Russia's RT sports anchor Kate Partridge takes a look at the hype around Tottenham midfielder David Bentley's move to Rostov.
David Bentley is huge news over here, though I'm betting he'll want to shake the 'mini bus' tag he was lumbered with after his Rostov debut!
Being the first Englishman to play in Russia, Bentley’s year-long loan move from Tottenham hit the back page headlines. He also made the news because the 28-year-old seven-cap former England midfielder joined struggling Rostov, rather than title contenders Zenit, CSKA or Spartak, or mega-rich Anzhi.
When Bentley agreed to join Rostov on September 6th, the side were 13th in a 16-team top flight. Ten days later, the 28-year-old made his debut. Rostov won 1-0 at home to Dan Petrescu's rock-bottom Dynamo Moscow. The victory was the Don side’s second of the season from eight games; they have now won two and drawn two of their last four, and are up to 11th.
After the match, Bentley compared the support at Rostov to that at White Hart Lane.
“I got the impression that Russian people are energetic and passionate”, he said. “Every time I did something good, the fans reacted very emotionally. I loved it. I will try to meet the expectations of Rostov’s fans”.
While when asked to compare his performance to a car, coach Miodrag Bozovic joked afterwards that his new signing was a Gazelle – a popular Russian mini-bus – rather than a Bentley, but added: “This is only his first game. He is a top-quality professional, and I am sure he will bring us a lot of good.”
FC Rostov are based in Rostov-on-Don, 595 miles south of Moscow, and were founded in 1930.
New head coach Bozovic is a 6’5” 44-year-old dapper Montenegrin, whose nickname in Serbian is “The Count”, and who has fairly successfully managed four teams during four eventful years in Russia: Amkar (twice), who qualified for the Europa League for the first time in their history; FC Moscow, for a long spell title contenders before fading and then going bust; Dynamo Moscow, until they lost their Russian Cup quarter-final – to Rostov; and then, since June 2012, Rostov themselves.
Rostov are not without a couple of familiar names. Experienced Croatia goalkeeper, Stipe Pletikosa, joined from Spartak (via Tottenham on loan) in August 2011, while former Liverpool forward, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, has come in this season along with Anzhi front man, Jan Holenda.
Reports claim that Rostov actually consulted Bentley’s former Tottenham team-mate Roman Pavlyuchenko over the midfielder’s possible transfer.
Before he moved to Russia, Bentley apparently also asked Pavlyuchenko about what to expect, so presumably has already been forewarned about the differences between Russia and England, which are considerable.
In practical terms, Russia is the biggest country on earth, with nine different time zones, so travelling between matches is a more tiring factor than in England. Standards of pitch and facilities also vary - particularly during the harsh winters.
However, Russian football isn’t quite as physical as in England, so Bentley’s talents as a precise crosser, along with his dead ball skills, will be appreciated and compensate for his relative lack of pace that has ensued from playing at a high level from a young age and subsequent injuries.
Coach Bozovic says Bentley’s record of playing at Arsenal and Tottenham speaks for itself, along with his seven England caps. The Montenegrin also admires the player’s “standards”, as well as his speed, skill, ability to play on both flanks and to bother defences.
“Hopefully, the appearance of the first Englishman in Russian football will not be a disappointment," added the coach.
Since he has been in Rostov, Bentley has been seen weight training on his own for an hour in the gym, then watching the kids play at the Rostov football school. When asked why he was training alone, he said that it was about professionalism and keeping up his fitness.
Despite the small pressure of his new “English Pioneer” moniker, Bentley had all but been forgotten in England. The chance to play regularly at a low-profile but improving Russian side might well give him a final chance to reestablish himself as a player, and perhaps live up to some of that potential he displayed a decade ago.