I’VE HAD TO FIGHT TO KEEP MY COOL

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By John Wragg

DAR­REN Bent has signed for an­other year at prob­a­bly the most frus­trat­ing club in the Cham­pi­onship.

The Derby County striker doesn’t know for sure if he’s even wanted. He’s called lazy by some and he’s lost his great­est fan in sacked man­ager Steve McClaren.

“I’m not say­ing it needs a change, but when a new man­ager comes in he’s go­ing to have the play­ers in his head that he wants to bring in,” says Bent of Gary Rowett, who re­placed McClaren nine games ago.

“That’s why he’s here. I can see there will be quite a few changes. If he came to me and said ‘you don’t fea­ture in my plans’… well, I want to play foot­ball, so I’d have to look at some­thing else.

“I’ve had con­ver­sa­tions with him and he has not said that, so I will go away in the sum­mer, get my­self fit and be ready to go again next sea­son.

“I will say this: the boys are burn­ing to get pro­moted.”

The 33-year-old has scored for ev­ery team he has played for, in­clud­ing Eng­land. He’s cost £60m in trans­fer fees, got 215 goals in 552 games for six clubs, in­clud­ing 13 in yet an­other poor Derby sea­son.

They wrap up to­day at Rotherham, low key when the af­ter-burn­ers were sup­posed to be on as Derby roared into the Premier League. Un­der-achieve­ment has been as con­stant as the change of man­agers.

The Rams got to the play-off fi­nal three years ago and lost in the last minute to QPR. They col­lapsed from cer­tain­ties to win the league in Jan­uary to fin­ish­ing eighth the fol­low­ing sea­son.

Last sea­son they were tonked by Hull in the play-off semi­fi­nals and this sea­son they didn’t even get in the race.

Pop­u­lar

McClaren has tried twice, Paul Cle­ment briefly, Dar­ren Was­sall gave it a go and this sea­son Nigel Pear­son, very briefly. Now, it’s Rowett.

The front door at Pride Park keeps open­ing and clos­ing but Derby stay put. Next sea­son is their tenth suc­ces­sive Cham­pi­onship sea­son.

Rowett lives a few miles from the ground. He’s an ex-Derby player, a pop­u­lar choice, a man who knows the club.

But Bent doesn’t know what Rowett’s got in store.

As Bent points out, there are four strik­ers at the club, five if you in­clude top scorer-cumwinger Paul Ince, while Chris Martin, on loan at Ful­ham, is ex­pected back.

“If you want to play only one up front, then six for that po­si­tion is too much. I’m sure he (Rowett) will eval­u­ate that,” says Bent.

“It’s good for him and good for us be­cause we are bat­tling, try­ing to make each other bet­ter. I re­mem­ber be­ing at Tot­ten­ham and hav­ing Jer­main De­foe, Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov and Rob­bie Keane in front of me.

“I had to work to get in. It made me a bet­ter player.”

Bent had to play 50 per cent of Derby’s games over the two years of his con­tract to trig­ger an op­tion for an­other year, which he has taken up. He clocked up the miles in a 1-0 de­feat at New­cas­tle, the start of a one-win19 in-nine slump that ended an op­ti­mistic out­side play-off bid and cost McClaren his job. “For what­ever rea­son, it just hasn’t hap­pened,” says Bent. “We can’t even put our fin­ger on why. It’s like it gets to a cer­tain point and then it’s gone again. We’ve def­i­nitely got the play­ers to do it. I’m guess­ing it’s just a men­tal thing. “Where we could get bet­ter is when teams come to us. We can play foot­ball against any­one but maybe there’s one thing we could get bet­ter at – the other side of it.” Bent thumps his right fist into his left hand. It’s re­veal­ing. He’s an ur­bane man. Placid. Doesn’t drink. A fam­ily man who is now off-load­ing lit­er­ally thou­sands and thou­sands of pairs of train­ers, bought and col­lected over years and ac­com­mo­dated in a spe­cially fit­ted loft at his home be­cause he doesn’t have time now for his hobby.

“It’s a lot of work. I’ve started to sell them on. It was tak­ing up un­nec­es­sary time. My pri­or­i­ties have changed. I’ve got a fam­ily.

“There are still thou­sands though. A lot are lim­ited edi­tions and one-offs. My friend got me into it years ago. I still go on the web­sites and have a look.

Pri­or­i­ties

“I try to sell them to peo­ple who are col­lec­tors rather than peo­ple who will sell them on. It could be any­where. Not so much China, more Amer­ica.

