My Best Town XI: Darren Bent
Saturday, 9th May 2020 15:16
In part 30 of the series, Kieron Dyer catches up with former Blues striker Darren Bent, who selects the best XI from his spell with Town before Dyer assesses his side.
Goalkeeper Andy Marshall - Out of all the keepers I played with he was the most consistent of the lot.
Right-back Fabian Wilnis - Whenever Fabian was fit he’d play, he had great distribution, always got forward well and was a wonderful servant to the club.
Left-back Hermann Hreidarsson - An absolute nutter! I had the pleasure of playing at Ipswich with him and at Charlton. Strong, could run all day and a great character on and off the pitch.
Centre-half Titus Bramble - When I was a young kid coming through, I looked up to Titus because he was where I wanted to be, someone who came through the academy into the first team. Powerful, quick, strong, great distribution.
Centre-half John McGreal - Not blessed with pace but never, ever got caught out of position, was always in the right place at the right time. Another one who had fantastic distribution.
Centre midfield Matt Holland - Captain Fantastic, another one who helped me massively when I was a young kid coming through. Could do everything well in midfield, the complete midfielder.
Centre midfield Tommy Miller - Scored crucial goals, the best penalty taker I’ve ever seen. In my final season at Ipswich Tommy scored 15 goals, which is incredible for a midfielder.
Right wing Finidi George - His touch was incredible, energy was incredible, quick. Some of the things he used to do used to leave me speechless. We never knew how old he really was though! When we signed him, I was so excited to watch him in training and he didn’t disappoint.
Left wing Darren Ambrose - Technically the best I ever played with at Ipswich. Scored so many great goals, got so many assists. I just wish he’d gone to Newcastle a couple of years later, I think the move was too early for him.
Striker Shefki Kuqi - A big, powerful target man, a nuisance. So selfless.
Striker Marcus Stewart - One of the best strikers ever to play for Ipswich. Another player that always pulled me aside and gave me advice on different types of finish, different types of runs, something that put me in good stead for my career.
It was good to catch up with Darren because he’s similar me in that we came through the academy and went all the way to represent our country.
When England beat Croatia 3-1 at Portman Road in 2003, a game in which I was fortunate enough to play, coming on in the second half, we were approaching the ground on the coach and there were tons and tons of fans there cheering us on and basically all wanting to get a glimpse of David Beckham.
I’ll never forget that Darren Bent and his girlfriend at the time were among them and you could see how starstruck he was at seeing the England team bus pull up into the ground.
And within a few years, he was gracing that squad and mingling with those players that he was so starstruck to see. There he was, watching his heroes, the likes of Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Frank Lampard, cheering on our coach as it was pulling into the ground, and then a few years along the line he would become a member of that team.
Playing for England at Portman Road was a proud moment for me, although I probably had to buy about 400 tickets! Not many people can say that they’ve played for their country at their home ground in the town where they were born.
And I scored and I was onside but they ruled it out! I was on fire when I came on as well. Shame they didn’t have VAR in those days.
Darren picking Andy Marshall in goal is a bit of a shock. It’s always hard for an ex-Norwich player to be really appreciated by our crowd, you really have to get off to a flying start and he was the keeper who came in to replace Richard Wright, which was always going to be a tough ask.
Who else could Darren have selected? He played with Kelvin Davis a lot. If it was between Andy Marshall and Matteo Sereni then you can understand maybe why Andy Marshall got the nod. But I’m a bit surprised he didn’t pick Kelvin. That’s the great thing about these XIs, everyone has their own opinion and it would be pretty boring if everyone’s was the same.
I don’t think you can argue with Darren picking Titus and John McGreal as his centre-halves. I like what he says about Titus being someone he looked up to because of the way he came through and it was an inspiration for him to do the same.
John McGreal is one who is always popping up in these teams, very underrated but was an important part of George Burley’s team.
Darren says he only played one game with Tony Mowbray, which must have been a friendly, but he could perhaps have picked Jason de Vos. However, given what Titus went to go and do and with John McGreal having been so successful in the promotion team, it’s difficult to argue with his selection.
