Category Archives: History

ajax

Anatomy of Arsenal: Ajax 1970 (part 1)

By Les Crang

In January 1968, Mr.Denis Hill-Wood, our chairman, stated that, if Arsenal qualified for the Inter-Cities Fairs cup, he and his colleagues would have to think seriously whether to accept an invitation to play in Europe.

Bob WallArsenal From the heart

When Arsene Wenger talks about 4th place in the Premier League being like a trophy, many of us agree. As a revenue stream via television rights, advertising and tickets, one cannot doubt its importance. But back in the 1960’s things were different. There were no cheap flights or many travelling fans then. Bob Wall explained that the first time Arsenal had played in Europe in 1963 they had played Staevnet of Denmark and lost to R.F.C Liege, writing ‘when we came to work out all our expenses and income, we discovered we had lost money’. So it is ironic, really, that nearly half a decade ago, Arsenal found the idea of going into a European competition questionable.¹

But Bob forgot one important thing about playing in Europe, that many fans have laid at Arsene Wenger table in recent years. Winning a trophy creates a winning mentality and gives the team confidence.

From 1953 until 1970, Arsenal had gone without winning a trophy. A succession of managers had come and gone, prior to Bertie Mee, who would be the manager in 1969-70, Arsenal were piloted by the ex-England skipper Billy Wright. It was said of Wright that he would often come to Highbury and wave his fist at the bust of Herbert Chapman, as his side was always compared to the great man’s sides. Peter Storey said that the stress got to him so badly he was often found passed out in the changing room or couldn’t sometimes watch the match when sober due to nerves and the assistant would have to tell him the score in the changing rooms. Brian Glanville said of him:-

He had neither the guile nor the authority to make things work and he reacted almost childishly to criticism.

To call Arsenal a sleeping giant would be too generous. A comatosed sloth might be nearer the mark.

Anyhow, in 1966 Arsenal had decided on a new manager after sacking Wright. Bertie Mee, the club physio. On being offered the job Mee asked for guarantees if he failed as manager he would get his job back as a the clubs physio. Talk about poisoned chalice.

Mee, although no great coach was a good delegator, signing Dave Sexton and then Don Howe as first team coach. Under Bertie Mee in the seasons prior to 1969-70, Mee had got us to two league cup finals in which we had lost to Leeds United 1-0 (watch Jack Charlton do his usual trick of stepping on the goalkeepers toes to stop them moving for the corner in the lead up to the goal):-

Then Arsenal lost to Third Division Swindon Town 3-1 in 1969 on a quagmire of a pitch:-

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For Arsenal captain Frank McLintock it had proved too much for him. Having previously lost two F.A cups finals with Leicester in 1961 (to Spurs) and 1963 (to Manchester United). Losing a further two defeats in the league cup had meant Arsenal reached four cup finals and then lost them all. He had prior to the Swindon final asked to be left out the squad as he felt stale and had discussed leaving the club.

But those defeats were a catalyst to two important things: Frank McLintock had grown fed up with a cup final and, more importantly, Don Howe and Bertie Mee decided to change Frank from a midfield player to a defender, moving George Graham into Frank’s midfield position. Don Howe told Frank this would extend his career. Frank would replace Ian Ure in the centre of defence (thank the lord).

Not everyone was happy with this, as Bob McNab said:-

To say I was not enthusiastic about it would be an understatement. Frank had shown nothing to give any indication he would have the discipline to become a centre-back. But, once you know Frank, you know anything is possible. He became so comfortable.

The change worked and by the end of season 1968-9, Arsenal had ended in fourth position (two places above Spurs) on 56 points (11 behind champions Leeds United) and Arsenal had gained their place in the European fairs cup.

The first four games against foreign competition consisted of some interesting matches, but not interesting opposition. In the first game we played Glentoran and Arsenal won 3-0 at home and then went to Ireland and lost 1-0. The game was remembered in Ireland for one thing. Charlie George getting sent off for swearing at the linesman. Charlie said of the game:-

It was hardly the glamour European tie I had been looking forward to. Worse, I was sent off in the return, not for a heroic challenge that went wrong but for bad mouthing a linesman… A few F’s and C’s went into what was my first senior dismissal. It was stupid, but you do what you do.

