How uplifting it was to read Nicklas Bendtner's recent apology for his litany of misdemeanours.
A player who has literally been caught with his trousers down in the past felt compelled to repent in an open letter to a Danish newspaper about a variety of incidents in which he has made himself look like the kind of fellow who is auditioning for a new game show entitled: I'm a celebrity, everyone within a five‑mile radius would be well advised to get out of here.
The magic of his apology was in its tone, so reminiscent of a naughty schoolboy who has been forced to say sorry for something in front of his friends, thus gaining the opportunity to load his confession with as much sarcasm as he can get away with. It is a pity that Bendtner confined his statement to the written word. A video message would have been perfect, if only to see his expression as he referred to the "polite and friendly English policemen as CCTV footage allegedly shows us in the process of damaging parked cars after a wet night out on the town". Imagine that account delivered with a shaky voice. Sad, doggy eyes. Such desperate sorrow.
Reflections on his wobble when his credit card was turned down in a Copenhagen pizzeria would also have been worthwhile viewing. "I bet you all know the feeling," wrote the contrite forward, who had, incidentally, perked up enough by the end of his missive to sign off with a metaphorical wink full of festive cheer. "See you – on the pitch. Warm greetings – Nicklas."
Fortunately, although we may know the feeling, all the non-Premier League footballers out there who endure the kind of excruciating misfortunes that happen to befall Bendtner don't generally find those moments dramatised in the newspapers or subjected to forensic examination over the internet.
That, in essence, was Bendtner's defence, and something he promises to rectify by shunning extracurricular distractions to focus fully on football. His message boiled down to an admission that he is an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job. He is not wrong. And that is exactly the point his manager, Martin O'Neill, is usually very effective at drumming home to his players. It is an extraordinary job, therefore you have to behave in an extraordinary way.
It will be interesting to see whether this episode is the wake‑up call Bendtner needs. Is O'Neill willing to put in the time and effort to help the Dane mend his ways? Is the player sincere enough about regaining trust to reform his character? If he genuinely can knuckle down and work with much more commitment than has previously been the case, he stands a better chance of being the player he always imagined himself to be (not for nothing does the Arsenal website, Arseblog, unfailingly refer to him by the acronym TGSTEL – the greatest striker that ever lived).
Darren Bent was another who overlooked the distinction between footballers and the rest when he nipped out for some last‑minute Christmas presents as his team-mates were labouring in their defeat against Liverpool.
In the ordinary world outside the Premier League, he had done what was required of him by his club that day by having medical treatment that morning. According to his manager, Alex McLeish, he went home and watched the match on television, switching off before the end to fetch some extra presents.
In the extraordinary world of the Premier League, however, Villa supporters were so distinctly unimpressed to see a £24m asset apparently forgetting that you don't spell team with an "I" that Bent had to tweet an apology of his own. "Gutted not to be involved," he wrote.
In fairness, most players admit they don't enjoy looking on from the stands when they are missing out. And yes, he probably should have gone along to the stadium even if he is not a great watcher, but maybe the bigger problem is what this episode reveals about Villa's gumption at the moment if a player feels the game is up before the final whistle. Bent surely would have postponed his shopping and stayed in front of his telly if he felt his team‑mates had a chance of fighting their way back into the game.
An early present arrived for the Manchester United fan who likes to watch his team on Boxing Day. The last time he was successful in the ticket hunt was in 1985. He is no longer a member, but called the club on spec and landed four together for United's post‑Christmas match against Wigan Athletic.
The fan's pleasant surprise that he was able to bag a set of tickets is not happy news for clubs. Increasing numbers of empty seats, even in stadiums that have been selling out for years, feel ominous, as everybody from the diehard to the passing tourist has to think twice about how they spend their cash.
Most of us know somebody who would have once expected to go to a live game but now chooses the television instead. Once the Boxing Day fixtures are out of the way, there is a run from 30 December that presents live Premier League or FA Cup football on TV for 10 out of 11 days.
It is not only Darren Bent who has to examine whether or not to forsake the sofa and head to the ground. The game at large has to think long and hard about whether ordinary folk can afford to do that, too.
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image: © Bronski Beat