handed the interim captaincy which subsequently lead to a move to Fulham)
So let’s break his career down;
Ipswich Town FC
I could do a biographical piece, wax lyrical about how he was always eager, worked hard and had the confidence and pace at such a young age to take players on – how at a birthday party when I was 7-10 or something he was at Laser Quest and signed my friend, the birthday boy’s cast. How he was part of the Joe Royle dawn, where we coulda shoulda woulda been promoted with a team of very average players who worked incredibly well together.
Here’s how he did;
2004-5 is the tasty season – the meaty one where he scored 20 in the league and assisted 16. The partnership with the Big Finn Shefki Kuqi was monsterous, and as I mentioned and bemoaned, Town should have been promoted. But in any league, in any season, 20G and 16A are incredible – reflected in an impressive scoring contribution of 0.824 per 90 – for context, Benzema last season’s was 0.84, Neymar was 0.83 and Ross McCormack was 0.785.
So this curve is a combination of staying fit, playing games and being the focal point of every Town attack. Then came a failed promotion, the hawks circled and just like that, he was a £3m Charlton Athletic player.
Bent moved aged just 21 in 2005-6 (Crucial); he was at the height of his confidence, ready to take the Premier League by storm. And he kinda did. Scoring twice I think on his debut, then finishing his first season as the highest scoring English striker. Nailed on to go to Germany ’06 and tear that up too, the young and hungry Bent. Right? He should be on that plane with Rooney, Owen and Peter Crouch, right? Wrong.
Sven picked f*cking Theo Walcott (who hasn’t been to a World Cup since). 16 year old Theo Walcott. Fresh from signing on to Arsenal.
England were knocked out on penalties by Portugal and Walcott did not play a minute. Peter Crouch lead the line against Portugal because Owen was injured and Walcott was.. well… 16.
Anyway, enough of me moaning. This is how he did;
Eh. Less exciting but still a good number of minutes played, and a very solid return. Started taking penalties at Charlton too – Tommy Miller wouldn’t ever let him near the ball at Town. Anyway, 25 non-penalty goals in 68 appearances is nothing to be ashamed off. So what do Spurs do?
They sign him for £16.5m – with add-ons I guess. Insane.
And so it began. Spurs signed him and there was HUGE pressure for him to perform. In a team where Defoe and Keane ruled, how was young 23 year old Darren gonna get a game? Harry had faith. Right?
Faith or no faith, his first season, Bent didn’t start much at all – just 11 starts, and 16 appearances from the bench. HOWEVER – check out that scoring contribution. 0.862 – higher than ITFC levels, but again, pinch of salt. The boy was coming off the bench, but he was assisting again. Which was good.
Season 2, not so good. 11NPG and 2A but 21 starts. More game time = less insane scoring stats. Either way, 0.538 means he had a hand in a goal every other game he played. Good stuff. So no wonder Sunderland came a-knocking, with a £10m rising to £16.5m fee agreed.
Boom, Bent is approaching his prime here – and it’s another World Cup year. Capello seems like a guy who knows what he’s doing right? So Bent moves up the country to Wearside, and the Stadium of Light. Starts every single game, 19NPG, 4A and a SCp90 of 0.612. Bish, bash, bosh. Nope – not enough. Rooney, Defoe, Heskey and Crouch chosen, and Benty left at home. Disappointed again.
Ted Knutson of the wonderful, beautiful StatsBomb has actually done a great radar on this season. This visual aid is much better to understand than my data dumps and non-visuals.
Hmm. Second season he secures a HUGE money move to Aston Villa – £18-24m is quoted. He repays that by scoring more goals in the second half of the season than the first. Villa love him, they’ve got a goalscorer and Martin O’Neil has the money to make things happen. All is wonderful. Rosy.
Then the injuries begin.
Aston Villa ft. Fulham
Bent’s time at Aston Villa is a weird one. He’s still there, aged 30 – but he was frozen out last summer and spend the summer on loan to Fulham (doomed for relegation. Chaos that was)
Definitely in decline. 2011-12 ended in injury for the big man, 2012-13 was recovery and eventual freeze out and 13-14 was a loan to a club where Berba was the main man for a bit, then Bent came back into the fold toward the end (still, scored a goal at Old Trafford to crash Moyes’s party)
Now 30, Bent (in my eyes, and from the scoring stats) is still a good player.
Ipswich fans, Murphy’s SCp90 last term was 0.462 and McG finished with 0.540 – Nouble was similar to Bent with 0.350 (doesn’t mean they’re similar – I mean it does, but don’t let this prejudice you)
So what has happened to Darren Bent? A crisis in confidence, the wrong moves at the wrong times, and little faith. This should be a cautionary tale to any young, budding striker who moves to a Premier League club for big money. Is Connor Wickham the next? Jordan Rhodes is one who can be regarded a success – dropped a division, scored mad goals and then got a big move to the Championship – where he’s still on of the best strikers.
I’d love Darren Bent back at Ipswich. Would be an excellent swansong, but that’s my rose tinted glasses.