We then beat Sporting Lisbon 3-0 on aggregate and then to the Rouen of Belgium, which we beat 1-0 on aggregate. On reaching the quarter-final against Dynamo Bacau for most players this was their first trip to eastern Europe. Frank McLintock said of the visit:-

Our opponents, who were very friendly, just gawped at our clothes as they said their farewells after the match. They seemed petrified when they came to Highbury and we strolled to a 7-1 victory. I felt so sad for them. I think they were overawed and, understandably, wide-eyed from the culture shock they must have felt in London. I hope they at least managed to gorge on fruit during their short stay.

Arsenal had now got to the semi-final, where the could face such luminaries as Inter Milan (who had won two European cups in the 1960’s), Anderlecht from Belgium who had the excellent Paul  Van Himst or Ajax. In the end, they would face the Netherlands team Ajax.

Ajax were a team on the rise, winning 6 out of 8 league trophies from 1965-73. The previous year they had made the European Final, being humiliated 4-1 by AC Milan.

To make matters worst, they also lost the League to Feyenoord, meaning they were ‘relegated’ to the Fairs cup.

Despite those stumbles this was an exciting time to be a Ajax fan. They had already sent a warning through Europe when they beat Liverpool 5-1 in a foggy Amsterdam:-

It left the great Bill Shankly to say:-

I just can’t believe it,” Shankly growled. “They were the most defensive team we’ve ever played.

The Ajax team was being built by maybe one of the greatest foreign managers in Rinus Michels. A man who once said of management :-

Rule one: the coach is always right and rule two: if the coach is wrong, rule one applies automatically.

Michels was a man who gave us total football. In David Winners book Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, the author discusses the change in football, also found in the changing environment of the Netherlands. A structuralist architect Aldo Van Eyck said:-

All systems should be familiarised, one with the other, in such a way that their combined impact and interaction can be appreciated as a single complex system.

Almost a perfect description of what would be termed ‘total football’. A system where all parts were moving, all players could operate in any position, but a team that was built around Johan Cruyff. One of the finest players to come out of the Netherlands. It is often forgotten they also had Ruud Krol and Gerrie Mühren in the team. Fantastic players.

One hearing we had got Ajax in the semi, Bertie Mee said:-

I feel more comfortable facing Ajax than either Anderlecht or Inter Milan, their football is familiar, not foreign. I’m supremely confident we can play the final.

Jon Sammels thought differently saying:-

Of all the teams in the last four that we wanted to avoid, it was Ajax, They had a young Johann Cruyff, and Dutch football was really on the up. John Radford actually wanted Ajax in the semis because his wife Engel was Dutch. We just wanted to avoid them like the plague. Guess what? We drew Ajax. And to add to the challenge, the first leg was at home, which is another thing we didn’t want.

I wouldn’t say that other fans were so confident against such opposition. Geordie Armstrong said of the game and Cruyff in particular:-

He was a beautifully balanced player. Those in the game realised he was Europe’s rising young star, and our defence needed to be on their toes, as he was an absolute magician. Ajax also had guys like Krol, Keizer and Muhren in their team, so they were a formidable outfit. Their style of play was typically Dutch, where they’d defend deep, and hit back on the counter, and we rose to the challenge.

Prior to the game, The Times said (licence required):-

Arsenal face a true test of the present and the future at Highbury tonight. Having recently reshaped their ideas and turned more to youth in the process, young home-bred players like Kelly and George for example, at the side of Marinello, acquired at considerable expense from Scotland-they should now get an inkling of whether or not they are on the right lines. A two-legged tie against Ajax, of Amsterdam, in the semi-final round of the Fairs Cup is just the sounding board they need.

The reason for this negative approach? Quite simple, if you compared the sides, man for man, especially in the midfield Ajax, on paper were far superior. For example, George Graham was a great midfielder for coming from deep and scoring, but in comparison to Gerrie Muhren, a man described by Mr.Ajax and ex-teammate, Sjaak Swart as ‘technical and always running’, words one could hardly describe the Arsenal team being you could see Arsenal may have problems.  Not to belittle the Mee’s team, but they were a team based on stamina, team ethic and brawn. Though they did have one secret weapon that could play majestic football: Charlie George.