I love how he describes Hermann Hreidarsson, "An absolute nutter!". When I left my role as Town’s U18s coach last year, one of the things I did was to go to various clubs to see how different managers worked. I went to see Brendan Rodgers at Leicester to see how he worked, to pick his brains.
Stuart Taylor, Town’s assistant manager, said that he could see why I was going to all these big clubs and watching the best managers, but realistically if I’m going to get a job as a first-team coach or something along those lines, my first job will probably be in one of the lower leagues, so he said why not use my contacts to see how lower league sides work, how their training facilities are and things like that.
So I reached out to Sol Campbell at Southend and before this lockdown happened I was going to go and watch them and see how they work and Hermann is his assistant.
I know Sol’s character and how laid-back he is and how placid he is and you’ve got Hermann who everyone says is an absolute nutter, loud and brash. I was quite intrigued to see how their relationship worked because I think they’re polar opposites. But the coronavirus happened and I haven’t got to go there yet.
As I’ve said before Fabian Wilnis has been unlucky not to get in more teams having played in an era with plenty of excellent full-backs. A terrific servant to the club over a decade, he deserves his place in Darren’s team.
Darren’s the first player of that era not to pick Jim Magilton in his midfield, so his 100 per cent record has gone. Unlucky Jim!
He’s selected Matt Holland, he says he’s Captain Fantastic and, as Darren said about Titus and Fabian, Matt was a massive help to him when he was a youngster, as was Marcus Stewart. His team has been dominated by people who helped him. It’s like he’s been true to the people who helped him in his career.
But that’s not why Matt’s in the team, and he’s not just in the team because he’s Captain Fantastic, Darren says he could do everything, he was the complete midfielder.
Alongside Matt he’s picked Tommy Miller, who he says scored 15 goals in his last season at Town, all types of goals, he always used to run beyond and link up with the strikers.
My only question about that pairing is that if you’ve got Matt and Tommy playing together I think Matt has to be more defensive. Matt would have to be more of the sitter, which would take away aspects of Matt’s game because he was a box-to-box midfielder.
Both have the same strengths, getting up to the strikers, running beyond them and scoring goals. I can understand why he put Tommy in the team because it’s very rare for a midfielder to score 15 goals a season but if you have those two I think it takes something away from Matt’s game.
I think if you play Jim in there with one of them then you have the perfect combination. That’s a very attacking midfield two.
Matt did play that deeper role at Ipswich when I moved into the midfield. When I first came into the Town team I played right-back for half a season but Gus Uhlenbeek returned to fitness and it was Bryan Hamilton who said to George Burley “We need to start to play Kieron in centre midfield”.
So I went into centre midfield with Matt the one who was sitting and I was the one who was using my energy, getting around the pitch and linking up with the strikers. I was never a goalscoring midfielder, I picked up more assists or my energy helped create things for other players.
But after about eight or nine games of us playing together we switched roles. Because I was quite comfortable on the ball, Matt would be the one who would bomb on and I would then go and get the ball from the back four.
I was playing as a defensive midfielder but more like a Busquets or a Xavi who would start the attacks. And I think Matt and me flourished when we changed it around.
I think if people are told that we’d played in midfield together and I was the one holding, they'd laugh at that, but that’s what happened because when we first played together it took something away from Matt’s game, he was inhibited. But I was comfortable with getting the ball and starting the attacks.
Not many people know about that and I enjoyed that role. In the Norwich game when we won 5-0 I was the one playing as a holding midfielder and getting the ball and Matt was the one who was linking up. It was just a subtle change and it worked very well.
And then Jim came in and we used to play the three in midfield at times with Jim sitting and we had both me and Matt using our energy and that was like a ‘wow!’ kind of midfield.
Darren’s gone for his friend Darren Ambrose on the left. He says he’s technically the best he ever played with. I don’t think Jim will be happy with that either, so unlucky Jim again!
He thinks that Darren Ambrose left Ipswich too soon and obviously he left Ipswich to join the team I was playing with at the time, Newcastle.
When he says technically he was one of the best he played with, I can see why he said that because Darren Ambrose was technically top, top drawer, but I agree that he came to Newcastle too soon.
