Nicklas Bendtner, the Oversized-Ego Smelter?

If I continue to sit on the bench at Arsenal, then I must [move] away. It goes without saying. But my priority is very clear—as it has always been—to play for Arsenal.* Nicklas Bendtner

 

The consistent criticism of Nicklas Bendtner is that his self-belief is disproportionate to the results on the field. Without the proof, his abundant self-confidence turns to arrogance. Regardless of his stated ambition, the criticism generally forgets that it was leveled at a 19 year old. Bendtner has recognized potential, and at times he is very good, but no where near the best, as it is presumed he asserted. His words are not as loose as they first appear, but if considered unhinged from reality, he is fair game, and the 6’3”chistled emblem of the North Sea is characterized as deeply self-enamored.

The tendency toward arrogance was already noted early in the 2006-2007 season when Bendtner (aged 18) was on-loan at Birmingham City. Steve Bruce, then Birmingham City manager, remarked, “…he has got every chance of making it at the top level as long as he keeps his feet on the ground." Since this kinder way of putting it, Bendtner has been called “arrogant”, “cocky”, “a so-in-so”, a “cocky so-in-so”, and a “self-aggrandizing blowhard”. In Nicklas Bendtner News, he is used to clarify etymologies of confident and cocky. His faults and merits may be unbalanced, but the “The Dane” or “The Big Dane”, won’t be felled, as of yet.

Discussions of Bendtner’s confidence peaked around his disastrous performance against Burnley on March 6, 2010, where he missed an embarrassing number of goal-scoring opportunities, and his March 9th hat trick against Porto in the Champions League. After the Burnley game, his “immense” and “bottomless” confidence was characterized as arrogant to the point of a narcissism disconnected from reality. After the Porto game, this immeasurable confidence was credited for the recovery.

Two Bendtners, while spotted in the past, fully emerged out of these games. There was a Burnley Bendtner, referred to as “Bendtner the goat” and Bendtner the “lame donkey”, which was followed by the Porto Bendtner, referred to as “Nicklas Bendtner’s prodigious twin” and the “new Michael Landrup”, the latter in a piece which concluded, “ I don’t know how he does it.” Categories do not end the hung jury on Bendtner as a footballer. The near simultaneous co-existence of extremes couldn’t be reconciled for a final judgment.

The enigma also goes way back, long enough for suggestive associations with class and cultural stereotypes to become an explanation for his haughtiness: Bendtner’s knowledge of seasonal white truffles, his engagement to Danish Baroness Caroline Luel-Brockdorff, and his totaled Aston Martin (in many reports on the accident the car’s price was quoted) can be loosely associated with the decadence of privilege. His altercation with Emmanuel Adebayor would suggest he is a jerk, if Adebayor hadn’t blurred the circumstances by proving to be one. Never mind Bendtner’s ordinary middle-class upbringing. Proximity determines the evidence, and if one chooses to assemble the presented bits and pieces, one can explain his attitude. In the absence of consistent scoring, these anecdotes begin to render Bendtner the inflammation of his self-entitlement.

He very well may prove to be a blowhard, yet some evidence indicates otherwise. David Hyter, after the Burnley game, wrote “…he [Bendtner] has it by the bucket-load. In short, he is a cocky so-and-so. Yet his is a likeable brand of self-assurance.” The arrogance isn’t sour when it’s mixed with charm, likeability, and hard work. There’s more than simply distinguishing between confidence and arrogance. Plus, what wrong with arrogance if you’re a striker?

No one can become a professional footballer without a confidence that occasionally balloons into arrogance, or at the very least sounds arrogant. Doubt has to be exorcized, or how else could these guys project themselves so clearly into a distant and rare place of excellence and idol? Putting aside the goalkeeper, the fragile psyche of the striker is a fitting case.

The lines of success and failure for a striker are a hair’s breath apart. The pathology takes numerous forms, is often inexplicable, and is always very public. In Bendtner’s case, he has been “pilloried for his profligacy”. Fending off the disease of acute inconsistency, would demand a constant and delicate management of one’s confidence and self-belief. Bendtner’s bucket-loads of confidence guarantees proper self-assurance, although it can come off sounding bloated, immunizing him from a reality others see. But this could describe any number of strikers, as does his erratic behavior.