Therefore on the 08.04.70 Arsenal played Ajax at Highbury on a cold night and on a cut up pitch (not a rarity back then, see image below).

pitch

The team was :-Bob Wilson, Peter Storey, Frank McLintock, Peter Simpson, Bob McNab, Jon Sammels, Eddie Kelly, John Radford,Charlie George,George Graham, Peter Marinello               Sub:- George Armstrong [replaced Peter Marinello].

For the game in which Arsenal would dominate the importing thing was the inclusion of Peter Marinello. Marinello had come from Hibernians three months previously for £100,000, scoring against Manchester United on his debut. After that it all went downhill for him. But more of that later.

Arsenal started the game on fire, as Mee and assistant Don Howe saw that Ajax could be beaten when they noted that Ajax used a 4-2-4 formation with Vasovic dropping behind the the other defenders and then stepping out to provide a third man in midfield, meaning you could overman the midfield.

Within 16 minutes Arsenal had gone 1-0 up with The Times saying:-

It was Arsenal, however, who drew the blood when George. after two close efforts, shot home low through a crowd from outside the penalty area at the quarter hour.

Ajax then made the biggest mistake. They defended too deep. Mee, seeing the ineffectiveness of Peter Marinello on the wing changed things up and brought on Geordie Armstrong between around the 62 minute mark². I’m sure my hyperbolic description won’t describe things as well as Dave Seager in his soon to be published book Geordie Armstrong On The Wing, but Geordie on the wing changed the game and most likely Peter Marinello’s career of which he said in his biography:-

I should have been thrilled we wiped the floor with Ajax 3-0 in the first leg of the fairs cup semi-final in April, and I would have been, if only i’d been on the pitch on the final whistle. But you can’t keep a good man down, apparently, and they didn’t come any better than Geordie Armstrong, who had worked his way back into favour with the management and came on as a substitute to replace me.

With Ajax sitting back and Geordie and Charlie George tormenting the Ajax team on a heavy pitch at Highbury, with ten minutes left, Geordie put in a cross for Jon Sammels to convert. Three minutes later, the incessant movement meant that was Charlie George was brought down in the box. Up he stood and converted the penalty. 3-0. And that’s how it ended.

After the game, the press were full of praise for Charlie, with Cruyff saying of him ‘George can become as good as Di Stefano’. Charlie says in his biography that he swapped shirts with Cruyff who called him ‘the chairman’ due to the amount of incessant noise he was making on the pitch to the oppositions players and officals.

Although Arsenal lost the return 1-0 they went through 3-1 on aggregate. To face their destiny of a first trophy in 17 years against Anderlecht:

So why choose the semi? Well, the semi-final was against class opposition (one of the top 10 greatest teams one could say). Arsenal had come a long way since Mee took over in 1966. Many people were unsurprised that Arsenal lost to Leeds in the league cup in 1968, but two years later, team spirit had changed. The players were young and hungry. They wanted to win. Also, Howe and Mee had seen where the faults in Ajax stood and overmanned their midfield. They also saw the error of their ways in using Marinello and reverted to the hard working but skillful Geordie Armstrong. But the main difference was Charlie George. A man that had skill and a player that tormented Ajax all night.

Two years later Ajax would face Arsenal again. Would the result be the same though? To be continued.

¹The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup would be a precursor to the UEFA Cup and now the Europa Cup
²Big thanks to Michael_D & Andy Kelly  on the time of substitution.

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“Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen” book release at the Emirates 08.08.14 PLUS Competition

By Les Crang

On Friday I attended the above event, the book release of the biography of Paul Vaessen entitled Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen. The book release was held at the Emirates stadium and was sponsored by AISA. Author Stewart Taylor and publisher/editor Greg Adams were in attendance. Greg is also founder of GCR book, a publisher of Arsenal books. Also present were some of Paul Vaessen’s former teammates Steve WalfordGraham Rix and Brian Talbot. I had also gone along with the goonersphere’s Dan Betts (aka jokmanafc on twitter).

For those who do not know Paul Vaessen, i’ll give you a potted history. Paul Vaessen is mainly remembered as the 18 year old substitute who scored the winning goal over Juventus in Turin with 3 minutes to go of the game left. Vaessen’s headed winner meant that Arsenal became the first English team to win in Turin.

3 years later Vaessen retired with an injury to his knee. On August 8th 2001 Vaessen died from a drug overdose, after years of drug and alcohol dependence. This was the 13th anniversary of Vaessen passing. 13 was also the number Vaessen wore that night in Turin.

