We have a guest reviewer for today's player - I felt it was reasonable for the case in question. I've always inexplicably liked Nicklas Bendtner even though he's kind of a garbage person, but I know someone who's even more drawn to him. It's Twitter's @Heisenbergkamp, who some of you may also know as one of the former proprietors of the Arsenal Offside blog. He was looking for a place to talk about The Greatest Striker That Ever Lived, and I couldn't think of a better one than right here. Enjoy.
"I should start every game, I should be playing every minute of every match, and always be in the team." - Nicklas Bendtner, 2009
"I've had drunks and alcoholics in my cab in Copenhagen over the last 25 years, but I've never experienced anything like this." - 47 year-old Copenhagen cab driver, 2013
Arsenal, fresh off a season spent atop the league table for much of it and a dramatic FA Cup victory that felt as much like an exorcism as a triumph, released its longest-tenured player Saturday, a man who spent nine years with the club. To the extent it was acknowledged at all by the media, it was little more than an excuse to make jokes at the player's expense. It's hard to imagine this scenario playing out the same way for any other player, but after all, Nicklas Bendtner has never wanted to be any other player.
Bendtner's contribution on the pitch this season was minimal, to say the least. He started five matches, all but one of those in the domestic cups. He scored two goals, and he injured himself scoring the second of those, a dramatic New Year's Day winner against Cardiff. He would only appear twice more for the club, to little effect. At a certain point late in the season, it seemed like he had just been sent off somewhere to finish his Arsenal career in exile.
The lasting memory of Bendtner's 2013-14 season is likely his "Samurai" look, another reminder of his oftentimes stunning (and sometimes refreshing) lack of self-awareness. He made virtually no positive impression at the club this season. This 2013-14 team had triumphs, but they were no more Nicklas Bendtner's triumphs than the mosquito on California Chrome's ass can claim to have won the Kentucky Derby. He will receive an FA Cup medal, but that success belongs to the other players on the team, not to him.
Now he is no longer an Arsenal player. I don't know a single Arsenal fan who is upset about this, and no one has defended Bendtner over the years more than me. He has, in effect, become a walking punchline (Case in point: on a recent appearance on Graham Norton, comedian Lee Mack, with a slightly bewildered Keira Knightly and Kenneth Branagh looking on, grilled Thierry Henry on why he decided to leave Arsenal. As Henry attempted to stammer out a diplomatic excuse, Mack asked "Was it Bendtner?", drawing large gales of laughter from the audience). Mention Bendtner’s name to Arsenal fans, and see the responses you will get. There must be nothing worse in the world than leaving somewhere, especially somewhere you've spent nine years, and knowing that no one will miss you after you're gone. Not with a bang, but a whimper, as the man says.
One of the most remarkable things about Bendtner as a player is how essentially unremarkable he was on the pitch. He is tall, and strong, but, despite having deceptively good control of the ball with his feet, was always a poor finisher. His Arsenal record is the kind of solid if unspectacular record you want in a back-up striker: 164 appearances (77 starts, 87 substitute appearances), 47 goals, 20 assists. Roughly a goal every other start, or every 4th appearance. He was always second-choice, deputizing for a series of Arsenal strikers -- Adebayor, van Persie, Giroud. He capably led the line for some very decent Denmark squads for a half-decade or so. A different sort of man with that resume would be praised as a valuable squad player.
There were highlights -- becoming only the third Arsenal player to score a Champions League hat trick (Thierry Henry and Alan Smith the others) against Porto, that stunning long-range strike against Blackburn. There were lowlights -- missing *that* chance against Barcelona, and…well, too many scuffed chances to count, if we're being honest.
But talking about Bendtner the footballer seems to be beside the point. It’s like talking about Lady Gaga's prowess as a songwriter or the screenplay of "Human Centipede." When we talk about Bendtner, we're not really talking about Bendtner, we're talking about "Bendtner." Largely through his own flaws, Bendtner has transcended the realm of the normal and become a totem. A totem of what? Well, that's the interesting, Rorshach-like question that makes Bendtner so fascinating.
For many, Bendtner has become the poster boy for everything wrong with modern football: Overpaid, too much too young, egomaniacal, entitled, lazy, poorly-behaved off the pitch? Full credit if you marked "all of the above."
Bendtner's off the field behavior has become legendary. Not content to be a run-of-the-mill scofflaw professional athlete racking up drunk driving mundanities, Bendtner has: (1) whipped a taxi cab with his belt before rubbing his genitalia on the window, slurring obscenities at the driver; (2) kicked upon the locked door to the gym in his own apartment building at 1 a.m., and (3) walked down the street in Newcastle with Lee Cattermole bashing in car windows, among other acts of civic kindness.
And the nudity. Oh, the nudity. You know you are living an interesting life when fans have literally a handful of public underwear/nudity stories to choose from. My own personal favorite is when Bendtner totaled his £150,000 Aston Martin on the way to Arsenal training one morning. His response was to jump out of the car and strip bare-ass naked to "make sure he was okay." Obviously. Bendtner explained, "My body is my livelihood and I was desperate to find out if I was okay. So I took off all my clothes, even my pants, picked up a wing mirror that had come off the car and checked myself over, front and back. Then I climbed back into the car to find my phone. I rang the club to say I'd be late for training." The image of Nicklas Bendtner, buck naked by the side of the road, using a busted side mirror to examine his various and sundry, still makes me giggle. Criticize him all you want, but you don't get these kinds of stories with Mikel Arteta.
