11 July 2013

Villa and Bendtner: A Tale of Two Strikers

The contrast between David Villa, the striker we could have signed, and Nicklas Bendtner, the striker we just can't get rid of, couldn't be starker. On the one hand, Villa has left Barcelona for Atlético Madrid, a move that represents a significant pay-cut, not to mention prestige. Nothing against Atlético Madrid, but Villa has come down in the world just a bit. Or has he? In the eyes of this writer, his move is admirable. More on that in a moment. On the other hand, Bendtner has seen yet another potential move scuppered as Frankfurt has stated that "Bendtner has proven to be not realistic...with Arsenal, there are no problems. In other words, he seems to be resisting a move similar in many ways to Villa's, and he's doing so in a way that reveals his less-admirable qualities.

To be fair to The Greatest Striker to Ever Live, Frankfurt finished the year in sixth place in the Bundesliga, just good enough for the qualifying round of the Europa League—a destiny we've mocked more than once at this site. The man's ego seems to have blinded him to certain realities, and while I've admitted that a certain level of arrogance is sometimes a quality that drives a player to greatness, this isn't the case with Bendtner. His arrogance stands in the way of anything remotely resembling greatness. He hasn't been good enough for Arsenal, wasn't good enough for Juve, and apparently still thinks he's better than Frankfurt. His continued insistence on Champions League-level wages is just so out of touch with reality that I begin to wonder about his mental health. Whether it's his personality, his off-field antics, or his on-field performance, no one wants him. We're literally trying to pay clubs to take him, which, last I checked, is kind of the opposite of how transfers work. He's earning £50k a week, more than many of us will earn in a year, and this makes his arrogance that much harder to take. The deeper issue here is that it makes Bendtner seem like he's in it more for the money than for the love of the game. One secret to a lifetime of happiness is to find someone who will pay you to do what you love. Bendtner's been fortunate enough to have found that, but he now risks losing it. His resistance to playing for Frankfurt lays waste to the idea that he's a competitor or a footballer. He's a mercenary—and a picky one, at that.

By contrast, David Villa, even if he continues to play in the Champions League, appears as a paragon of virtue and the spirit of competition. He's taken a considerable pay-cut in order to earn more time on the pitch, and he's doing so for a much smaller team. The difference between Barcelona and Atlético may not be as vast as between Arsenal and Frankfurt, but the symbolism is entirely different. Villa, a proven performer at the highest echelons of European soccer, has swallowed his pride, taken a pay-cut, and moved down the ladder to a team perennially on the edges of European competition. Whereas Bendtner has sneered at opportunities, deeming them unworthy of his apparently immeasurable talents, Villa has sized up his options (which included, for a time, potentially signing with Arsenal for as much as £15m) and gone to a team that will give him plenty of opportunities to do what he loves, even if he's doing so for a lower salary. He's chosen the right answer to the age-old question: would you rather be a bit-player for a champion or a featured player for a scrappy one? Had he stayed with Barcelona, he'd have a virtual guarantee of silverware year in and year out, but he'd play sparingly—17 appearances of less than 45' and only eight of a full 90' this year, numbers that are sure to decline with Neymar joining the club. Yes, it's far less-likely that Villa will get silverware with Atlético, but whatever he gets, for good or bad, he'll know that he earned it through his efforts. I'll take that attitude, hands down, over a guy willing to sit on the bench and cash checks each week.

Does Bendtner not sense the hollowness of his position? He sat on the bench with Juve and watched them win the scudetto—something I don't think he can claim credit for based on how many appearances he made. He believes himself to be immensely talented, but there's no hunger, no passion, no intent in his approach. He seems to want the world handed to him on a silver platter (and he'd probably check the silver's purity before accepting). Arsenal, unfortunately, made the mistake of handing him that silver platter, and now we may be stuck with this arrangement until his contract runs out in June 2014. He's only 25 and should see a chance to play for Frankfurt, a chance to lead the team to Europa League glory, as his redemption rather than his relegation. If he can't see it that way, he probably won't see the writing on the wall, and the football world will see him for what he really is: a spoiled, self-important wastrel. It's not like he's crippling our movements in the transfer-window, but the sooner we wash our hands of him, the happier I'll be.

Neil Young once sang, "it's better to burn out than to fade away."  Nicklas, my man, you're fading, and fading fast.