I don’t think he came too soon from an ability point of view, I just think because of all the strong characters we had in that changing room, strong personalities, he was always in his shell and withdrawn. He never really mingled, he’d say hello and whatever but he always kept himself to himself and his personality never got to flourish.
I think that if he’d been a bit older, a bit more mature and had signed for Newcastle two or three years later, when he’d grown up a bit and known himself more as a person, he would have gone on to be very successful at Newcastle.
It was just that comes in, he’s a young lad and he sees Lauren Robert, Nolberto Solano, Gary Speed, Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy, and it is quite daunting.
He played some games for Newcastle and scored some great goals but I just think the move was maybe just a tad too early.
Darren Ambrose was hardly the first Ipswich player to go to Newcastle at that time with Charlie Woods Bobby Robson’s right-hand man behind the move. It was Charlie who pushed for Titus to get signed as well.
When I was at Ipswich, Bobby Robson was the Barcelona manager and then Louis van Gaal came in and Bobby was made their head of scouting.
I remember playing in Italy for the England U21s in 1997 when we won 1-0 and I was fortunate enough to score the winning goal, and Charlie had told Bobby to sign me for Barcelona.
That was the night before England drew with Italy to qualify for the 1998 World Cup and the game was played in a little town called Rieti. Italy had Gianluigi Buffon in goal and Francesco Totti skippering. We had a man sent off - future Ipswich player Ben Thatcher - but won 1-0, Darren Eadie, the Norwich guy, crossed and I kneed it in past Buffon.
I can remember meeting Bobby and [his former Town secretary] Pat Godbold in the tunnel after the game and Bobby came up to me and said ‘Listen, carry on like that and one day you could be a Barcelona player’ and gave me a wink. And that was all because of the influence of Charlie Woods, who had filled him in all about me. Charlie was a big part of Bobby’s scouting network.
Finidi George on the right might shock a lot of people because it seems his signing and that of Matteo Sereni was when it started to go all wrong for Ipswich but from the way he describes him Darren was clearly impressed.
I always say with foreign players it does take time to settle in. Robert Pires took two years before he really settled in to being an Arsenal player, even Thierry Henry, he struggled for the first season he was in the Premier League, fans were getting on his case, and look at the career he had.
Maybe that was why Finidi wasn’t a massive success. Maybe he just needed that time and love to get adjusted to the Premier League, get adjusted to living in Ipswich. One of the big ifs for me. I’ve just looked at his stats and he scored eight goals in 30 starts, which is still a decent return, better than one every four starts.
It was just that he was bought and was billed as the next big thing and he never quite lived up to it. If he had seen out his whole contract and settled down, it would have been very interesting to see how he would have done.
Up front, Darren’s gone for Shefki. I think I said before when I was speaking about Scowy and it’s similar Emile Heskey, every striker likes to play with the Shefkis, the Scowys and the Emile Heskeys because they’re so selfless.
They do all the donkey work and I can imagine Darren’s picked Shefki because he’s probably his favourite player to play with because Darren’s going to thrive and get all the goals while Shefki’s battling with two centre-halves and doing all the donkey work.
He says Shefki wasn’t the best striker he played with at Ipswich but he definitely deserves to be in the team because he loved playing with him.
Marcus Bent scored a lot of goals in that second season in the Premier League, I think he won Player of the Month at one point, and Darren played a bit with him and he could have been in the team, but he’s gone for Shefki.
He’s come out with a big statement about Marcus Stewart, “One of the best strikers ever to play for Ipswich”, which given the strikers we’ve had at the club, he’s putting him in a really high pantheon of players. It just goes to show the impact that Marcus had in his short spell here.
That season in the Premier League when he scored 19 was incredible and Darren says he always gave him advice and showed him the tricks of the trade, different types of finishes, which is very important for a striker.
He’s gone for a 4-4-2 system, we’ve talked about a lot of teams not having wingers, he’s got two out-and-out wingers, he’s got two strikers that will work very well, maybe not the greatest balance in midfield but I’m sure that Matt could do the defensive side, and a very powerful and experienced back four. A good team.
Photo: Action Images
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