I had spoken on a few occasions to Greg and Stewart previously online and reviewed the book on 7amkickoff previously. But once I heard there was an opening I decided I was going. Also, on the Wednesday I learned that one of my all time favourite players was coming to the book opening. Paul Davis.

Unfortunately, on finding out this news, even as a 46 year old man I turned into this:-

The evening started meeting Dan at the Piebury Corner for something to eat, a quick chat and a coffee (i’m not drinking for a month). I’ve quite regularly kept in contact with Dan and invited him along as AISA said I could take another person, so it was a 2-in-1 kind of thing.

After the usual chat (read, when is Arsene Wenger buying a defensive midfielder? All time favourite player? Is that your real hair?) We made our way to the Emirates. I love these events. I’m a fan first and foremost so being allowed into the areas which i’ll never be able to afford to see on a (rare) match day always gives me a buzz. As with anything at Arsenal, it is always done with style and grace.

Prior to the event I’d emailed Stewart the author and Greg the publisher, with a few question. They are added here.

Stewart Taylor:-

1.The book reads as a cathartic book for the family and yourselves, in how they have dealt with issues (whether there drug issues, mental health etc). Which I think is a major strength of the book. But, has Arsenal or football learnt from this experience and tried to stop or look at for players with ‘problems’?

There’s no doubt Paul held something of a grudge against Arsenal for the rest of his life for the way he perceived he’d been treated. He felt he’d been seduced and abandoned, not just by Arsenal but by the football community in general. Paul needed physical and emotional support at the time he retired and there just wasn’t any.

I spoke to Tony Adams about this to ascertain whether he felt things were better for him in 1996 than they were for Paul in the eighties. He didn’t seem to think things were much different. He didn’t get too much help from Arsenal either but he didn’t expect it. They weren’t experts in alcoholism. In fact it was because of a lack of available support, especially for sportsmen and sportswomen, that he set up his own clinic which has gone on to help those such as Paul Merson and Kenny Sansom.

I think the PFA now play a crucial role. They do a lot to help former players today make the transition from full-time professional to the ‘real’ world – something Paul couldn’t do – by making available money from a number of funds: the Education Fund which provides education and retraining programmes; the Benevolent Fund to assist former members experiencing financial difficulties, and the Accident Fund to support the rehabilitation of former players injured in their playing days.

Paul could have done with all three of these. At least they would have given him a chance.

2. Do you think the club might use the book as a reference point for young players (and in the community) on the pitfalls of youngsters on addiction?

This is my hope. I know the PFA have certainly ordered quite a few books for their staff in order to improve their understanding of addiction, depression and the other issues Paul was faced with. I don’t know what the situation is with regards to this but I would like to see a welfare officer at every club in the country, someone for players to go to. Again, the PFA have taken this issue on and have appointed Michael Bennett (ex-Charlton Athletic and Brighton) as Head of Player Welfare and he now has a network of counsellors working throughout the country to support current and former players. I think football, like society, is slowly learning.

3. I wrote an article ages ago on Vaessen. When I wrote it I was looking to get a start as a writer. But on researching it, I became more and more depressed. I actually felt ill writing it, because Paul is not a bad guy. How did you deal with writing the book, which can be quite depressing and going home from work to the wife and kids must have been difficult?

It’s true Paul wasn’t a bad bloke. He was basically, on the outside, a happy-go-lucky, cocky, confident South Londoner who was quite fragile beneath the surface. So knowing what happened to him, the injury, the merciless barracking from his own supporters, early retirement, drug addiction, depression, loneliness, you cannot help but feel for him. I actually fell ill with depression for two years during the writing of the book (not, I should say, because of Paul or the book). When I came out the other side, the first thing I did was pick the book up again. It was a lifeline for me. It gave me something to focus on. And I felt more and more convinced as I went on – and so too did Paul’s mum, Maureen, his dad, Leon, and brother, Lee – that Paul’s story simply had to be told. It was too important. I felt I had an obligation to Paul and his family and all the others I had spoken to to complete the project and that’s what I did. I did get down. You couldn’t avoid it, listening to Maureen, for instance, reminiscing about her lost son. She went through a hell of a lot but at no time made me feel like I was trespassing.

