A few days ago Denmark and the Czech Republic – probably Italy’s two closest challengers in the World Cup Qualifying Group B – drew 0-0 in Copenhagen. Denmark dominated but couldn’t get through a well-organised Czech defence. Nicklas Bendtner was suspended because of his celebration misconduct during the Euros. Had he played on Saturday, Denmark would probably have scored.
Bendtner’s career at club level, to put it mildly, has never taken off. Playing for the Danish national side, however, he is probably the most important player on the team. At the relatively tender age of 24, he already has 52 caps and has scored 20 goals. At Euro 2012 he and Daniel Agger were Denmark’s star performers. Bendtner scored twice against Portugal, assisted Michael Krohn-Dehli’s goal against Germany and was generally one of the best Danish players in a very difficult group with Germany, Holland and Portugal.
When Nicklas played his first game in the national side against Poland in a friendly back in August 2006, he scored. He also netted in his next game against Portugal. Since then, he has been Coach Morten Olsen’s preferred choice at centre-forward. Denmark basically has no alternative to Bendtner, which the game against the Czechs clearly underlined.
In his first outings for Denmark, Bendtner was somewhat lazy but Olsen has molded him into an invaluable asset for the team and now the forward generally works hard. He rarely gets substituted for Denmark – he is simply too important to the team.
At club level, things have been a lot harder. It’s a common view in England that boss Arsene Wenger gave Bendtner too many chances at Arsenal and he never completely proved himself. When out on loan at Birmingham he did relatively well, scoring 11 goals, and last year at Sunderland he managed to get on the score-sheet eight times in 28 games. Still, Bendtner has hardly set the Premier League sky on fire during his seven years in England.
His loan deal to Juventus was a surprise to almost everyone. He has agreed a significant pay cut with Arsenal to go to Turin and the reason for that is very obvious. Bendtner thinks highly of himself and he wants to play in a top team that is in the Champions League. That is not a bad thing for a footballer. Zlatan Ibrahimovic thinks he’s better than Diego Maradona and he’s done pretty well for himself. There are other similarities between the two, even if Ibra is obviously a much more accomplished player. Bendtner plays with a lot of confidence, he has a really good touch for a big man (195 cm), he holds the ball up well and he is a relatively good finisher, although obviously not in Zlatan’s class. Bendtner also has pretty good vision for a striker and provides a decent number of assists over a season.
Comparing him to the other Juventus strikers, he is about on the same level as they are. He doesn’t have the touch and vision of Vucinic, but he works harder and is a better finisher. His work rate, technical skills and speed are obviously not at Giovinco’s level but he is stronger – who isn’t? Alessandro Matri is quicker and a harder worker than Bendtner, but the Dane has a better touch and is a better hold-up player than the Italian.
The Danish national team plays a 4-2-3-1 formation which suits Bendtner, but he has played 4-4-2 and done well. If Antonio Conte does decide to play Bendtner then he should give him some decent playing time and start him – as he is not great off the bench. He likes to work his way into matches. Against Portugal in the Euros he was invisible for the first 45 minutes and scored twice after the break. That’s pretty typical of him.
Nicklas Bendtner definitely has a point to prove at club level and he knows he won’t be offered many more chances at a top side. Juventus might not have netted the top striker they wanted this summer, but if Conte can unleash Bendtner’s potential, like Morten Olsen has done at international level for Denmark, the Juventini might be pretty surprised at what he can do.
Karsten Krogh is a Danish football journalist and a Serie A TV commentator. He lives in Copenhagen.