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Benvenuto Alla Juventus: NICKLAS BENDTNER – A Low-Risk Gamble With High Potential

The last day of the summer mercato, Juve signed 24 year-old Danish striker NICKLAS BENDTNER. He arrived on a season-long loan from Arsenal with an option to buy set at €6m.

 

★ ★ ★

 

Try reading that paragraph again. If you look carefully you will realise that, contrary to popular belief, it does not actually signal Armageddon, is not cause to pull one’s hair out, and isn’t necessarily as bad as John (satirically) made it appear. Rather, it’s a bit of business done late in the transfer window. A risk-free punt, you could say.

Now, as has been made abundantly clear everywhere in the known universe (and, one suspects, beyond), Bendtner is not Cavani or Falcao. And it’s fair to say he has not exactly been greeted with open arms by the Juventus tifosi, especially after Marotta and Agnelli’s ill-advised earlier comments that the Old Lady would indeed buy a “Top Player” this summer.

I understand the frustrations, and I share them.

However, whether you put the failure to land such a player down to Marotta’s gross incompetence or — like I am inclined to believe — that this year’s Forwards/Strikers mercato was virtually impossible for Juve to operate in (we’ve been three years absent from the UEFA Champions League, will be coachless (as it appears) for the next 10 months, and are entangled in yet another scandal), the fact remaining is that Nicklas Bendtner has arrived in Turin.

While it is definitely tempting to write off the young Dane with the — shall we say — mixed reputation immediately, and resort to posting pictures of him and his underpants, I will instead here try to look at what the guy has to offer to this Juventus (partially of course in the realisation that — however things pan out — I, being a fellow countryman of his, will be blamed/praised for his efforts anyway). (Indeed! We haven’t forgotten Poulsen just yet, Lars! — Ed.)

Let it be known from the start that I am no particular admirer of Bendtner’s. I, like many others, had my hopes set for a better striker this summer, just as I have cringed at his off-field escapades and have seen him fail to deliver on it many times as well.

What I have also seen however, is that when he is focused and calm Bendtner is a huge talent, able to perform at the top level. Never was that more obvious than at Euro 2012 this summer, where he and Daniel Agger carried a rather mediocre Danish national team to some very respectable results in what was the ‘Group of Death’ (with Germany, Portugal, and the Netherlands) of the tournament. “Big Ben’s” two goals and one assist helped the Danes beat Holland (including the much touted Robin van Persie, who finished the tournament with one goal and zero assists – not that you should read too much into that) and narrowly lose out to the Portuguese and die Nationalmannschaft.

Over the last couple of years, Bendtner has indeed become a fixture in the Denmark line-up, and his total of 3 goals and 2 assists in his five match appearances in the qualifiers to said tournament speak of a player not entirely devoid of ability. In fact, for Denmark he has been highly impressive, both with regards to creativity, focus, and work-rate.

I am very aware that “B-52″ (as he’s been known in recent years, for having chosen kit # 52 at Arsenal… he will wear # 17 at Juventus, for the record) has not made the same impression at club level. With the Gunners he has often failed to deliver despite his indisputable talent. Being played on the wing, having injuries, and all his off-field shenanigans cannot explain away the player’s inability to step up to the plate for a consistent period of time. He has had loan spells at Birmingham (went well) and Sunderland (so-so), where he played more consistently, but still he has not delivered on the very high promises of his natural ability (and, indeed, self-image).

Not yet, at least. For while there is a reason Bendtner is not labelled a top striker, there is also a reason he is rated highly in his country, and was at Arsenal until things turned sour. His large frame, combined with quite a bit of skill has caused him to be compared to Zlatan, and while that is of course folly, the similarities are there, if ever so superficial (big man, good feet etc.). While Nicklas is miles behind Ibra in terms of technique, he really is not that bad: one could even argue that he possesses one trait that both Ibrahimovic and Juve lack, which is the ability to use his head to direct the ball into the back of the net.

Much like his illustrious predecessors wearing Black & White (John Hansen, Karl Aage Præst, Michael Laudrup) Bendtner has an eye for goal but likes to be involved in the game too. This is equally good and bad news: allow me to explain. As illustrated to perfection in Fabio Barcellona’s tactical analysis of the Parma game, passing ability is a very important skill trait for Juventus forwards, as they often will combine to either create an immediate goal opportunity or relay the ball to the midfielders or wingers surging forward. Bendtner is a decent passer of the ball and will be able to slot into that role swiftly.

The downside is, that we already have a fair few players able to do this, whereas we have few who only seek the box and the goals. This is of course also a consequence of Conte’s way of setting up the team. Don’t kid yourself people: there is a good reason why our forwards score less compared to those from other teams, and though it’s a little appreciated fact it is always worth a mention. I’m not saying that a guy like Cavani (who, in my humble opinion, is ideally suited to the Conte system) wouldn’t offer much more than our current crop can, but rather that our strikers are *not* poor: they simply don’t have that world-class calibre that can bring you both the work-rate and the finishing required in this module of Conte’s.

In my opinion, what needs to happen to Bendtner — if he is to succeed — is something very similar to what happened to Zlatan (again, the comparison is exclusively a pedagogic one) when he first arrived at Juve under Fabio Capello, with a bag full of tricks and poor finishing. He heeds to be put in front of the net and have “finishing” drilled into him — relentlessly — for a month. This, I am sure would benefit both his character and the end result of his time in Bianconero, however long or short it will be.

All in all, I am not trying to convince anyone that we have an excellent player on our hands here (we don’t), I am merely pointing out that this is not necessarily a bad deal at all. Bendtner gets a chance to show if he can make a difference, and Juve get the chance to say “great” or “GTFO”… all at the risk of €0m.

 

★ ★ ★

 

In conclusion: what I do hope for, is that Bendtner will be judged on whatever much or little he’ll actually contribute, rather than him not being van Persie, Cavani or Falcao. He should be rated for what he came as: a much more promising attacker than the actual alternatives (Borriello, Floccari, etc.) and at zero cost.

Considering his 9 career goals in 30 Champions League matches so far, and quite a bit of maturing done since he was that spoiled kid in the Aston Martin, this deal just might turn out better than first assumed

Here’s to hoping Bendtner will prove all his naysayers wrong!

Benvenuto alla Juventus, Nicklas!

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