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The Lament of Nicky B

In the recent flurry of names considered dead weight at the Arsenal, one name always stands out for me as a tremendous disappointment and leaves a giant ‘what-if’ hanging around in the air. That name is Nicklas Bendtner, the much maligned and ridiculed Dane who once showed such promise (although you had to dig to find it). I was always a fan of the man, and I am sad that his time at Arsenal never worked out.

What went wrong? Could Arsenal still use him? And what does the future hold for the most confident man in the world?

I remember watching Nicklas Bendtner a few times when he was in the youth and reserve sides. Watching him there was like seeing Zlatan in France. He was dominant, he was petulant, he was enormous and he was successful. All the avid youth-watchers thought we had a goldmine on our hands, a traditional English centre forward (from Denmark, in true Wengerian style) with the touch of any European and the goalscoring knack of someone far more experienced. Having joined Arsenal from KB in 2004 at the tender age of sixteen, Bendtner was a typical player of the generation that never quite made it at Arsenal. I remember Danish people telling me that back in 2004 the country was so hopeful for the arrogant young bugger, whose transfer to Arsenal stirred a decent bit of interest.

On the 22nd of December, 2007, Nicklas Bendtner scored his first goal for Arsenal, in what was a hotly contested North London Derby, within seconds of come off the bench. It was a phenomenal moment for the young bulldozer, who looked destined for great things. However, soon things started to sour. In his first PL start the week afterwards he was sent off for two bookable offences, showing again a streak of petulant arrogance and brash selfishness. A few months later, he got in the way of a goal-bound shot by Fabregas against Liverpool in the CL. Unbeknownst to any of us; this would perhaps already be the start of the end of his Arsenal career.

Fans can be a terrible burden on a player that is not performing well. Bendtner, despite having all the attributes of a fine young striker, had a graceless playing style; very cumbersome and uncontrolled even though he was not nearly as clumsy as he looked. Arsenal fans on the whole never endeared themselves to him, and compared to the technical grace of an RvP and the athletic suppleness of an Adebayor, he looked wooden and unhandy. Not only that, but too often chances he had went begging, and he was notoriously profligate. Whilst some of his goals (like the great goals vs Blackburn and Ipswich, or the winner against Dynamo Kiev) clearly belied that image, he was a go-to guy for the complaining fans, who never warmed to him. I can’t say I always disagreed with them, but Bendtner clearly never felt loved, which is one of the reasons things never worked.

Certainly what did not help was the impenetrable arrogance and self confidence the Dane had. To fans he had this air of not caring, that everything came to him with ease, without it actually doing so. This works in players who actually do have it all going for them (Cantona, Henry and CR spring to mind) but for a backup striker, with disappointing composure and an unwieldy style of play, this is perhaps not the greatest image to have.

A psychologist who works closely with Wenger said that Bendtner had the highest ever confidence and self belief he had ever seen in an athlete. This is, however, very much a double edged sword. A supremely (and indeed, at times, unjustifiably) confident player will approach each chance with the same certainty that he will do well. This was part of the strength of Bendtner, who kept trying and was on the whole a decent finisher.

However, these players will also never believe anything that goes wrong is their fault.Bendtner, for instance, would miss quite a few chances. But instead of looking at himself, his positioning, movement, technique, composure or footwork, he would consider the fault to be with the ball played in, the movement of teammates, the excellence of opposing defenders or goalkeepers or even such details as the grass or the ball, and never with himself. (This has all been explained to me by a psychologist).

For this same reason, Bendtner was always at war with fellow players. If you are convinced you are not doing wrong, you become immune to criticism. Amongst others Adebayor and Fabregas were known to get very exasperated with Bendtner, as well as some of the coaching staff and senior players. What use is it explaining a player how to better finish off a chance, or play in an unusual position (all of us will remember his unfortunate spell on the right wing, where I actually think he did quite well at times) when he doesn’t absorb the information, confident in his current ability and own knowledge of football? And so it turned out for Bendtner.

