Bendtner has last laugh at his critics
Published 11/03/2010 | 05:00
ASK any leading sportsman to identify the key requirements for success and, somewhere on the list, they will point to an ability to handle setbacks.
The methods for dealing with adversity have ranged from the obsessive self-analysis of Nick Faldo, who famously remodelled his entire golf swing, to the rather more carefree approach of Jimmy White, who reacted to the loss of the 1992 world snooker final by gambling away his £128,000 prize money.
The coping strategy of Nicklas Bendtner is also unique. His performance on Saturday against Burnley had been remarkable simply for the sheer volume and variety of missed opportunities. He knew that he faced the prospect of criticism and ridicule from fans across the whole country, yet what did he do?
"I laughed," he said. "That is how I look at it. I read some criticism of me after the game last Saturday but me and my team-mates have just laughed about it."
No one is laughing any more. Indeed, after his Champions League hat-trick in Tuesday's 5-0 win against Porto, it is just possible that the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona are suddenly looking at Bendtner and feeling a little fear.
He has scored five times in four starts since returning from hernia surgery but, most ominously, also appears to be coaxing the best from his team-mates. For the first time since Robin van Persie got injured in November, Arsenal have a natural leader of the line to provide a focal point for their fluid system and the difference in players like Andrei Arshavin, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott is striking.
"I am happy to play as a centre-forward, because that is my real place in a team," Bendtner said. "It is the place in the team that I want and I know -- when I am playing there I will be scoring goals. Early in the season, I was being played out wide, and that is of course fine, but it is not where I belong."
The confidence of Bendtner both in himself and Arsenal is unerring.
"We have a great team and, even though we are missing some real top players who would dominate any team in the world, we are up there with the best," he said.
"I definitely believe we can win the Champions League -- why not? I am sure, we can win. We play some spectacular football, we are efficient and score goals. That is the road to success, isn't it?
"My team-mates have all congratulated me on the hat-trick. I really feel that they are all backing me up, and that they believe in me. They also know how important that is for me.
"All of my team-mates have signed the ball and I will keep is as a wonderful souvenir of my first hat-trick -- but definitely not my last."
Arsene Wenger will hope that Bendtner's huge self-belief can prove infectious. Arsenal have been undermined at key moments in recent seasons by a collective uncertainty but, with strong characters like Sol Campbell, Thomas Vermaelen and Arshavin now in the dressing room, an added steel is evident. There is also an appreciation of Bendtner's qualities and the extra physical presence he provides.
"He doesn't struggle with confidence and that is a good thing for a striker," Vermaelen said. "For us it's good that Nicklas is there, you can give the long ball and he wins headers and you can put opponents under pressure. It gives you more options. I'm convinced we can win this competition."
Campbell, who delivered another encouraging defensive performance, said that he had returned to the Arsenal fold for nights like Tuesday and had instructed his team-mates to treat every match between now and the end of the season "like a cup final".
Of his chances of an England recall, Campbell added: "You never know. I might get a sniff here or there if I keep on playing.
"Why not? I'm level-headed, I'm not going to get carried away, but it's great to be back and in this kind of environment.
"I'm going to relish the moments and respect the situation I'm in and give everything I've got." (© Daily Telegraph, London)