Being told to p*** off by Thierry Henry at 16, getting spiked during a wild night at a London nightclub and fighting Emmanuel Adebayor on the pitch at Tottenham… the mad cap world of Nicklas Bendtner and his wild career at Arsenal laid bare in new book
- Nicklas Bendtner bares all about his time as an Arsenal player in his new book
- As a trialist, Bendtner had a heated exchange with Thierry Henry over the rules
- The Dane says scoring his first Arsenal goal was ‘surreal and completely insane’
- He also opens up on a row with Emmanuel Adebayor and getting spiked in a club
Nicklas Bendtner had a rollercoaster nine-year career with Arsenal.
The Danish striker’s new warts-and-all book blows the lid off his time under Arsene Wenger at one of English football’s top clubs…
I sometimes forget, after arriving at Arsenal as a 16-year-old, that I’m only on trial with the big guns. During one training session, we play a match with some rather unusual rules. It’s 11 on 11, but each player can only make a maximum of two touches at a time. I’m in a position to see Thierry Henry touch it three times.
‘Three touches,’ I shout.
Pat Rice, Wenger’s red-faced assistant coach, shouts at us to carry on.
‘Play on, for f***’s sake!’
A young Nicklas Bendtner had an explosive exchange with Thierry Henry during his trial
But Henry has heard me. He turns in my direction with his index finger pressed to his lips. ‘Sssssssh.’
Not long after, I do the same thing. First, the ball hits my heel, then my toe, then I make a pass.
Even though it’s all in the same movement, it’s not a clean touch and a free-kick is awarded against the academy pupil. I complain — big time. I snap that there should be equal treatment for everyone.
Henry tells me to shut it, but this time with a load of profanities. Looking back now, it’s all pretty good advice. But I don’t take it. I shout back that it’s him who should shut it.
Then he strides over to me — right up in my face — and tells me to p*** off. Completely indifferent to the fact that the game is still going on around us.
Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell get involved: ‘Move along, Nicklas, go, go, run along and shut your f***ing mouth!’
Henry stopped playing and told Bendtner to ‘p*** off’ after he accused him of breaking rules
But it doesn’t end there. After training, Henry comes over and grabs hold of me. We end up talking — first in the dressing room and then in the players’ lounge. I didn’t know he had so many words in him — but he does. He delivers a two-hour monologue. About everything it takes to get to where you want to be.
‘They say you’re a huge talent, but you still need to learn a few things,’ he tells me. ‘Like respect and humility. Remember that, Nicklas. Respect and humility. When you’re playing with the big boys, they’re the ones in charge. All you should do is listen.’
A new set of rules apply when I return from a loan season at Birmingham City. Like taking off your outdoor footwear before coming inside. That’s one that Emmanuel Adebayor is really into. I’ve been given a locker right next to him because I’ve been given squad number 26, while he plays with 25 on his back.
The man from Togo with his long, thin braids is an odd fish who takes some things more seriously than everyone else put together.
When he’s mucking around himself it’s another story entirely. One morning he’s put on my training kit and put his own in my place. When I discover this, he whispers to me with a shake of his head: ‘Then you’ll just have to use mine instead, Nicklas. It’s too late to change now.’
‘Nicklas’, ‘Nicklas’, always with ‘Nicklas’. He uses my name as if he were talking to a small child, and it triggers something in me. Maybe it’s a culture clash — the Africans mostly stick together. On the other hand, I get along pretty well with Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure. It’s only Adebayor I can’t stand.
I’m substitute in the north London derby at the Emirates, still looking for my first Premier League goal. When we get a corner, I get waved on. Cesc Fabregas’ dead balls have loads of air beneath them.
This one arcs up steeply, and I recognise the spin from countless training sessions. I unleash a spurt of pace that my marker can’t respond to. I head it down at an angle and it makes a loud noise as it hits the back of the net. I carry on my run, chased up the touchline by my team-mates.
The entire Emirates is on its feet for what was the winning goal.
From when the game restarted it took four seconds for the ball to cross the goalline — a new Premier League record for a substitute.
Bendtner wheels away in delight after scoring his first Premier League goal against Tottenham
Tottenham again, in the semi-final of the Carling Cup. After drawing the first leg 1-1 at the Emirates, we’re 4-0 down. Arsene Wenger sends Eduardo and Adebayor on. On the way past me, Adebayor shouts that it’s my fault he has to come on and waste his energy: ‘I’m here because you’re playing like s***.’
It’s not especially encouraging, and shortly after when we win a corner, we both seek out the back post. There’s a lot of pushing and jostling, and suddenly we’re fighting each other. We push back and forth while the Tottenham players watch in puzzlement. Afterwards, Adebayor claims I gave him the finger, but I don’t remember that.
What I do remember is him sticking his head forward. That’s the thing with him. He behaves illogically. Completely unpredictably. I don’t know if it’s totally deliberate, but it feels like a headbutt right on the bridge of my nose. The blood gushes out and my nose swells up. As if it’s not big enough already.
Bendtner clashed with Emmanuel Adebayor during a heavy north London derby defeat
Bendtner remembers Adebayor sticking his head forward, causing the striker’s nose to bleed
William Gallas rushes over and pulls us apart. But Adebayor isn’t done with me. He has to be escorted away while the referee books him. When the final whistle is blown, our arch-rivals have won 5-1. It’s our biggest derby defeat in an eternity, and no one on the team can bear it. Of course, personally I blame Adebayor, which is probably overdoing it.