Hopeful Gooners, exasperated by his play and carelessness but hopeful that the potential was still there, grew frustrated at the lack of development. Indeed, I doubt Bendtner is any better now than he was in 2008. Steve Bruce seemed to have been one of the few people to get through to Bendtner, in his loan time at Birmingham, and that relationship ended rather fractiously when Bendtner was caught sleeping with the boss’s daughter. On his return to Arsenal he picked fights with Adebayor and dropped in and out of contention.

After a few seasons as rotation striker, showing the occasional flicker of immense talent and then showing his ability to miss the easiest of chances, he departed on loan to Sunderland and last summer, in the most delightful turtleneck, to Juventus. Neither loan spell was in any way a success. So, you may rightly wonder, why do I like Bendtner so much? Well, firstly, I always liked his style of football. Perhaps it is my own realisation of my mechanical limitations, but his cumbersome and ‘square’ style of playing football always really endeared him to me.I also thought he had an excellent touch for (insert cliché here) and I thought he had masses of potential. And besides, who doesn’t love a player whose first ever goal decides a North London Derby in our favour?

But it was more than that. He was genuinely exciting, a fantastic athlete in a team of deft touches and intricate passes. His enormous self belief and mental determination showed in the incredible amount of late goals he contributed to the cause, especially in the seasons between 2009 and 2011, and the way he often kept us in the match. His performances against Ipswich, Wolves, Stoke and Porto are as memorable as the bad ones versus Burnley or Roma.

His use on the right wing, whilst ultimately unsuccessful, was an interesting experiment, and it shows to this day in the thinking of Arsène Wenger, who today still often players centre forwards as wide, inside forwards. I guess it might just be that the side of me that was so enthusiastic about Project Youth turned a blind eye to the failings of these players, like it did with Denilson and Djourou, with Fabianski and with Merida. But I was convinced that Bendtner could have become a very good striker, good enough to play regularly for a title winning side.

Last summer I said we should keep Bendtner and perhaps dump some of the other striker options. That ship, sadly, has now sailed. Not only has Nicklas burnt the bridges with comments and his behaviour (like refusing to negotiate with clubs he considered beneath him), but the club is looking at bigger and better things. He is on at least 50k per week and we would do well to be rid of those.

And yet, and yet, there is a remaining tinge of regret. Was Bendtner, in his prime, that much worse than, say, Giroud, is now? Were there moments last season where we could have used his knack for scoring late winners? Most certainly. But both the club, and the player, caused that to be an impossible situation. Perhaps it is good to be rid of him. His behaviour off the pitch has always been a bit of a worry. Writing off cars, drunk driving, fights in bars, fights with players, and getting caught in other compromising positions never did his chances at the club much good.

Arsenal and Wenger are notoriously loathe to have any of such misbehaviours happen on their watch, and perhaps they too signed his death warrant. Either way, his arrogance and overconfidence are attributes the club has no need off, and with his misdemeanours getting him in more and more hot water, it might well be for the best. Don’t feel too much for the man, though. From all the stories I have read, especially from Denmark, he is a man who is very much happy with his life. Perhaps that was where it went wrong, too. A lack of focus on football is always problematic, and when that focus gets shifted to the spotlight it is definitely a problem. His relationship with a Danish Baroness was much publicised, and their subsequent breakup was all over the Danish press for weeks.

His new girlfriend is the vapid and talentless Julie Zangenberg, a horribly irritating Danish actress, but he seems very happy with her in their public life, and enjoys the cosmopolitan comforts of Copenhagen. I think all is well this way: he can find a new club and continue to hit the front pages of Danish tabloids, and Arsenal can focus on replacing his 50k per week with much better players.

I have always been convinced that in Germany or Italy Bendtner could be a 20+ goal per season player. He still can be. I wish him good luck, yet, ultimately, all things considered, good riddance.

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