The Poisioned chalice of Potential: From Mario Balotelli to Nicklas Bendtner

Mario Balotelli and Nicklas Bendtner are in similar predicaments. Both have inflated opinions of themselves, and both now find themselves in relative obscurity during their peak footballing years. Christian Elwis wonders whether it is too late to make a real success of their careers.

Potential. It’s an oft-used word in football, and over the years it has come be a significant word for all players, not just ones that are at the beginning of their career in the game.

When you think about Mario Balotelli and Nicklas Bendtner, you think of them as jokers, mavericks – but most of all, unfulfilled talents of the most public variety. They have both recently suffered the fall from grace that has been coming for some time.

Eyebrows were raised by Balotelli’s description of his time at Liverpool as ‘the worst decision of his career’. It was the last chance saloon for the Italian, but this was no hard luck story – just like every other move he’s made, his work ethic and dedication was questioned and his performances were not befitting of a man with the talent he has.

Having signed a long-term deal when he arrived at the club, Liverpool couldn’t find any club willing to take one more expensive punt on him. He’s trying to build himself up as a reformed character now, at 26, he no longer falls under the banner of youthful promise. Two goals on debut for French side Nice is a good way to start.

Nicklas Bendtner is hardly a young prodigy either anymore, and at 28 years old, should be at his peak now. Instead, his career is at its lowest point to date. Nottingham Forest are hardly a small club, but his arrival there last week is far removed from where he thought he would be by now.

Like Balotelli, questions about attitude and application have persisted for years, and his departure from Wolfsburg will have hurt his reputation significantly. Released over year early from his contract, Sporting Director Klaus Allofs commented that Bendtner was “a menace to the club”.

Not many have sympathy for his decline. His big ego was humorous at the beginning (memes of him are still made and recycled now), but it has been 10 years since the Danish striker was first unleashed on us, and his constant over-belief in himself became draining a long time ago. Bendtner won’t ever reach the level he believes he should be at, but despite his age, that word is still attached to him – potential.

Just because no big club are willing to even look at him now doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of doing great things somewhere, and ultimately that is what has led Forest to giving him a way back in. But the word ‘potential’ is dangerous, and even Balotelli and Bendtner have now come to realise that it’s not something they can hide behind forever.

Both players are at a point in their career where they need more substance to their words. This is always an interesting juncture in a player’s career because we find out just how much motivation they have to get back to the top. Deep down, every football fan wants to believe both players can rid themselves of their boyish behaviour and carve out a respectable career for themselves, because there’s nothing quite as frustrating as watching a player with a gift not making the best of himself. We want Balotelli to become a consistent threat in front of goal, and we would love to see Bendtner to show us at least a hint of justification on why he thought of himself as one of the best players in the world.

Balotelli’s arrival in the south of France comes off the back of his new club’s success last season with another flawed but talented player in Hatem Ben Arfa. Attitude problems hampered his success in England, but was able to knuckle down and earn himself a move to PSG this summer on the back of 17 goals. He’s now a flag-bearer for troubled footballers, ensuring that there will always be one club happy to take the risk Nice did.

Whether this is a good thing remains to be seen, but Balotelli and Bendtner have proof of what can happen with some old-fashioned hard work. They have both made some good, early noises, and one can only hope this is the start of a revival, because if they don’t do it now, then they never will.

Final thought

Having a belief in your ability is an important aspect of sport as a whole, but particularly when it comes to football, motivation to succeed can dwindle very quickly when big money starts entering the bank account. It’s the reason why many talented player’s careers don’t pan out quite as it should.

Many people define success by how much money they have, and so some would actually suggest that Balotelli and Bendtner have had successful careers to that end. It’s not as simple as that, though, and both players are finding that out. Now’s the time to find the hunger they require to stop their promising careers becoming one of regret.

“He who trusts in his riches shall fall, but the righteous shall flourish as the green leaf.”  – Proverbs 11:28

Can Balotelli and Bendtner revive their careers?

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