The striker is engaged in an open-ended conversation with himself. It is argumentative, self-castigating, supportive, cheerleading, soothsaying, and scientific. Not restricted to the field, it can take place anywhere—on the airplane home or when falling asleep at night—if my own internal dialog is applicable. However Bendtner’s confidence is characterized, the conversations he conducts with himself are inward-bound; they are insulated and contained. They form a sequestered fiction which guides Bendtner safely through a reality full of deleterious questions and charges of fraud and underachievement.

Like any thinking that constantly chews away at things, it’s patterns and words repeat again and again until it transforms into some kind of action. On television, it seems that the striker mutters to himself more than other players. It’s indistinct to us, but loud and clear in the striker’s head, including the din of confusion. All we know is that the conversation is taking place—the lips are moving, the brow furls, the head hangs, and the stone-face fights to ignore the kernel of truth in the crowd’s hostility. Who knows what Bendtner is telling himself, but some indication is there in what he says out loud.

Before considering an example of which words Bendtner has used to indict himself, it is worthwhile to hear him out when he offers his version of confidence. "I know what I want and, if it doesn't happen at Arsenal, then I will move away from the club — so I'm guaranteed to have the whole remainder of my career playing, wherever I am. I want to play solid." Hardly self-aggrandizing.

Working hard and consistently training well is easier than developing a mental strength with mechanisms designed to produce and maintain the abundant confidence necessary to match potential. He is going to do this at Arsenal. If he doesn’t achieve this at Arsenal, then he will try somewhere else. This does not express spurned entitlement, but the viability of his own developmental model. He will go where it is always possible to realize his potential, which he and others believe could make him one of the best.

There is the impression that Bendtner’s conversations aren’t held in reference to the better strikers out there, if public statements reflect private thinking. He doesn’t claim to be as good as Ballon D’Or winners. His comparison to Zlatan Ibrahimovich didn’t declare who had taken the Öresund Strait. “In three years I will be better than Zlatan.”, is a projection, not a fact to behold.

Bendtner is the measure of himself. There is a Bendtner potential and the Bendtner process by which his potential is projected and realized. There is a complete Bendtner system, where confidence is built around the player he is now and the future one he sees as fulfilled potential. It is self-contained like the world of his thoughts, which can look very similar to the disconnected bubble of egomania.

Bendtner has often spoken about how good he is and can be. Indifference to how people or the media interpret him does not mean he can abandon the management of public relations. This is foolish, but should be attributed to immaturity. An early and referenced example of Bendtner’s self-indictment: “I do not believe I'm over-confident. I believe I have the confidence I need in my ability….But the goals are the last thing I need to add and when I do I believe I will be the player I want to be. One of the best.”

His harshest critics point to comments like this to have Bendtner make their claims for them. And he does a good job feeding them evidence, as tasty as white truffles, but available in all seasons. But even in what appears to be a bald statement, the relationship and measurement of his ingredients are carefully considered, always emerging from the reference to himself.

When Bendtner crashed his Aston Martin there was no one around. Apparently, he freed himself, and beside the wreckage, stripped naked and checked his body thoroughly for injury. Before considering this a Norse myth of self-reliance, or a template of the Greek ideal, the anecdote attests to his unabashed character thoroughly engaged in intimate self-examination.

Against Porto, his recovery came quickly and the two Bendtner’s collided, giving the impression of a jarring jump-cut. But the Bendtners’ proximity is misleading, as are the previous occasions where he was brilliant one day and embarrassing the next. The scene of this accident obscures the more subtle process of consistent application and maintenance of self-belief that defines his development. “If goals were owed him, he pressed his claim vigorously.”

Bendtner’s brand of confidence is also likeable, because it is an outward expression of the necessary. It reveals the mental hard work often overshadowed by the physical. The distinction between Bendtner’s and other strikers’ brand of confidence is that he may maintain his by externalizing it, a way to exceed himself as the limit, as he heads toward Great Dane or lame donkey.

* English translation

 

11/16/10

 

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