The Danish forward arrived in 2004 from Copenhagen’s feeder club at the tender age of 16. Now, 25, he looks set to finally make a permanent move away from Arsenal after spending the last three seasons on loan from the Gunners.
Manager Arsene Wenger had faith in the young protégé – his 6ft4” frame made him an imposing figure in the penalty area and his finishing quality looked promising initially.
Due to a long-term injury to Robin van Persie, Bendtner was called into action for Arsenal sooner than he might have anticipated. Bendtner made 40 appearances in Wenger’s first team in 2007/08 whilst the Dutchman was out. Bendtner was just 18 then and still very raw – there was clearly room for improvement in his oftentimes-clumsy game.
Nonetheless, Bendtner scored 9 goals that season in all competitions – a tally he would beat the following term with 15 goals in 50 appearances for the Gunners. The opportunity for ‘success’ he achieved at such a young age seemed to have an adverse affect on his attitude. He got a little too big for his boots.
“If you ask me if I am one of the best strikers in the world, I say yes because I believe it,” he stated in 2010 – a quote that would follow him around like a bad smell in the years that followed.
In the very same almost prophetic interview he spoke about his love of cars – another thing that would cause him trouble down the line.
He made fewer and fewer appearances in the season that followed – the context being that Van Persie returned to full fitness and Marouane Chamakh came in on a free transfer, leaving Bendtner’s path to the starting line-up a little less easy.
The problem was, it seems to me, that he wanted it to be easy – I don’t believe he was prepared to work hard enough to become the best striker in the world. By the looks of it at the time, he wasn’t even prepared to work to become the best striker at the Emirates.
He spent the 2011/12 season on loan at Sunderland where he managed to make himself top scorer with a tally of 8, surprisingly. He spoke in negative terms about Arsenal who, at the time, were still paying a large percentage of his £50,000 a week wage-packet.
Not too smart and it might have been yet another instance he wished he kept his mouth shut – he insisted he did not want to return to Arsenal. Wenger granted him his wish and sent him on loan to Juventus where, as 24-year-old Arsenal fringe-player he ought to have been ecstatic to get the opportunity to go.
But, as has become of tendency with Bendtner, the novelty of joining up with the Italian champions was not even enough to get him to work hard. He suffered an unfortunate injury after just three months after his debut for Juventus and spent the rest of the season out injured.
Back luck, of course, but there was no one else to blame for what happened next – Bendtner was arrested in Denmark for drink driving in March of this year for driving the wrong way up a Copenhagen street. He was subsequently suspended form driving for three years, fined £97,000 and made ineligible for consideration the Denmark national team for six months.
Nicklas Bendtner claims he has ‘five clubs’ interested in signing him and, after burning all his bridges with Arsenal, he must and he will go – for good. But his story, much like that of another former Arsenal protégé David Bentley, is one of waste and shame.
It’s a waste of whatever potential and talent there was in the first place and a great shame that Bendtner’s ego and immaturity got in the way of what could have been (and still could be) an impressive career. Unfortunately he rarely managed to impress anyone with his football.
What he leaves instead is an impression of the best footballer in the world, an impression of a celebrity and, ultimately, an impression that he was lazy and bigheaded.
Young players in the youth and reserve teams at Arsenal – the likes of Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld and Hector Bellerin – should take the case of Nicklas Bendtner as a warning.
Bendtner could have stayed, worked hard to earn his chances in the first-team and become a big name some day. Instead his name is synonymous with egotism, laziness, disrespect, and, eventually, failure. Hard work, perseverance, patience and positivity are what Arsenal’s young guns should be prepared for.
In football, as in life, the clichés are all true: you get out what you put in, patience is a virtue and don’t burn your bridges. Also, drive drunk up the street wrong way, that’s a good one too.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald