The Insider deliberates over whether Sunderland striker Darren Bent is a victim of football snobbery?
Last Updated: 23/11/09 1:34pm
I'm not sure Darren Bent would be pleased to learn he popped up in my thoughts when reading a book titled 'Everything Bad is Good for You', but he might just hope Fabio Capello has similar literary tastes.
Said book is the type of leftfield snooze fest that makes you look semi-literate on the train, think dark rimmed glasses, but is in fact about as interesting as watching some sweaty old cleaner pull a witchety grub out of her pants using only Jordan's bra.
Anyway, it's about how low/popular culture is just as important as its high brow equivalent; Mario Kart is a match for Bronte, The Wire beats Dickens, Banksy spanks Monet, X-Factor is more important that Beethoven, Bent is better than Owen etc...
I guess it's about our perception of what constitutes class and our inherent inclination to sniff at anything without longevity. Which is what got me daydreaming about Darren Bent. The Sunderland striker returned from international exertions last week with a face longer than the offspring of Red Rum and Ruud van Nistelrooy having been adjudged to have no class after his less than efficient display against Brazil.
This very column said Capello would commit the ultimate folly were he to take Bent to South Africa at the expense of Michael Owen. The premise of my colleague's argument was that Owen has class and well, try as he might, Bent just doesn't. Bent is Pamela Anderson to Owen's Audrey Hepburn. It's Monster Munch versus Walkers, Melody Maker to NME, Wings to Beatles, Pukka to Hollands, Henman to Perry, Jamie Callum to Dizzy Gillespie.
Then again, I'd argue Geoff Hurst has class but I wouldn't bet on him to score against the Brazilians either.
To be fair to Capello he appears to be a man that operates in the present rather than bathe in the hot tub of nostalgia, where Owen and David Beckham chew the fat over a time when they were actually effective, rather than emblems of an era now past its sell-by date.
A player like Bent, with his admittedly at times ropey first touch and Achilles heel of snatching at things, is for many an imposter on the international arena. That he has scored nine times in 13 Premier League games, including strikes against Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and now Arsenal (three of which, I'd argue, could win the World Cup were they to enter) matters not an iota to those that champion the old, and worn out adage, 'form is temporary, class is forever'. Bent for England is like Damien Hirst hanging his paintings at the revered Wallace Gallery. It's just not cricket.
While Bent can seemingly do nothing to rid himself of a reputation for being guileless, Owen is treated as if a fossil. A subject to be pored over and deliberated upon as if he isn't actually still here, before men in white coats conclude that despite the fact he's scored just two league goals all season and looks about as sharp as a circle, 'he's still a class act'.
And he's afforded this luxury because of a history the younger and more athletic Bent has yet to acquire and, at this rate, never will while people continue to hanker for the tried and tested. A formulae for success that has delivered precious little of it.
Prior to his move to Old Trafford Owen pottered around Newcastle like Charlie Brown, a look of bewilderment spread all over his face that said 'How the hell did I get here?'. Now look at him. He's turned into Lloyd from X-Factor, just glad to be here. He wears the same bewildered expression and he's still saying 'How the hell did I get here?', but this time it's with a glint in his eye.
Pro-Owen supporters point to his fine scoring record of 40 international goals. Why Bent hasn't scored as many from his four caps is beyond me. That Owen has proved himself on the international scene is without doubt, but why so many critics are happy to throw Bent on a bonfire made up of David Hirst, Brian Deane and David Nugent inspired Guys seems premature to the point of lunacy.
This isn't meant as a diatribe about the current England set-up, indeed Capello seems about as convinced about Owen as I am, but rather a nod in the direction of the likes of Bent, Jimmy Bullard, David Dunn, Tom Huddlestone, Ryan Shawcross and any other player whose performances are perhaps worthy of looking at, but will likely be rejected on the premise they 'just don't have international class'. Such a distinction will be made after the aforementioned fail to shine in the final 27 minutes of a pre-tournament friendly against Slovenia that sees Capello make 11 second half changes.
I'm not for a minute advocating Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard be ditched for Bullard and Dunn, but rather encouraging judgements to be made on performances present rather than past.
Deluded politicians may argue class wars are dead in this country as any individual has the opportunity to transcend old barriers, but in football they're still rife. Bent is down the pit while Owen sups with the aristocracy.