4. Another thing one notes from the book is you try and talk to a lot of people, but especially his mum. I think any person would feel for her. Do you still speak to his mum and family and how do they feel about the book?

Yes, I still speak to Maureen, Leon and Lee because we have become friends. I think they are pleased with the book. They were all behind it from the start. Maureen said from the start that she wanted this to be warts and all. It was her wish that others learn from her experiences and avoid the sort of torment she and her family went through. She would say to me that people used to avoid talking about Paul because of his problems but now people are coming up to her and are asking her about Paul, what he achieved in his short career and also about drugs. For Maureen, it just keeps him alive that little bit longer.

Greg Adams :-

1. How did you hear about the book? Did Stewart approach you or vice versa?

Stewart was lookíng for a publisher for his book and had spoken to Jem Maidment and, I think, to Andy Exley who edits the Arsenal Magazine and matchday programme. Both recommended me so Stewart sent me an email and a draft of his book. I loved it but initially turned it down because I wasn’t sure I had the time needed to publish and promote it effectively. I recommended another publisher and, almost immediately, regretted my decision. A month or so later I contacted Stewart again and was relieved that the other publisher had not replied to Stewart’s messages. By then I knew I had to publish Stuck in a Moment and things progressed from there.

2. The book is a real labour of love by Stewart, and obviously a departure from your other books on GCR (the reprints and the Wenger Code and Arsenal – The French Connection book). Has it been hard to markets being a very sad and cautionary tale.

We are now moving away from the republication of old Arsenal-related classics which was how GCR Books started. There aren’t too many classics left that we’d like to republish and with more requests for new Arsenal books we’re likely to be doing more of these in the future.

Stewart’s book stands out from anything we’ve published to-date. The amount of research and the quality of the writing really makes it an amazing piece of work. It’s a tragic story but incredibly well told. This doesn’t make it any easier to promote though. We’ve discovered that getting books into shops like WaterstonesWHSmith and Foyles is not easy for a small publisher regardless of the nature of the story and even with a book as good as Stewart’s.

Hopefully word will slowly begin to spread as more and more fans read the book. We’re convinced that the book is too good to fail. You just need to read some of the reviews on Amazon UK to see how much people have enjoyed it.

3. I like the book. I think its brilliant. Are you going to enter it into any sport book awards like the William Hill book award?

Yes, we’ve entered Stuck in a Moment for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award and will also enter it for the British Sports Book of the Year award. Because of the publication date it will make the William Hill awards for 2014 and the British Sports Book awards in 2015. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it could, in theory, give us extended publicity if the book performs well in both. Any kind of recognition would be great but it would be incredible to win, especially for Stewart who has given so much time and effort in bringing Paul’s story to a wider audience.

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Notes from the Q&A:

Anyhow, getting to the Emirates I took some photo’s (see below and here) and got a drink and met a few people whilst waiting for the event to start. The event included film of the last 20 minutes of the away game at Juventus and then a Q &A. with the panel which would include Paul’s mum (Maureen) and dad (Leon).

Tom Watts had asked the author of why he wrote the book? He explained how he got into the book and discussed the 3 things he knew about Vaessen: he knew of the goal, the stabbing, and his death. The rest of the book was down to him and the people he meet on the way. He said a lot of people did not even know his death. Shows how he was forgotten by the football community. He then showed film which was going to be given to Paul’s mum, dad and brother (Lee). He also explained why they had used “Stuck in the moment”, Paul needed to get out of that moment.

We then saw the video of Paul coming on the pitch for David Price. We then watched the film stutter into action. The crowd even got into the game (as did I and I knew the score). It was just weird watching a game about a man who wasn’t there. When the goal went in most of us jumped up, unfortunately a glitch meant we missed the cross and Vaessen header. Thank god for the replay and the huge round of applause went up.

We then had Rix, Walford, Davis and Talbot. Talbot was asked about the 1979-80 season. Brian said there was no training just playing games and discussing losing 5-0 at Middlesborough. Graham asked about the team and his disappointment of the penalty miss in the final of the cup winners cup. Then they spoke about the stellar group of players over this period were. Ask the coach, Roger Thompson, about him and spoke of Vaessen. Asked about what kind of player he was saying he knew nothing about the injuries and glad to meet Maureen to discuss her son.He also felt it was important to do the book. Said as a cockney he was a fun lad with his team mate, Nick Law.

