Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner played 76 minutes of a friendly for Denmark in Slovakia yesterday, three days after he'd played the full 90 minutes against Norway in a hotly contested UEFA Qualifier. For a man who hasn't played much for Arsenal over the past couple of months, the time on the pitch was probably a welcome run-out, but tiring. And playing in front of fewer than 5,000 people a thousand miles from home is probably not the easiest thing to do in the world.
Nonetheless, there are certain interpersonal standards, apparently, to which everyone must be held, lest they be judged by James Baxter:
The crowd also displayed a fundamental decency in applauding substituted Danish players off the field. Denis Rommehdal [sic], in particular, seemed to appreciate the gesture and gave the whole ground a clap when he limped out of the game after 30 minutes. Niklas Bendtner [sic AGAIN], by contrast, strengthened my impression of him as a man of much skill but no class by pointedly ignoring the paying public as they acknowledged his performance [my emphasis].
[Ed. note: Mr. Baxter tells me that the spelling mistakes have been addressed, so forget those "sics" above. I was in a kind of bad mood yesterday].
Without getting too much into assessments of particular reasons why a player may or may not acknowledge the applause of people in a stadium, it seems silly to strengthen your personal assessment of a man based on his reaction to being subbed off. (And of course, saying he has "much skill" is a whole other can of worms--I happen to think he does, but it's contested territory, to say the least).
Baxter is certainly entitled to his opinion, and there are players we all dislike for reasons that are more or less vague than others. For example, I don't like Paul Scholes. He's a wonderful player, except when he executes his patented scorched-earth tackles. Outside of the game, I'm sure he's a lovely fellow, and as it happens, I think Bendtner usually carries himself with great class in interviews and activities off the pitch. He may be the classiest person in his private life, or not; nobody knows.
In many ways, though, this is a larger issue that I have as a supporter of, well, probably a "less public" demeanor. As an American, I was brought up on sports where during- or post-game acknowledgement of the fan support is rare, baseball being a possible exception. I understand that fans like to see players be thankful. However, I spent seven years adoring Randy Moss, who would openly antagonize many fans and locals both on and off the
pitch field [goodness!]. Basketball players aren't big on showing thanks to all 20,000 fans in attendance as they trudge down the tunnel. Hockey players are called back out on the ice if they perform well, but otherwise just skate off without clapping the crowd. The tradition of clapping the paying public as one leaves the pitch was a bit of a revelation to me when I started watching football regularly eleven or twelve years ago.
The upshot of all this is that I think it's silly to say a player is of "no class" because he didn't clap the home support of a team he's playing against in a friendly across the continent. Who knows why he didn't? Did he really "pointedly ignore" them? (And what's the difference between pointedly ignoring, and just...ignoring? How can you tell if someone isn't acknowledging something ON PURPOSE?) Bendtner claps the crowd at the Emirates; he's not a monster, and he seems like an affable guy. Raking him across the coals in a match report based on a pretty tiny breach of etiquette seems a bit much.