Bendtner's ego is world-renowned. Much has been made of his statement that he believed he was the world's best striker. While that statement has been misconstrued and taken way, way out of context, it stuck and it stuck for a reason. From the time he joined the club as a teenager, Bendtner honestly believed he should be playing, even over players like Adebayor and van Persie at their very best. He saw himself in a completely different light than everyone else, and it, in turns, mystified, entertained, and enraged us. Quickly, my two favorite Bendtner ego anecdotes:
- In 2009, unhappy with his playing time at Arsenal, Bendtner told a reporter, "I'm going somewhere where I know I can be happy to play. With a team where I can score goals and preferably to win something. I do not want to sit on the bench and staring. I love playing lots of games." When the reporter followed up by asking him which clubs he thought could offer him that, Bendtner responded with a straight face, "Real Madrid and Barcelona."
- After the 2008-09 season, in which one of the feel-good stories of Arsenal's season was Eduardo coming back from a horrific injury to play in a few matches at the end of the season, Bendtner thought it perfectly appropriate to ask Eduardo to give him the coveted # 9 shirt. When Eduardo refused, Bendtner later changed his shirt number from 26 to 52, reportedly in honor of his new £52,000 a week contract (a claim Bendtner later denied).
He got engaged to a Danish baroness ten years his senior worth more than £400 million after meeting her on a reality show. They had a son, and he left her shortly thereafter. He started his own jewelry company selling jewelry that he designed -- the venture apparently lost £2.2 million in 2012 alone. In short, Bendtner reached that elusive "Mike Tyson zone," where you couldn't rule out any story you heard about him, no matter how far-fetched.
But more interesting to me than Bendtner as symbol of the spoiled modern footballer is Bendtner the symbol of this trophyless Arsenal era. It seems somehow fitting that Bendtner arrived after the 2005 season in which Arsenal won the FA Cup, just as the Invincibles were dissipating, and was sent away right before Arsenal won the 2014 FA Cup, a trophy that we hope will propel the club to greater heights in seasons to come.
Those years were lean years for Arsenal. The budget was stretched by the debt demands of building a stadium, and Wenger's solution was to buy very cheap and young talent, develop that talent, and retain that talent by paying high wages to young players who had not proven they deserved it.
Sometimes, it worked -- Fabregas, Song, Clichy, and Szczesny were all players bought by Arsenal as teenagers for less than £1 million, who repaid the club's faith and investment in them by earning their wages as they developed and helping the club to success.
But sometimes, it didn't -- there were players like Bendtner, Denilson, Merida, and Senderos, who never lived up to their potential or wage bills, and later functioned, to various degrees, as millstones for the club, since their contracts were so lucrative as to make them virtually unsellable. Bendtner and Denilson, in particular, stayed on the club's books several years past any hint of usefulness strictly for financial reasons.
In the end, despite some near misses -- the 2007 League Cup, the 2007-08 League campaign, the 2011 League Cup -- those teams did not win anything. And the reason was largely because, for all the talent Arsenal developed in Fabregas, van Persie, et al., we couldn't or wouldn't spend the money to adequately complement those guys, and were constantly undone by the weak links in the chain, the guys who were, simply put, not good enough to play for a club like Arsenal at that level.
And despite people like me who insisted for years that he would eventually repay the club's faith in him, now that Nicklas Bendtner's Arsenal career is done, it must be said -- he fits definitively in the latter category. Despite his potential and some bright moments, he was one of the "not good enoughs" upon which the club had to rely regularly during those lean years, who ultimately kept us from winning things.
But for the last few years, there have been fewer and fewer of those guys lingering at Arsenal. For the most part, when they've left, they've been replaced not with uncertain potential, but with established professionals, who have proven they can play and contribute at the highest level of the sport. And in that regard, it is perfectly fitting that Bendtner gets sent away as Arsenal returns to winning ways and gets rid of the last of the not-quite-good-enoughs.
To be clear -- for some totally irrational reason I cannot explain, I sort of love Nicklas Bendtner. He scored some key goals for Arsenal, and he got a lot more stick from fans than he deserved. But the club is different now than it was even 3-4 years ago. We are back to winning ways, and potential just isn't enough anymore, especially potential which has failed to deliver time and time again. There is no room for him here.
The timing of Bendtner's Arsenal tenure, bookended by dramatic cup wins 9 years apart, will hopefully prove to be as symbolic as I think it is. I think we’ll look back on Bendtner as a defining symbol of the unproven youth entrusted with the club's fortunes during an era in which Arsenal built a stadium, had some great moments, but could not quite do enough to win anything, sandwiched between two iconic Arsenal trophy-winning squads. Getting rid of Bendtner somehow seems to represent getting rid of the things that held Arsenal back from winning for so many years, and in that respect, despite my irrational love for the guy -- I come here to bury Bendtner, not to praise him.