Cologne - An off-season of sweating in the gym is paying dividends for VfL Wolfsburg striker Nicklas Bendtner, who is starting to show his true potential this term.
When VfL Wolfsburg signed Nicklas Bendtner from Arsenal in August 2014 there were more than a few eyebrows raised at what was in all likelihood the most unexpected transfer of the summer.
After all, the 68-time Denmark international was known more for his off-field charisma and bright pink boots than his goalscoring record in London, and loan spells at Birmingham City, Sunderland and Juventus had also proven to be false dawns.
Yet Wolves coach Dieter Hecking and sporting director Klaus Allofs had evidently seen something they liked in the striker dubbed “Lord” by his ever-growing band of cult followers on social media, and handed him a three-year contract at the Volkswagen Arena.
Adjusting to life in the Bundesliga is a tough task at the best of times, and with Ivica Olic and Bas Dost ahead of him in the pecking order for the lone-striker’s role in Hecking’s preferred 4-2-3-1 line-up, Bendtner did not play as often as he would have liked in 2014/15.
Still, the 27-year-old managed one league goal in 18 appearances – mostly as a substitute – and added another four in the UEFA Europa League, where the Wolves reached the quarter-finals.
Bendtner could therefore have been forgiven for feeling the odd pang of frustration when Wolfsburg announced their marquee summer signing this year was another striker, Max Kruse, whose arrival from Borussia Mönchengladbach would potentially further restrict his already limited game time.
Yet Bendtner accepted the challenge and worked hard during the off-season, posting photos of himself in the gym and on the training pitch on Instagram, accompanied by the comments: “New season, new goals,” and “Last season was fantastic for Wolfsburg. If we can do that again and maybe scratch a few more points together, we will have a great shot at the [Bundesliga] crown.”
Reaping the reward
So far in 2015/16 it appears his efforts are paying off. At the start of August Bendtner came off the bench in the German Supercup against FC Bayern München to score a superb goal in the 89th minute to equalise at 1-1, before converting the Wolves’ final penalty in the shootout, which they won 5-4.
A week later he found the net again in the 4-1 victory over Stuttgarter Kickers in the DFB Cup first round, and on Bundesliga Matchday 2 he took his tally to three goals in four competitive outings this term by prodding in from close range to secure a 1-1 draw away to 1. FC Köln.
“We didn’t have the ease on the ball or confidence we’ve had in the past,” said Hecking afterwards. “We’re still trying to find the kind of form we showed at the end of last season.”
While that may be true of the team as a whole, Bendtner has looked sharp and given that he has only played a total of 88 minutes this season, including extra-time in the Supercup, his goal return is hugely impressive.
It is perhaps that knack of being in the right place at the right time, of unsettling defenders with his towering presence – Bendtner stands at 1.94 metres tall – and his air of unpredictability that attracted Wolfsburg to him in the first place, and on the early evidence this season his true colours are starting to show.
That bodes well for Wolfsburg ahead of their Matchday 3 clash at home to FC Schalke 04 on Friday in one of the most eagerly anticipated ties of the weekend.
Both sides are undefeated so far and eager to prove their credentials as genuine challengers for silverware, both domestically and on the European stage. Bendtner is pushing for a starting berth at the Volkswagen Arena and given his blossoming form he is certain to feature at some point during the match.
His pink footwear remains part of his match attire, incidentally, but recently they have become more of a curious side note rather than a primary talking point. And if he continues playing as he has been, Wolfsburg fans are likely to see a lot more of him, and his boots, in the coming weeks.