Bent relishes centre stage with England
Darren Bent was marking the anniversary of one of the darkest days of his career as he mapped out his journey from England's nearly man to the marksman Fabio Capello has learned to trust.
It was a exactly year ago that Bent searched in vain to see his name among those who would do battle for England at the World Cup in South Africa. Bent's frustrating 45-minute appearance in the final warm-up friendly against Japan in Graz had convinced Capello that Emile Heskey and Peter Crouch represented the better bet.
Bent, prolific for his club after scoring 24 goals at Sunderland, seemed destined to linger forever on England's margins, unable to make the final leap into international football.
Fast forward 12 months and Bent talks and plays with the confidence of a striker who has fully justified Aston Villa's record £24m outlay in January and scored in three successive England games to win the faith of Capello for Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland at Wembley.
Bent is now comfortable inside England's environment and a far cry from the struggling figure who battled to make an impact from his debut against Uruguay at Anfield in March 2006 until he scored his first goal for his country in the 3-1 win in Switzerland in September.
As he sat in the opulent surroundings of England's Hertfordshire headquarters on Wednesday, Bent said: "The goal in Switzerland lifted a weight off my shoulders. As a striker you're always judged on goals and playing well for your country.
"People questioned whether I could score goals for England and it did lift the massive weight off my shoulders and enabled me to grow in confidence. I didn't celebrate much because I was worried it might be disallowed for offside or something, but I was jumping for joy inside."
Bent's follow-up has been to produce better performances and even more assured finishes in the friendly victory in Denmark and the Euro 2012 qualifier win against Wales in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in March.
He has drawn praise for his improvement from the notoriously hard-to-please England coach Capello and banished the memories of Harry Redknapp's infamous "my missus could have scored that" jibe after an expensive miss for Tottenham against Portsmouth in January 2009.
Bent admits Redknapp's insult, no matter how light-hearted, may have had an impact on the public's perception of his talent, even though his one full season at White Hart Lane still brought 17 goals from limited opportunities.
He said: "I've scored a lot of goals since he said that. Harry's a well-liked guy and a lot of people listen to what he's got to say but I just got on with it. It was hard at the time but when I left for Sunderland I showed people I was a good finisher and could score goals.
"When I first left Spurs it was in my mind to show people what I could do but after I scored a lot of goals in my first season I put that to bed."
Bent was one of the shock big-money movers in January when he made his switch to Villa Park - but he has flourished with nine goals in 16 appearances, including the winner on his debut against Manchester City.
And Capello demonstrated his increasing trust in Bent when he made him the focal point of an attacking triumverate involving Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young for the win in Cardiff.
I asked Bent if he feels he has finally won Capello over with his performances. He said: "He has always been the same with me. I don't know what Fabio is thinking but if he is picking me I must be doing something right so I want to continue that."
Capello's willingness to give Bent a starting role has strengthened the self-belief that he can succeed for England. "I feel more confident than I have done before in my career," he added. "I have never been in so many squads consecutively or go on the pitch so often.
"I feel like I'm playing really well and going in the right direction. Fabio does feel I'm becoming a better player so I must be doing something right."
The only cloud on Bent's current bright horizon is speculation surrounding his Villa colleagues Young and Stewart Downing - who used their England platform this week to cast heavy doubts on their futures at the club.
Bent, to Villa's relief, has no intentions of following suit but expressed his concern when I questioned him about the possibility that two attackers he relished the prospect of playing alongside when he moved from Sunderland - and who provide so much of his supply line - may leave.
He admitted: "You have to worry. They are top, top players and you have to worry when they are being linked with other clubs. I went to Aston Villa to play with these kind of players and hopefully the club can hold on to them. If the manager, even if it is a new manager, comes in and says he wants to hold on to them that would be brilliant for Aston Villa."
And what about the prospect of a manager - namely Redknapp - who once compared Bent unfavourably to his wife when it came to goalscoring prowess succeeding Capello as England coach?
Redknapp is favourite to step up after Euro 2012 and Bent joined in the laughter at the irony before insisting: "All I can do is keep playing as well as I can for my club.
"If Harry gets the job then good luck to him, but if I keep playing well for my club side and he doesn't pick me then obviously something's going on. At the same time I'm sure he'll do a good job and we'll have to see."
And for now Bent is simply satisfied with the approval of Capello, who acknowledges that the striker is now a vital member of England's bid to reach Poland and Ukraine.