Steve Walford said he was a fan of Arsenal and said Vaessen was a young lad with prospects, he could have been a top class player. Incredibly sad. Paul Davis said he knew Paul from 14-15 years old and his debut [Paul Davis made his debut against Spurs when Vaessen scored the winner at White Hart Lane in 1980]. Said he was a big lad. 6’ 2”.He said he was a confident lad and had some great memories but last he saw of him was at end.

Rix was actually really funny. Davis felt inspired by Vaessen in the Juventus game. He also said he was pleased for his winning goal.

Tom asks Rix about the Winterslag game (where Vaessen was booed by the crowd) and about Jon Sammels. Rix talks about the victimisation and described Sammels as not quick but mobile. Jon needed to work alongside Stapleton and Brady for three or four years. Davis had the same feelings from crowd. Said it was hard for Vaessen. Rix said teammates supported teammates. Walford said that injuries were rare back then. Tom asked about the treatment of players and injuries. Brian feels they have support but back then they had Fred Street, cortisone injections. Said they would play with injuries but not today. Arsenal are top at helping injuries says Davis, even back then.

The greatest player never to play for England? Paul Davis (awaiting Dave Seager to disagree).

Tom talks about football and Vaessen’s retirement from the game at 21. Rix felt that buzz was what Vaessen meet. Paul never had a career. Rix says what a moment. Amen to that. Davis agreed. Rix and Davis still miss playing that game.  Rix lightens mood by saying ‘great cross wasn’t it?’ for Vaessens goal. Rix also said prior to the game at the hotel, that they were given a few drinks before the game. Talbot said Juventus and manager, Trapattoni set up a defensive match against Arsenal, putting 7 at the back to protect their away goal, which suprised the Arsenal, as Juventus had 7 Italian internationals in the team, and they were also on 20k per man bonus to go through. Vaessens first coach, Roger Thompson, spoke about working with youngsters and how Rix gave him his first England shirt.

Kevin Whitcher asked some questions about nobbling the referee, which the Italians seemed to do (aka the 1960’s Inter Milan team especially). Another person asked about the first game and the violence at Highbury, in which Neill described the Italians as beasts and was critical of Bettega nearly breaking David O’leary’s knee. I also asked about the Winterslag game but Rix could not remember the game (even though he scored) and Davis did not play. Talbot also talked about how clubs should take more responsible for educating and football, as there is a 95% drop out of young players.

There was then a book signing after the Q & A (and Dan had missed out on his question to ask the panel. You got to be quicker Dan). I then spoke to Maureen briefly which was very nice on a difficult day for her I should imagine.

I would like to say thanks to Arsenal, Dan BettsGreg Adams and Stewart Taylor, Mark Andrews. But especially to Paul’s Mum, Maureen. This was an awesome way to remember Paul Vaessen.

Author Stewart Taylor and Paul Vaessen mother, Maureen.

Author Stewart Taylor and Paul Vaessen mother, Maureen.

Finally, I bought a copy of the book signed by Maureen, Paul Davis and Brian Talbot for a competition prize. First out a hat by tuesday noon (GMT). The question is  as follows.

‘Arsenal were the first English team to win in Turin against Juventus. But name the first foreign team to win in Turin prior to that game?’ Email is l.crang@gmail.com and add an address*

*I will send the prize, but be aware this will be done at my own expense, so don’t expect it to arrive first class ;)

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Rogues Gallery: Nicklas Bendtner

God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hamlet, the Danish prince. A man with a volatile nature. One moment on top of the world and the next hiding from it. It could be so easily Nicklas Bendtner. Unfortunately, Hamlet is a man of introspection, whilst Bendtner never seems to learn from his often repeated mistakes. Hamlet is a character, whilst Bendtner is a mere caricature. He has become a person so hated by some fans, one fan said of his being let go at the end of 2014 season:-

Bendtner released ? Should of staked him on the centre spot tonight and let the jnr gunners at him

— SheWoreAYellowRibbon (@SheWore) May 23, 2014

 

Its hard to think that many, many years ago (less than 10 even), Nicklas Bendtner was held in pretty high esteem by the club and even some fans. Where did it all go so horribly wrong?

