He’s reached double figures in goals for the first time in a decade, helped Rosenborg win the league title and will be looking to fire Denmark to the World Cup when they face Republic of Ireland in the play-offs. So how has Nicklas Bendtner rediscovered his scoring touch and gone from a ‘Lord’ to an ‘Emperor’?
James Walker-Roberts takes a look…
“I have always had a huge desire but perhaps not always the right perspective.”
Perspective. Ask most English football fans for their ‘perspective’ of Nicklas Bendtner and it is unlikely to be positive. Nine seasons he spent in England – eight of those in the Premier League – and he only reached double figures once, during a loan spell with Birmingham in the Championship in 2006/07.
He is best remembered not as a prolific striker, but as a ‘Lord’, as well for showing his pants on a few occasions, and for declaring he will be “one of the best strikers in the world”.
The 29-year-old has not quite hit those heights yet, but he is building some early momentum. After finally ending a 10-year relationship with Arsenal in 2014, Bendtner spent two unproductive years with Wolfsburg and then one with Nottingham Forest, before he signed for Norwegian side Rosenborg earlier this year.
“A fantastic signing for Rosenborg and for Norwegian football…That such a profile is coming to Rosenborg and the Eliteserien is something to be proud of,” said the club’s head coach Kare Ingebrigtsen.
Bendtner admitted upon arriving in Norway that he was looking forward to learning about football in the country and hoping to find “stability” at Rosenborg, a club known for getting the best out of players.
The early signs were positive. He marked his debut with an assist as he came off the bench to help Rosenborg win the Norwegian Super Cup. He followed that up with two goals in his first two league games as Rosenborg won four in a row to start the season.
Denmark vs Rep Ire
November 11, 2017, 7:00pm
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It was not just his performances on the pitch that impressed his team-mates. “Bendtner’s the best player I’ve played with,” defender Alex Gersbach told Goal. “The media made a big splash about [him when he signed] and so they should. He’s a top-class player and you can see at training and during the games that he’s played at a high level.”
Gersbach added: “He doesn’t really have an ego. You’d expect a player like that to be cocky and arrogant, but he’s genuinely a nice guy.”
There have still been some quips – asked by a journalist whether it is nice being Nicklas Bendtner in Norway, he replied: “It’s nice being Nicklas Bendtner anywhere.” And there have also been challenges, with Rosenborg head coach Ingebrigtsen facing some criticism when he continued to start Bendtner early in the season even though he wasn’t scoring.
Ingebrigtsen says he persisted because he knew Bendtner would get better by playing regularly.
“My advantage was that I saw Nicklas in training every day,” he told Norwegian newspaper VG. “I saw he did things on a football pitch that we have not seen at Lerkendal [Rosenborg’s stadium] for a while.
“Nicklas had to be matchfit. He had played so few matches in recent years that he had to play his way into fitness, there was no other way…Yes we had to make compromises to make it happen.”
Ingebrigtsen’s persistence with Bendtner has paid off. As Rosenborg clinched their 25th league title last weekend, Bendtner is the top scorer in the Eliteserien with 18 goals.
“If you compare Bendtner today with where he has been the last seasons, this is a real sunshine story,” wrote Leif Welhaven in VG. “The surprising career choice has seen him come good after many lean years.
“He has gradually slipped into the role at Rosenborg and there have been more and more of the moments that nobody else in the Eliteserien does. Now nobody talks about whether it was smart to pick up Bendtner…He must take a good amount of the credit for Rosenborg to win [the title] again. Congratulations on the gold, Lord Bendtner. You really deserve this.”
Bendtner’s form – which is undoubtedly the best of his career – has seen him recalled by Denmark after nearly two years in the wilderness.
“Bendtner on the pitch – we want Bendtner on the pitch” was the chant in September when Denmark faced Poland in Copenhagen. The 30,000 fans got their wish as the striker came on as a late substitute in a 4-0 win.
“The reception I received when I entered was very touching,” he said. “It was amazing. It is very rare that I feel anything in the body. But I got upset when I ran into the pitch.”
Bendtner has not yet scored in Denmark’s World Cup Qualifying campaign but he did earn a starting role for their final Group E match against Romania, and won a penalty for Christian Eriksen to convert in a 1-1 draw.
He has an opportunity be involved in the XI again as Denmark face Republic of Ireland in the first leg of their play-off on Saturday, live on Sky Sports, particularly with Feyenoord’s Nicolai Jorgensen potentially unavailable after a wrist injury.
Whether Bendtner plays or not, the 29-year-old sounds as though he might still be satisfied with his year to date.
“Before I got here [Rosenborg], I did not want to play football anymore,” he told Norway’s NRK a fortnight ago. “I had trouble figuring out what had gone wrong. For me, the shift was about getting football back. I needed to find a place where it could be done.”
Having had something of nomadic career to date, Bendtner himself does not sound keen on another move. “As long as you are happy somewhere and feel it’s right for you, I do not see any reason to change.
“Getting here and finding something that has been so awake in me for so long…It has meant a lot to me. Here I found the love to play football again. I recovered the love of something that has been in all my life.”
Bendtner has even got a new nickname at Rosenborg. No longer the ‘Lord’ as that was already taken, he is now known as ‘Emperor Bendtner’.
“It’s true we have kings, lords and different titles for people in the dressing room,” Rosenborg winger Pal Andre Helland explained to Norwegian newspaper Nettavisen. “And because of ‘Lord Bakenga’ that title was already taken when Bendtner arrived. Besides, we all agreed that ‘Lord’ was an insufficient title for someone with Nicklas’ CV.”
Bendtner’s is a CV that has received some much-needed attention over the last six months, and now he has the chance to add to it if he can help Denmark qualify for the World Cup.
Watch Denmark v Republic of Ireland live on Sky Sports Football from 7pm on Saturday