A promising Arsenal youngster with a wild side that landed him in hot water, Nicklas Bendtner certainly looks back on aspects of his career with regret, as Alasdair Hooper writes.
The ‘Lord Bendtner’ persona, the iconic number 52 shirt and that on-field altercation with Emmanuel Adebayor have made sure Nicklas Bendtner is not easily forgotten.
It’s hard to disagree with the fact that the Danish striker had quite the impact on English football – it just wasn’t in the way that many expected after seeing him as a young exciting prospect.
He certainly had his moments on the pitch but Bendtner will largely be remembered for what happened off of it.
Bendtner joined Arsenal in August 2004 as a promising young striker, performing well in the reserves before being loaned to Birmingham City in 2006-07 to gain experience.
That initial loan went well for the forward, with a healthy return of 11 goals in 42 league appearances, as Birmingham were promoted to the Premier League.
The following season the teenager was presented with a number of first team opportunities with Arsenal. He scored his first competitive goal against Newcastle in the League Cup and memorably grabbed the winner in a 2-1 victory against Tottenham 1.8 seconds after coming on as a substitute in December 2007 – which also constituted his first Premier League goal.
But there was another, less favourable, side to Bendtner. One particularly ugly affair was in the 2008 League Cup semi-final against Spurs when he and Arsenal teammate Emmanuel Adebayor were involved in an on-field clash.
Referee Howard Webb and Gunners captain William Gallas were forced to intervene as the heated altercation left Bendtner with a cut nose.
Those initial months with Arsenal’s first team ultimately proved to be a perfect indication of how Bendtner’s club career would pan out. There were fleeting moments of class and displays of the talent, but they were nearly always overshadowed by disciplinary issues or controversy.
There was also the famous switch from the number 26 to the number 52 at the start of the 2009-10 season. Many saw it at the time as a cheeky reflection to his salary – £52,000 a week – but he later revealed in his tell-all book that the squad number change was down to a fortune teller.
As reported by The Mail, the striker wrote: “I switched from the number 26 jersey to number 52 jersey because of a professional fortune-teller my mum knows. Or a clairvoyant, as she calls herself.
“She thinks 26 is a s*** number for me, because 2 + 6 = 8, which is my so-called ‘bad number’. She’s found this out… somehow. According to the friend, 7 is my lucky number. My strength number.
“Unfortunately, 7 is already taken. And 25 (2 + 5 = 7) was Adebayor’s, which means it’s all tied up with bad karma.
“We settle for 52 in the end. When it’s made official, everyone thinks it’s a hint about my new wages: £52,000 a week.”
Wacky shirt numbers aside, Bendtner’s opportunities at Arsenal soon became limited and he was loaned to Sunderland on the final day of the August 2011 transfer window. That move reunited him with his ex-Birmingham boss Steve Bruce, and he finished as the club’s top scorer that season with eight Premier League goals.
He was then loaned to Italian giants Juventus in August 2012 for a season, and although injury did play a part, it was far from a success. He finished the season with just two league starts, no goals and with just 11 appearances in all competitions.
In 2013-14 the striker ended up staying with Arsenal to prove himself, but never really got up to speed. After just 14 appearances in all competitions he was released at the end of the season.
The following year the striker joined Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, but again the goalscoring wasn’t at the level that was expected of him, bagging just three league goals in two seasons. His contract was terminated in April 2016, just over a year before it was initially due to come to an end.
The striker’s next destination was Nottingham Forest but again, there was no real magic and he only netted twice in the league. He later explained that his heart wasn’t really in it at Forest and it wasn’t until he got to his next club, Rosenborg, that he found himself again.
Bendtner’s attacking numbers definitely echo that. He joined the Norwegian club in 2017 and scored 23 goals in all competitions across his first campaign and 12 in total in his second – Rosenborg winning the league title both years.
In September 2019, the striker returned home – to Copenhagen – after signing for them on transfer deadline day. However, he scored just once for them in all competitions and left at the end of the season.
The forward now finds himself playing for Tårnby FF in the Danish fourth-tier where he has been since August 2020.
Despite all of this, there is a lot more to the Nicklas Bendtner story. Over the years he was brilliant for his country – scoring 30 goals in 81 international caps – which puts him eighth on the list for Denmark’s top goal scorers. That’s something to be proud of no matter what.
But what really is apparent in the striker’s memoire is the regret he carries about his younger years. In a piece with the Guardian he accepted that he had become too fond of the lifestyle that came with the money associated with being a professional footballer.
“I want to go back in time and hit that young lad on the head with a hammer,” he added. “Make him understand what a chance it is. That he has something special – something he has to look after.”
Bendtner will certainly be remembered both fondly and otherwise, but perhaps his later reflections and admissions will help younger footballers as they try to pave their own way in the game.
You can follow Alasdair on Twitter at @adjhooper1992