Bentley happy to swap Spurs for Russia… even with its tanks and snipers
21:09 GMT, 13 October 2012
Staring out the team coach to see
tanks, snipers and armed convoys isn't anything David Bentley
experienced with Arsenal, Norwich City, Blackburn Rovers, Tottenham and
But having taken the decision to
'leave the comfort zone' and become the first English player to move to
the Russian Premier League, Bentley hasn’t been disappointed so far by
his adventures two thousand miles away with FK Rostov.
Pioneer: David Bentley is enjoying life at Rostov
Last weekend, while Spurs were enjoying a comfortable 2-0 victory against Aston Villa at White Hart Lane, Bentley and his new team-mates endured one of the more daunting fixtures in the European football calendar, Terek Grozny away.
It involved a trip to a trip to the capital of Chechnya, a region unfortunately reduced to ruins by years of war between local separatists and Russian forces.
Not surprisingly, security was tight and the itinerary planned to the minutest detail.
'It was definitely something I've not experienced before,' said Bentley, speaking on a brief return to England this week to see his wife and three-year-old daughter.
'We flew into Chechnya just 45 minutes before kick off, went to the stadium, ran out the tunnel, played the game and then turned back to the airport.
'The coach ride in was something else. There were tanks on the street, army snipers at every cross-section and a four-car convoy surrounding the team coach to make sure we were OK.
'I enjoyed it in a strange way. I knew they were there to protect us and keep us safe. Being a London boy who hadn't seen anything like that, I just found myself staring out the window in amazement. I have a much better appreciation for my own country now. We really don't realise how lucky we are.'
Back in action: Bentley is happy to be playing again
Compared to some transfers in the last window, Bentley's switch was so low-profile he may as well have travelled to Rostov under the radar for his three-month loan from Spurs.
The publicity that surrounded his record 17million move from Blackburn to Spurs in 2008 when he was seen as an heir apparent to David Beckham in looks and ability has long gone.
The player is happy though just to have the chance to play again after a serious knee injury last year that kept him out for 12 months.
So far he has completed four full games in the competitive Russian league with big-hitters Lokomotiv Moscow featuring old Spurs pals Roman Pavlyuchenko and Vedran Corluka, and Zenit St Petersburg up next.
Living in Rostov-on-Don 700miles south of Moscow has also been a peaceful contrast to Chechnya.
'I've changed all my preconceptions about Russia. The weather has been beautiful, 80 degrees until now, and my hotel could be in any modern city. There are great restaurants and safety isn't a concern. I can walk around the centre at night feeling safer than I do in London,' explains Bentley.
'Admittedly, communication can be difficult. Most Russians haven't been taught English at school and they have a different alphabet. We think everyone will speak our language but that's not the case. I'm trying to learn a few words or Russian.
'It's a very forward-looking country – and big. It has everything from beaches to ski resorts, like America. One of our away games is a four-hour flight. Apparently there used to be a team nine hours away.'
Bentley has quickly settled into a routine. A chauffeur arrives at his hotel every morning to take him to training. Evenings are spent at a local Croatian fish restaurant with former Spurs team-mate Stipe Pletikosa or sampling the local borsch soup, made of beetroot, meat and vegetables.
Another familiar face is former Liverpool forward Florent Sinama-Pongolle, who played with Bentley at Blackburn.
On the pitch, Bentley accepts it will be tough for Rostov. They don't have the financial power of many Russian clubs, like Anzhi who are paying Samuel Eto'o 400,000-a-week. Rostov have won only one league game since Bentley's arrival and currently sit 12th in the 16-team league.
However it's been a terrific period of growth and discovery for a player whose impact at Spurs dwindled under Harry Redknapp despite scoring a wonder-volley against Arsenal in a 4-4 north London derby.
Redknapp didn't forgive Bentley for pouring a bucket of water over him to celebrate Champions League qualification and a subsequent loan spell at West Ham ended in disaster when Bentley played on despite knee cartilage problems and ended up missing nearly the whole of last season.
Now he's eyeing another chance in the Premier League, maybe even at Spurs under the new manager Andre Villas-Boas.
'I don't know what the future holds. Football can change so fast,' said Bentley.
'I respect Villas-Boas for taking the Spurs job. He had a tough time at Chelsea and Harry was always a difficult act to follow. But I think it might happen for them this year, whether I am part of that, I don't know.'
Bentley is aware his flash image in younger days might have counted against him when technically he is probably the best crosser of a ball that England have.
Mistakes have been owned up to including crowd-surfing at a Kings of Leon gig and more seriously banned from driving for a drink-driving offence.
'I thought I was James Dean in the day, now I have a family and it's put the handbrake on,' he admits candidly.
'You can't change your personality totally and I'll never be quiet but I used to have this thing in my head that I had to treat every day like it was my last. If I saw a cliff, I'd want to jump off it.
'My three-year-old has changed me. She wakes up like it's Christmas every day, and it's not just about me anymore.
'I think being a bit more boring would have helped me earlier in my career.
'I used to love players like Gazza and Eric Cantona for their personalities as much as what they could do with a football. But there is so much pressure in the game now, I don't think top players or managers have a laugh and joke any more. Whether that has improved the game or is killing the game, I don't know.'