If Bendtner signifies anything about Arsenal and Arsene Wenger‘s management it is the importance of youth and the changing policy towards having English and foreign players within the premier league. One year after Arsene Wenger joined, Howard Wilkinson introduced the Charter for Quality, which meant that players under the age of 12 had to live within an hour of the training facilities and an hour and a half for 15 year olds. Therefore, Arsenal’s youth policy often meant looking beyond these area’s and borders and abroad for players and housing them near the training facilities of the club. Therefore, Arsenal had signed Bendtner from F.C. Copenhagen in 2004 The Official Arsenal Opus a book written in 2006 but published in 2011 discussed how Bendtner was seen as ‘another highly promising striker’ [alongside Arturo Lupoli]. The beginning of what would be termed project youth.

The introduction of Nicklas Bendtner for his debut as a sub in 2005 against Sunderland and a further two games that season hardly informed us of what was about to arrive at the club. At a time when Thierry Henry was seen as the focal point of the team, very few people could reach a feeling of self accomplishment and possibly arrogance except Nicklas. Philippe Auclair excellent book on Henry commented:-

The dressing room [of season 2005-6] of which Thierry was now undisputed leader was filled with newcomers, not all of whom – we’ll make an exception for Bendtner – had the force of character to claim a space of their own.

Any football player needs self confidence. A young player moving to a foreign country even more so, but Bendtner’s went way beyond self confidence, Bendtner seemed to suffer a Narcissistic personality disorder, which is :-

A person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and to others in the process.

I am no psychologist, but much of his behaviour seems to fit.

bendtneronloan.jpg

Anyhow, after 3 games in 2005-6 Bendtner would be loaned (along with Johan Djourou) to Birmingham City in the championship for season 2006-7. In 38 appearances (plus for sub appearances) for the club he would score 11 times and get sent off once. Steve Claridge commented of him in an article of his time there  (rather ironically now):-

Some say he is a target man, but that’s too simplistic because he was prepared to come short, link play and commit defenders, finding other players who were unmarked because of his own good play. At times he needs to keep closer to his partner, because he’s usually the one to flick the ball on. But his work rate was good throughout and, the more you watch, the more you realise that this is a player blessed with a fabulous all-round talent. I just hope that, as with all players who find the game relatively easy, he’s prepared to work at the things that don’t come naturally as well as the things that do.

Proof of Bendtner’s self confidence was on display from the start when he started dating the Birmingham City manager’s, Steve Bruce, daughter Amy (see picture below). Bruce had to come home from work and find his star striker in his own home! Hardly what many employee’s would do unless you are Nicklas Bendtner. That he then dumped her whilst the Bruce family were on holiday in Marbella hardly made him popular either. At least his goals helped Birmingham get promoted though.

daughter.jpg

After a successful season, Bendtner returned to Arsenal. I was fortunate enough to see his first goal for Arsenal in a 2-0 win over Newcastle in the League Cup , with a great header at the back post [video below was the only one I could find of the goal].

This was Bendtner at his best. He worked hard, was industrious and seemed a confident lad.

But for all Bendtner’s faults (and my god, there are a few), I’ll always hold him in high esteem for his first league goal on 22 December 2007. Against Spurs. In a season in which Arsenal had lost Thierry Henry to Barcelona in the summer, few had given us a chance. But there we stood. Top of the league and playing Spurs at home before Christmas. In a game where Arsenal were often slow, Spurs often (though it pains me to say) were often on top. Although Adebayor had put us 1-0 up, Spurs equalised in the second half. Then, disaster. Spurs got a penalty, with the odious Robbie Keane to take it. Up he stepped and Almunia saved (a term rarely used in a sentence).

Still one all. Spurs had already brought on the saviour of British football (and Spurs), Tom Huddlestone. All week prior to the game, the British press had been talking up his importance especially in the derby match. How true. Four minutes after the save, Bendtner came on as a sub just as we were about to take a corner. A gentle jog up to the front post and then a burst of speed as Cesc corner comes in. Huddlestone just watches. 2-1 Arsenal and top of the league.

What could possibly go wrong from now on in Bendtner’s career? Well, just so much really.

