In the nicest possible way, Jimmy Bullard says David Bentley is a ‘wrong ‘un’.
His description is purely affectionate, based on his pal’s penchant for mischief and high jinks.
But the key sentiment is that Bentley wasn’t quite the same as a lot of other footballers.
A free-thinker in an age where media training can stifle the beautiful game’s more colourful characters, Bentley’s decisions were often big and his actions sometimes unconventional.
We’re talking about a player who screamed Fabio Capello’s cheeky nickname in his face and sneaked McDonald’s into an England camp, without the boss’ knowledge.
He was once fined for ‘moshing’ at a Kings of Leon gig and was may have brought an end to his Tottenham career by drenching manager Harry Redknapp live on TV.
And he owned a baby blue Ford Mustang because he was obsessed with the 1970 crime film Bullitt in which Steve McQueen drove a car of the same model and style.
You might even call him a maverick.
Here, in this week’s Wildcard Wednesday, we’re celebrating the man dubbed ‘the new David Beckham’, who fell out of love with football and retired at 29 to Marbella with wife Kimberley…
From a young age, Bentley did things a little differently. His upbringing was hardly your average.
Born in Peterborough, Cambs, his dad’s job in the RAF meant the family moved around a lot. While living in Belgium as a child, Bentley even learned to speak Flemish.
And bizarrely, he’s been his own barber since he was seven.
He told FourFourTwo: "I haven’t had my hair cut by a professional since I was seven! I do my own hair. I have funny hair – it’s a bit crazy."
Eventually, his parents relocated to England, settling in Highams Park, north London, and he joined Arsenal’s youth set-up at the age of 13.
He made his Gunners debut in January 2003. By the time he left for Blackburn in 2006, he’d made just nine appearances in all competitions, scoring once goal – a sublime chip against Middlesbrough.
Later, he told how he had issues with gambling while at Arsenal, placing as many as 100 bets a day at his peak before addressing the problem in 2005.
In June 2007, having impressed for Blackburn, even scoring a hat-trick in a 4-3 victory over Manchester United, Bentley was called up to the England under-21 squad.
However, concerned about fatigue, he called manager Stuart Pearce to say he was "shattered" after playing 60 games in the season and would be sitting out.
Pearce was apparently unimpressed.
Speaking to FourFourTwo in 2016, Bentley said: "Pearce didn’t say much, but the next day he was in the papers, slagging me off, and he even compared my decision to soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. That was strange.
"I think that may have been when I started to fall out of love with the game a little.
"I thought: ‘What a load of sh*t this is’. I could have just told Blackburn to say I was injured, because they didn’t want me to go, but I didn’t. I called Pearce and was honest, and that’s what I got."
Fortunately for him, it didn’t stop Capello calling him up to the senior squad the following season.
Bullard, who was a member of the same squad, has told how Bentley saved him from starving during the camp, where the militant Italian banned anyone from eating after supper at 7pm.
He said: "Bents was a great lad. The bloke is an absolute wrong ’un, make no mistake about that, but a lot of fun nonetheless. He was always laughing and I mean, always laughing."
Bentley apparently managed to get a delivery of McDonald’s into the team hotel and past their heavy security, which included a bouncer at either end of their corridor.
In his 2014 book, Bend It Like Bullard, the former Wigan and Fulham midfielder said: "‘Leave it to me,’ he said as he called a mate of his.
"Within half an hour, there was a knock at the door and Bentley’s mate was standing there with a large McDonald’s brown paper bag full of Big Macs and chips. You f***ing beauty!"
It might have been Bentley’s first time in the England set-up, but that didn’t mean he was on best behaviour – far from it.
According to Bullard, he was his "partner in crime when it came to taking the p***" out of Capello.
They decided the gaffer bore more than a passing resemblance to Postman Pat and amused themselves by singing the theme tune to the children’s TV show on the team coach.
Taking things a step further, they invented a game which involved saying "Postman Pat" as loudly as possible within earshot of the super strict Italian.
Bullard said: "I’d walk past Capello and say ‘Postman Pat’ out of the corner of my mouth, but Bentley took it to another level when he would walk straight up to the boss and scream ‘Postman Pat!’ in his face before adding ‘And his black and white cat!’ for good measure."
During the same camp, he apparently put himself on crossing duty, telling the boss he was "one of the best crossers in the country". To be fair, he wasn’t lying.
Advised by Capello to leave Blackburn to further his international career, Bentley joined Tottenham for £15million in July 2008, but things didn’t work out.
A few months into his Spurs career, he was fined for ‘moshing’ at a Kings of Leon gig.
He told FourFourTwo: "I had my top off in the mosh pit once at Wembley Arena – I was having a great night. The thing is, a picture got in The Sun and I ended up getting fined a week’s wages by Spurs!
"I’d seen them in Camden before they were famous and loved them. I met them eventually and ended up on a night out with the band. I’m not telling you about that night, though – rock ’n’ roll!"
On the pitch, things weren’t quite going to plan as Bentley struggled for game time.
Away from the field, he was having better luck. Much better luck.
In February 2009, he was filmed winning his agent’s £15,000 bet in a bet by kicking a ball from the roof of Red Bull’s HQ into a skip in a nearby building site.
His finest moment for Spurs came in the form of his first goal for the club – a 43-yard dipping volley in a 4-4 draw with arch rivals Arsenal in October 2008.
But he believes he effectively ended his career in north London when he decided to throw a bucket of water over manager Harry Redknapp live on TV.
He famously drenched his gaffer during a post-match interview after Spurs qualified for the Champions League with a win at Man City in 2010.
Bentley, in his underpants and shirt, then danced alongside his boss.
At the time, Redknapp laughed it off, but later admitted he thought it was "disrespectful".
Bentley played just twice more for Spurs before a handful of loan moves gave way to his departure.
He told The Telegraph: "It was just a celebration, I wasn’t trying to make him look silly. He wasn’t happy because he was trying to change his image and I went and chucked water on him.
"I played loads that year and there was no problem between us, but then that was the end for me."
Between 2011 and 2013, Bentley had spells at Birmingham, West Ham, FC Rostov in Russia and Blackburn again.
On the moment he decided he’d had enough, he told the Telegraph: "I went back to Blackburn and I came off in a game against Cardiff and said ‘that’s the last game I’ll ever play’.
With his outlandish hairstyles and larks, Bentley was often seen as a prankster whose sole aim was to have a laugh. But there’s a serious side, too.
While still playing, he put some of his money into a couple of bars and restaurants as he began to look towards life after football.
After hanging up his boots, he moved to Spain – Marbella, to be precise – where he part-owns the La Sala restaurant, and stayed there for three years.
He, wife Kimberley and their twins, Dyna and Dalton, have since returned to the UK, where they renovate houses and have a stake in La Sala in Chigwell, Essex.
More recently, Bentley has invested in a commercial cleaning company with his best friend and an accounting firm, among others.
Speaking to the Sunday Mirror last year, he said he would like to use his experience to help young footballers to manage their wealth properly.
He said: “I loved football but I also love this side of things – it stimulates me. I was brought up to always be busy, always work hard and always do things you love, and I’m someone who thinks with my heart rather than my head.
“In my head I should have carried on playing football but my heart told me: ‘It’s time to go now’.
“I do everything like that, so everything I do is a passion project. And I’m in flooring because I love the people I’m working with. I just love it and I wake up energised. I’m still living the dream.”
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