When Nicklas Bendtner arrived at Wolfsburg in 2014 the coach, Dieter Hecking, mustered what must rank among the most underwhelming appraisals of a new signing in football history.
“Everyone is worth a second chance,” he said. “Let’s wait until he is fully settled in.”
Eighteen months on, the relationship between Bendtner and Wolfsburg is something of a lame duck. Last month, Hecking admitted: “If Nicklas came to me and said he wanted to leave the club, then we would all sit down and discuss it.” With the likes of Crystal Palace and Newcastle United showing bona fide interest, a departure seems increasingly likely.
In a year and a half Bendtner has made 44 appearances for Wolfsburg, but has started in only 10 of those games. Most of the minutes he has spent on the pitch have been characterised by the aimless, disjointed lurking Arsenal fans know so well.
There have been moments. After a difficult first season, the 28-year-old started 2015-16 by scoring a late equaliser against Bayern Munich in the German Super Cup. He then scored in the penalty shoot-out as Wolfsburg claimed their second trophy in the space of a few months.
“After I scored in the Super Cup, I thought: this is going to be my season!” Bendtner told the German sports magazine 11 Freunde last month. “But then suddenly I was back on the bench. It was frustrating.”
The Dane has spent his entire time at the club playing second fiddle to the Dutchman Bas Dost, a tall poacher of a similar ilk. Yet it speaks volumes that, with Dost currently sidelined with a broken metatarsal, Wolfsburg still seem happy to get rid of his like-for-like replacement. But Bendtner and Wolfsburg were always destined to be a mismatch. The striker’s individualism doesn’t fit well with the team-oriented, disciplined ideals of Hecking. When Bendtner was punished for training badly last month, Hecking moaned: “It isn’t that he didn’t do anything at all, he just didn’t do what we wanted him to do.”
Bendtner himself will tell you he trains harder than anyone. Yet the impression his coaches give is that he is doing nothing to merit a place in the first team.
“Perhaps we need to give him a new motivation. All the optimism, the psychological discussions and the arms around his shoulder might not be helping,” mused an exasperated Hecking last summer.
Yet Bendtner does seem to have curbed his indiscipline. Since he joined Wolfsburg there have been no arguments with taxi drivers, drink-driving or indecent exposure. But he has been disciplined several times for arriving late to training. On one occasion, his employers suspected he had been drinking with friends in Berlin.
“Put it this way,” said Wolfsburg’s director of sport, Klaus Allofs, “there isn’t enough traffic in the city of Wolfsburg for him to arrive that late.”
Wolfsburg is a beige city which exists only because of Volkswagen. For a man who adores London, it must be hell on earth. It is clear Bendtner pines for England. His son still lives in London, and there is something wistful about the way he describes his time in the Premier League.
“At Sunderland, the whole team went out on the town just before the first day of training,” he told 11 Freunde. “It was a great evening, and a great group of lads. Sadly, there has been nothing like that at Wolfsburg.”