“I had a pair of Jor­dans which I sold and they were val­ued at some­thing like $24,000.”

But he does get an­gry. An­gry when he’s la­belled lazy. An­gry when he’s not picked. An­gry at

Paul Lam­bert for the way he treated him at As­ton Villa.

On be­ing called lazy: “It seems now that peo­ple scor­ing goals is sec­ondary. You need to be able to be chas­ing this, chas­ing that, do­ing this, do­ing that and then scor­ing goals.

“The most im­por­tant thing in a team is to score, and if I am do­ing that it doesn’t bother me what any­one says.

“If peo­ple say to me ‘you are not work­ing hard enough’ au­to­mat­i­cally I would say to them ‘Well, I’d rather be like I am’. I work hard enough for the team. I put a shift in.

“It’s only been the last cou­ple of sea­sons when it’s come up. I’m 34 at the start of next sea­son, so you have to adapt your game and change the way you play.”

On Paul Lam­bert: “What shocked me was that it came out of the blue. When Lam­bert came in, I was made cap­tain. But then we had a few con­flicts on the train­ing pitch. A few of his ideas I didn’t agree with and it just kind of went from there.

“At the end of the sea­son he said ‘I’m go­ing to put you in an­other chang­ing room with the other lads. With the kids’. Me, Ste­vie Ire­land, Alan Hut­ton. “He said he wasn’t go­ing to use us, but 12 months down the line he had to come back and say ‘we need you now, you are back in the squad’. “That kind of summed up Lam­bert and that whole pe­riod he was at Villa. “I was an­gry. I man­aged to con­tain it, but my friends and fam­ily were an­grier be­cause it just didn’t make any sense. “A few times I tried to talk to Lam­bert but didn’t get any an­swers. Hut­ton signed a new con­tract and I said to Lam­bert ‘what’s go­ing on?’

“He said it was noth­ing to do with him, it was to do with Tom Fox (chief ex­ec­u­tive), so he just put ev­ery­thing on him.

“I heard many times it was about cut­ting wages. But just be­cause I wasn’t in the squad didn’t mean they weren’t pay­ing me. No one could get any de­fin­i­tive straight an­swer.”

On not play­ing: “It does my head in. It puts me in a bad mood. I hate it. There is noth­ing worse than try­ing hard all week and then your re­ward is the game on a Saturday and you don’t get it.

Mo­ti­va­tion

“The mo­ti­va­tion point comes in when you think ‘You know what? I’m go­ing to show the man­ager I’m good enough’.

“Some play­ers get used to it, but it is some­thing I will never get used to. When I get home I’m mis­er­able. I moan and moan.”

Sta­bil­ity would be a good start­ing point for next sea­son’s re­birth of Derby. A calmer hand from owner Mel Mor­ris.

“Af­ter the cou­ple of sea­sons we’ve had with man­agers, it feels like you just keep chang­ing schools,” said Bent. “Ev­ery first day it’s like ‘I’ve got to im­press the man­ager’.

“Even if you’ve had the ca­reer I’ve had, I’ve still got to im­press him. The first day with a new man­ager is al­ways a bit ner­vous.”

Af­ter a loan with Brighton, which he liked and has only con­grat­u­la­tory words for their man­ager, Chris Hughton, it was McClaren who ended Bent’s hell at Villa by tak­ing him on loan and mak­ing it per­ma­nent.

The plan is that next sea­son is Derby’s and Bent’s last in the Cham­pi­onship.

He will be 35 by the time 201819 comes round. One last go.

“I haven’t spo­ken to Gary Rowett much, but the one thing I’d say is that he makes things per­fectly clear,” says Bent.

“I’ve bought into his meth­ods. He’s a good man­ager and I feel we are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

Bent scored his first goal at 17 for Ip­swich against New­cas­tle in a 4-1 League Cup de­feat.

“More goals in me? Loads. Those guys, Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, De­foe, are still do­ing it, they are my age. There’s no rea­son why I can’t.

“When peo­ple have asked me ‘what’s it like to play in the Premier League?’, like Will Hughes here at Derby, I’ve al­ways said it’s the big­gest show­cased league in the world.

“Why wouldn’t you want to play in it?

“I use it as mo­ti­va­tion to the lads here. I’d like an­other Premier League sea­son. Hope­fully this year com­ing is our year.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

FOOT LOOSE: Dar­ren Bent is dis­pos­ing of his huge col­lec­tion of train­ers, left

START: At Ip­swich

CLEAR: Gary Rowett

FAN: Steve McClaren

CON­FLICT: Paul Lam­bert

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