Football Lifestyle and its Downturn

Donald McRae, in the Guardian, interviews Nicklas Bendtner, professional footballer, on his spiralling life journey. October 2020.

Photograph: Vegard Wivestad Grøtt/Imago/PA Images

About 3am one morning in the summer of 2011, when he was still only 23 and his promising career at Arsenal had begun to slip away, Nicklas Bendtner arrived at his favourite casino in London. “I’m way too drunk to sit at a table,” Bendtner remembers. “That much I get. But roulette is a different matter. Red, black, red, black. How hard can it be?

“After 90 minutes I’ve lost £400,000. Money I don’t have. My bank account is overdrawn and I’m bankrupt if my luck doesn’t turn. I stagger into the loos and splash water on my face. Then I find a cashier and get another £50,000 of chips.”

This unsettling memory is one of many moments that make Bendtner’s autobiography such a sobering insight into the lunacy a young footballer can suffer if he loses his bearings and is seduced by the empty glamour and wealth of the Premier League. Seven years later, after Bendtner had been left out of Denmark’s 2018 World Cup squad, he “sat on the shitter blubbering.” In his dejection he accepted that: “I became too fond of the lifestyle that came with the money. I want to go back in time and hit that young lad on the head with a hammer. Make him understand what a chance it is. That he has something special – something he has to look after.”

Now, sitting on a sofa in Copenhagen alongside his friend Rune Skyum-Nielsen, the Danish journalist who helped him write his book as a brutally candid and ultimately moving lament of the mistakes he made and the lessons he learned, Bendtner nods ruefully. “There’s definitely some regret I didn’t take my career in a more positive way. Looking back definitely gave me upset because there are moments which were very hurtful and difficult to talk about. But I couldn’t just write another sports biography where I was praising myself. Luckily I trusted Rune completely and could open up and say: ‘There’s only one way I can do it and that’s with complete honesty.’”

Bendtner pauses when I ask how he felt after losing £400,000 in the dizzying time it takes to play a football match. “When you’re more or less broke it makes you think: ‘It’s got to stop.’ I was down £400,000 but ended up winning some of it back, actually.”

As dawn broke that morning he had cut his losses to £20,000. He had been incredibly lucky, but the experience shook Bendtner. “It was too risky – even for me. It was the wakeup call that helped break that spell. I’ve never been a guy who cares about money as a way of showing off. At first it was more about the fun and being with people you like.”Advertisement

Bendtner explains the illusory high he sometimes experienced in the casino. “When I was injured, and couldn’t get the excitement from that absolute living-on-the-edge feeling on the pitch, gambling gave me adrenaline. Obviously the higher the risk, the higher the adrenaline. So you go for high stakes.”

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