Played For Both Sides – The maverick from Denmark

Stephen Kennedy takes a look at one fondly-remembered enigma to have played for both Sunderland and Birmingham City

The business end of the season has arrived! We have a slim, but still tantalisingly attainable chance of sneaking into the play-offs, and we’re also now mathematically safe. So, putting aside how very frustrating our lack of progression in terms of January recruitment, the season has to be seen as a success, so that’s nice.

This weekend we welcome the continuous footballing basket case that is Birmingham City to the Stadium of Light. Who owns them? Nobody’s sure. Is their ground full of asbestos-laced rubble? Quite probably. Who has played for both Birmingham and Sunderland? Let’s find out.

Nicklas Bendtner

Given the years of chaos surrounding Birmingham, it seems only right that we start with the Danish enigma himself. Bendtner started his professional career with Arsenal, and made his debut against Sunderland in an easy 3-0 win for the Gunners in the league up back in October 2005. Granted, he only came off the bench for the last few minutes, but it’s worth pointing out how ridiculous the Arsenal “reserve” team was that day, as it featured Manuel Almunia, Philipp Senderos, Pascal Cygan, Sol Campbell, Fabrice Muamba, Alex Song and Robin van Persie, not to mention future Sunderland alumni Seb Larsson, Anthony Stokes and err, Emmanuel Eboue.

Cup games were the order of the day for Bendtner’s first season in professional football, as he trotted out against Reading and Doncaster in his only other appearances that year. But things all kicked off for the Dane at the start of the following season, when he joined Steve Bruce’s Birmingham City. Making his debut just a day after he signed, Bendtner started as he meant to carry on, netting in a 2-1 win against Colchester in August 2006.

Simply put, Bendtner was on fire for the Blues in the first half of the 06/07 season and had helped himself to 10 goals by Christmas. The goals dried up somewhat in the second half of the season, with only three more for the rest of the campaign, but they were crucial goals in vital wins against Leeds, Southampton and Wolves as Birmingham won promotion back to the big time in second place. I mention second place, because of course, they were pipped to the title by Roy Keane’s Sunderland, which is always fun to remember.

With Birmingham promoted, and having already signed Bendtner’s Arsenal teammate Larsson after his successful spell at the club, there was an expectation that the Dane would head back to St. Andrews again, but Arsene Wenger had other plans and threw him straight into the first team squad for the 07/08 season. His first goal for the Gunners came in a 2-0 cup win against Newcastle (again, lovely), and he would go on to score 11 times by the time the season was up, including two for the national side.

Bendtner didn’t show any sign of slowing down for Arsenal the following two years either, scoring 14 and 12 in all competitions respectively, and while he may not have been a regular starter, it was rare to see him out of the matchday squad for Wenger’s side. But injury and a lack of form seeped into his game and the 10/11 season saw him reduced to cup games and cameo appearances, with just the two league goals that year.

When the 11/12 season came round, it was a surprise to see Bendtner still in the Arsenal squad, and he even managed to make a solitary sub appearance in a 2-0 loss to Liverpool. However, on transfer deadline day, he made a loan switch to Sunderland, once again linking up with Steve Bruce.

Bendtner was a classy player for Sunderland, but if we’re honest, he was only really useful for us for two months, in terms of output at least. Of his eight goals in red and white, two came in October 2011, and four came in March 2012. His first came in his fourth appearance, in a 2-2 draw with West Brom, followed up by a winner against Bolton the following game.

In fairness to Bendtner, the team was going through Bruce’s traditional nosedive during the first few months of the season, but it also took him a while to get firing under Martin O’Neill. A single goal in a 3-2 against QPR in December was his only effort from October until March, although the next was a penalty against Newcastle.

With Sunderland still flirting with the relegation places, Bendtner kicked into life at the end of the season; he scored the winner in our 1-0 victory over Liverpool, another in our 3-1 win at QPR and one in both of our draws with Man City and Bolton. Ultimately we finished 13th, miles away from the drop, but the season had been torpedoed by Bruce’s final four months in charge.

On his return to Arsenal, he was cut out of the first team picture, but won himself an eye-catching loan move to Italian giants Juventus, where he managed only 10 appearances, and precisely zero goals in the entirety of the 12/13 season. However, he astonishingly found himself back at Arsenal again the following year, and even grabbed a couple of Premier League goals again, in victories over Hull and Cardiff. Would this spell a magnificent turn around to a stagnating career?

Absolutely not. He was released in summer 2014 and moved to Wolfsburg on a free where he was a substitute for most of his 47 appearances, but he did manage nine goals, most of which came in European competitions. After two years in Germany, Bendtner returned to England with a free transfer switch to Nottingham Forest in the Championship, but his luck didn’t improve much there either, where he only managed 17 appearances, and a meagre two goals as Forest scraped survival in 2017.

So, at the age of just 28, Bendtner returned to Scandinavia, with Rosenborg of Norway. The drop in standards seemed to suit the Dane, as his two years in Trondheim saw him hit 24 goals in just 57 appearances, the good times were here again.

The final move for Bendtner came on deadline day in September 2019, when he moved back to Denmark with FC Copenhagen. Unfortunately, the move did not pan out as expected, only 6 league games followed and he retired two years later, after a brief spell at Danish fourth tier side Tarnby FF.

A career that fizzled out way before its time, but does that mean it was a wasted one? He won promotion with Birmingham, Serie A with Juventus (hilarious), DFB Pokal and DFL Supercup with Wolfsburg, the Norwegian league (twice), Cup and supercup with Rosenborg and played at international tournaments with Denmark. So you decide.

Joined Left League Apps League Goals
Sunderland 2011 2012 28 8
Birmingham City 2006 2007 42 11