26 November 2009 ~ Harry Redknapp sold Darren Bent to Sunderland in the summer as he thought Jermain Defoe was a better goalscorer. With Fabio Capello now facing the same choice of strikers for a place in his World Cup squad, Bent will have woken up on Sunday a happy man. After he was harshly criticised for his performance in England's tame defeat to Brazil the week before, his goal against Arsenal should have been enough to restake his claim for a place in Capello's squad. That Defoe should respond with a five star performance against Wigan on Sunday afternoon was typical of Bent's recent luck.
Starting the game in Qatar was a big moment for the striker. Shortly after the final whistle he tweeted excitedly to his 20,000 following fans: "I loved every minute of it." While the match hadn't quite gone in his favour, it was still an occasion to savour. In only his fourth game for England the 25-year-old had reached the pinnacle of his career: playing against Brazil.
The English press did not share Bent's boyish enthusiasm. While he was not quite held up as a scapegoat for the defeat, he was singled out as the epitome of the team's malaise. Oliver Kay in the Times was typical of the match reporters in Qatar: "Bent's greatest achievement was getting his hands on Lúcio's shirt at the final whistle, but, as he left the stadium, he stated that he had 'loved every minute'. All 54 of them, that is, before he was unceremoniously hooked by Fabio Capello, his World Cup prospects having all but disappeared."
Henry Winter in the Telegraph added colour: "Darren Bent, who managed only 11 touches, might just as well have had a quiet word with management at the Grand Hyatt here, inquiring about rooms next June. Sandra Redknapp's got a better chance of going to the World Cup." The mocking of Bent overlooks overwhelming evidence for his inclusion in the international squad. No one could construe his performance in Qatar as a glowing success, but judging any England forward's ability on the basis of that game would be ridiculous. Playing at the tip of a team that could not get the ball, never mind keep it and create chances, was a task beyond even Wayne Rooney.
For a player who was quoted as 40-1 by most bookmakers to win the Golden Boot this season, Bent's goalscoring has been phenomenal. He has scored nine times in 13 games. Only Fernando Torres – who is increasingly injury prone – and Defoe – who benefited from Wigan's freakishly poor defending on Sunday – have scored more. Bent also has a habit of scoring important goals. His winner on Saturday made him the only player in the Premier League who has scored against all of the top four this season.
After a tough week facing "the England critics", as he calls them, Bent was unlucky to have received so little of the spotlight over the weekend. The news that he injured his hamstring against Arsenal and could be missing until Christmas added to his recent misfortune. But if Bent can recover his fitness and form he has every right to experience the chastening life of an international footballer. To play for England he'll need a thick skin to go with those goal averages.