But I really want to get hold of him for a quiet tête-à-tête, and I guess the feeling is mutual, because one of the coaching staff has to hold him back in the players’ tunnel. When we finally clash in the dressing room, we have a lot of s*** to say to each other. Things I wouldn’t be able to utter 12 years later. Neither of us is holding back, and it has consequences. The boss fines us both two weeks’ wages.
The English championship is well out of sight. Manchester United are running away with it and they have beaten us 3-1 at the Emirates to reach the Champions League final. I’m sent on just after we’ve gone 3-0 down. After the match, my team-mates hurry home. They keep their heads down, grumble and set their alarm clocks so they can make it to the debrief and light training session next morning. Everyone except me.
It all begins innocently enough. A couple of drinks, a meal and then Boujis, which isn’t your typical footballer nightclub. Membership is £500. Prince Harry, an Arsenal fan, is often there. And when he is, he comes over for a chat. I message a Danish girl that I’m kinda on-and-off dating. I’ve flown her in earlier that day and we agree to meet in the members’ only section.
The next thing I remember is my bathtub in Bushey. My teeth are chattering and the water is ice cold.
Bendtner came on as a substitute in the Champions League semi-final loss to Man United but then went out on a wild night in London
I’m still wearing clothes, and I’ve pulled my leather jacket over my head. My trousers are around my knees. Everything is soaked — my shirt, tie, jeans and Converse — but somehow my mobile still works.
There are a number of missed calls. An immense number. When I get online, I see myself everywhere. In a photo, I’m being escorted to a cab with the jacket pulled over my head. My trousers are in exactly the same place in the photo as they are in the bathtub.
I get hold of my friend who tells me what he knows. After hanging out in the bar area, one of the totally aggressive gold-diggers came over. I began chatting at random and from then it didn’t take many seconds before we disappear off towards the toilets.
Here we must apparently have done the deed. Or at least we tried to. Then I passed out, and no one — not my mate or my Danish girl — can get hold of me.
When Boujis closes an hour passes while they try to get through to me. I stagger as I’m escorted out to my taxi. Someone had put something in my glass. They call it ‘spiking’. That has to be the explanation. Wenger isn’t happy, and for the second season he fines me two weeks’ wages.
I don’t regret when I squared off against Adebayor. But I’d have preferred to do without this. It’s an act of utter stupidity. The kind only stupid lads commit.
I switch from the No 26 jersey to No 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.
How I started the pink boot trend
The first time I mention pink boots in a meeting with Nike, people smile as if I’m joking or something.
Bendtner wears pink boots before the Premier League match against Man City in 2008
But it slowly sinks in. That Bendtner guy actually means it. It simply hasn’t been on their radar — that men might play football wearing a so-called girl’s colour. But I state my case and Nike get on board with the idea. ‘Maybe you’re right,’ they say. ‘Maybe the time is right.’ At first, they want to create the pink boots for me. But then Franck Ribery at Bayern Munich hears about the project and says he wants in too.
It doesn’t really surprise me. Southern Europeans, especially the French, have always been quicker off the mark and braver when it comes to men’s fashion and experimenting with colour.
The British press scoff, calling them ‘Barbie boots’. Then I score against Dynamo Kiev in them, to send Arsenal into the 2008-09 Champions League knock-out stages. Suddenly everyone else dares to play in pink too. Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Arturo Vidal and many more.
Winning £220,000 in one night at poker
As I struggle to make headway at Arsenal, I head to the casino.
I have had a taste of that world — including with (Arsenal team-mate) Cesc Fabregas — but now I take out memberships at the serious venues.
They cost something like £5,000 each. London’s oldest and finest casino, Les Ambassadeurs Club in Mayfair, is where I feel alive again.
One night I’m at the poker table, I end up winning £220,000. When I wander across the street to my hotel, I’ve got a backpack stuffed with £50 notes (vacuum-packed) and I’m so high on adrenaline that I can’t sleep.
I can barely think about anything else. So I keep going to the casino — over and over.
I end up gambling on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays — every week — from six o’clock in the evening until four in the morning.
I can’t help myself. Instead of getting back to the hotel on a high, I start crawling into bed knowing I’m down twenty grand, or fifty, or two hundred.
Evening falls on what I think will be my last day as an Arsenal player. I’m at the Westbury, still my favourite hotel in London, waiting for the fax with Wenger’s signature to arrive.
At my side are my agent, Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish and manager Ian Holloway.
We’ve spent most of the day there. Why can’t Arsenal pull their f****** fingers out and sell me, so I can get on with my career? It’s after 8pm when Wenger calls. He gets straight to the point.
Bendtner was left furious when Arsene Wenger told him he would not be able to leave the club
‘I’m afraid your transfer isn’t going to happen,’ he says. ‘We’ve not been able to buy the striker we wanted. So you’re our back-up. That’s your job for the next year.’
I hang up. I look at my agent, who shrugs his shoulders. Then I call back. And I say a bunch of pretty ugly, disrespectful stuff. Like ‘a*******’ and ‘w*****’.
‘We can’t stand each other any more,’ I say, ending my tirade. ‘It’d be best if we parted ways.’
‘Well, OK — that’s quite possible,’ Wenger replies in his heavy French accent. ‘But it’s not going to happen. See you at training.’
Adapted from BOTH SIDES by Nicklas Bendtner with Rune Skyum-Nielsen, published by Monoray on October 8 at £12.99.
To order a copy for £11.04 (offer valid to 16/10/20), go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £15.
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