When, as part of a televised experiment, former Spurs and England man David Bentley lined out for Crossmaglen Rangers last year, it was a whole new sporting experience for him but, at the same time, an almost poignant reminder of what he believes the modern game of football has lost.
“That’s what it was,” he says. “I mean football used to be like that back in the day when I first started playing but it’s changed a lot because society has changed. You know: The media, social media, the focus, the money, the bitter minds of people towards the players. You literally play football, go home and that’s it. Whereas before, there was a lot more fun. It was an enjoyable experience.
“Going there (to Crossmaglen) was the way it used to be: The lads were all socially together all the time and loved what they did. The commitment is brilliant. The sense of community. I loved it.
“I think now the game (in England) suffers and I think that’s why you see a football league which to me, to be honest, is quite boring to watch. There’s not much sort of personality or charisma in the game anymore, which is a shame.
“But I still watch,” he hastens to add. “I’m complaining about how much it’s changed but I still watch it like it’s a drug.”
Contrasting then and now, he recalls with relish the supposedly ‘secret’ Spurs Christmas party in Dublin in 2009 which had then gaffer, Harry Redknapp, on the warpath — at least in public — and Robbie Keane and Bentley himself in the firing line.
“Yeah, he said we weren’t going anywhere — and we went. So we got in trouble for that. I think I got blamed for organising it but I had nothing to do with it. It was a good trip. We went to Coppers and all the music bars.
“It shows how stupid we were that we didn’t think we’d get photographed. We sort of thought we were all covert, like ‘No-one knows what we’re doing.’ But everyone in the country knew where we were. It was on the front of the papers the day after.”
While a disillusioned Bentley retired from the game at 29 — he now co-owns a restaurant in Spain — his old Spurs comrade Robbie Keane, although six years his senior, is still going strong in the USA and still looking to make an impact at Euro 2016.
As a striker, Bentley rates the Dubliner as “one of the best” and feels strongly that Martin O’Neill simply can’t afford to omit him from his squad for France, as Ireland prepare to face the challenge of what he calls, with a sharp intake of breath, “a tough group, bloody hell.”
Bentley says of Keane: “He can come off the bench to nick a goal and also he’s good around the dressing room. He’s gonna help. Who are you going to bring in to replace him?”
Long, Murphy, Walters and Doyle are mentioned among the contenders
“Well, they’ll take four strikers, right, so you’ve got to take Robbie Keane then, haven’t you,” he says decisively. “Maybe if you had five or six more, he might struggle to get in.”