Even in his opening season, Bendtner could not help but get into some form of trouble. Most famously when Arsenal were playing Spurs in a cup semi-final in 2008 and he and Adebayor came to blows. Adebayor said afterwards of the incident:-

I had a little difficult moment with Nicklas Bendtner.There was a rule at Arsenal where no one is allowed to come into the dressing room with trainers or house shoes on. I cannot understand why Nicklas came every day with his shoes on.

Nicklas, you are a footballer, I am a footballer, maybe I am better than you, maybe you are better than me but you have to respect everyone. There are rules saying you cannot come into the dressing-room with your house shoes. Take them off.

According to Adebayor, Bendtner “never took them off and things started from there. I cannot accept that”.

Bendtner was also remembered for his first season in 2007/8 for his clearance off the line against Liverpool in the quarters of the ECL. Unfortunately it was against his team mate Alexander Hleb against Liverpool:-

Although Bendtner had ability, for example the hat tricks he scored against Porto in 2010 :-

A game I think Tim might recall?

Or even the hat trick against Leyton Orient in the F.A cup:-

Nothing can mask that Bendtner was a good player, but if one game sums Bendtner up it was the miss in 2011 against Barcelona Camp Nou.

Kevin Whitcher described it thus:-

Going through on goal with just the keeper to beat, Nicklas Bendtner – ‘one of the world’s top strikers’ as described by himself – demonstrated the classy technique that makes him so feared by opposition defenders. If only. With an illusionary first touch that negated lessons that had been installed into him by Arsene Wenger, Bendtner ensured that the one and only chance of pulling off a shock result in Camp Nou was gone.

If his performances on the pitch were laughable, his attitude off it was worse. Where does one start. The shirt number of 52 for the amount of thousand per weeks he was paid? Maybe whilst on loan in Sunderland going on a wrecking spree in Newcastle with Lee Cattermole whilst drunk? Perhaps going to collect his pizza in Copenhagen, going down the wrong side of the road whilst under the influence?  His saying he did not want to return to Arsenal in 2011 but did so in 2013? His flagellation of a taxi in Denmark whilst Drunk? Maybe It is starting his own jewelry firm? Its a selection of them all. Thank god he never did anything foolish, like meet a princess or a member of the royal family and have a child. Wow. He did that too.

Although Nicklas Bendtner did come back this season after a loan period at Juventus (9 appearance and 0 goals), in many ways it was because Yaya Sanogo was injured and we had no one else to cover Olivier Giroud. Although he did score two goals this season. One against Hull City:-

One against Cardiff (in which he got immediate injured. Could only happen to Bendtner):-

By the end of this season I think Wenger felt incredibly let down by Bendtner. His whole ‘project youth’ had come to an end and Bendtner was the last remnant of this. Bendtner had been rewarded well and played badly. In many ways Wenger should take responsibility for this, especially when at one stage he was using him as a winger when he had neither pace nor guile for a tall man to cross (a tall man like…..Bendtner). He was also paying a lot of money on a long contract to a player who was just too arrogant and often lazy. By march 2014, Bendtner beating up a taxi had finally meant Wenger had enough. He said of the incident:-

Nobody gave him (Bendtner) any permission to go to Copenhagen. He will be fined for that.

Wenger therefore used Sanogo more and Bendtner was frozen out. His last cup game against Coventry, where he had a quite shocking game. Below, is one of his two misses:-

;

Bendtner’s contract expired this year. Its hard to think he’s just 26. In his time at Arsenal he has scored 45 league and cup goals (I never knew it was that many):-

He had played 80 games and 85 as a substitute (a goal ratio of 1 in four games). To nearly all fans he was a terrible disappointment. He had talent. He had confidence. But he had no humility and believed he ‘was the worlds greatest striker that ever lived’, leaving him open to much ridicule from Arseblog who referred to him by the acronym TGSTEL.

My favorite Bendtner moment was him getting to enjoy watching Arsenal win the F.A cup [added because I still enjoy seeing it]:-

Then possibly my second would be watching twitter to see what Gav on Shewore and his twitter account would rant at Bendtner. My favourite? Well, the one below had the least profanity.

Nice to see nick Bendtnerget a shirt number with his worth in pence #NB23

— SheWoreAYellowRibbon(@SheWore) September 6, 2013

I would say good luck Bendtner, but its hard to say it when he seems to waste what he had. I mean, look at the picture at the start of the article?