'I had an overdue parking fine of 33 grand... but money goes fast when you buy £150,000 wine!': NICKLAS BENDTNER talks car crashes, wild nights, and being Denmark's answer to David Beckham

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Nicklas Bendtner shoves a pouch of snus tobacco beneath his upper lip and takes a swig of Carlsberg. 'People here drink IPA but I don't like perfume in my beer!' he says, bedded into a quiet corner of Kødbyens Fiskebar in Copenhagen. He washes down a mouthful of buttery turbot before canvassing opinion on who Gareth Southgate should select for England at the Euros.

'England have a f*****g fantastic team,' he says. 'Unreal. Phil Foden's got to play, Jude Bellingham's got to play, Harry Kane's got to play, Declan Rice has got to play and Bukayo Saka has got to play. I like England's chances this year. Player for player, there's no better team.'

Now 36, and living back in his home city, he is as patriotic as they come. 'Denmark are very strong defensively but lack a bit offensively. We play in a 5-3-2 system and create results from good defending. I think we will go through the group but the English team is on a different level.'

Like most retired footballers, Bendtner could talk tactics all afternoon. Yet Bendtner was never your average footballer; just ask Arsene Wenger. Since taking early retirement in 2019, his hair has grown down to his shoulders and he has bulked up with a few kilos of muscle. He bench-presses 140kg on a good day. Some Arsenal fans may not even recognise the Scandinavian striker who once patrolled the six-yard box - as well as London's nightlife.

Most mornings he visits the spit-and-sawdust gym just around the corner, sweat from his workout dripping down his brow as he tucks into lunch. 'I've got to work-out because my body starts falling apart if I don't do anything,' he explains, clutching at his right knee. 'Since my car crash, my body never really healed. It's was never really the same.'

Now 36 and living in his home city, Nicklas Bendtner is as patriotic as they come - but still backs England for a great Euros campaign

Now 36 and living in his home city, Nicklas Bendtner is as patriotic as they come - but still backs England for a great Euros campaign

Now 36 and living in his home city, Nicklas Bendtner is as patriotic as they come - but still backs England for a great Euros campaign

Some Arsenal fans might not recognise him nowadays, with his hair down to his shoulders and more muscle

Some Arsenal fans might not recognise him nowadays, with his hair down to his shoulders and more muscle  

Bendtner has undergone an extraordinary transformation since retiring from football in 2019

Bendtner has undergone an extraordinary transformation since retiring from football in 2019 

Almost 15 years have passed since he spun off the London Colney exit of the A1 on his way to Arsenal training, Andrea Bocelli blasting through his sound-system as his career swerved off its pathway of immense potential. 'Now I sleep on a bed as hard as this,' he says, hitting the wooden table.

'It was an Aston Martin DBS, grey, James Bond. F*****g great car. So stylish. Still my favourite car. That was my best period at Arsenal, playing on the right side with Andrey Arshavin on the left, and Robin van Persie up front. I was playing every week and after the crash I was never really the same. All of a sudden I couldn't go five games at 100 per cent.'

He used to manage the pain with tablets - dosing up on 200mg tablets of Voltaren painkillers. These days he goes wild swimming off the Danish coast to recover. 'When you play with pain and start popping pills then it's a very slippery slope. I needed them to play because of the pain. I took them continuously for about two years. The problem was that I couldn't train without them. I read up on the side effects and everything that happened to me was all the side effects of taking them for too long.

'It affected my mood, it affected how I was as a person. In the end I had to come off it. I should never really have started. They're accessible everywhere. You can ask the doctor for some, he will say "no" and then you get them anyway. If a player knows he can take three or four of those pills and play in a Champions League semi-final then that's what he's gonna do. I would have taken 10.

'Football was my first, second and third thing. The only time I was free and felt special was on the grass. You felt part of something bigger. That was my happiest moment in my life, nothing else compares to it. The periods when you are not in the team then you are more prone to make a bad decision…'

Bendtner's career is a story of living life to its limits. A cautionary tale of excess. Yet there are no regrets; he looks back with a twinkle in his eye. 'I'm driving a Volvo here… you can't speed in that!' He laughs about his mistakes - of which there have been a few - and wraps up his wild anecdotes with a warmth that you would not expect from the man in the headlines.

'On the back seats of the Denmark bus, all the older players would always talk about wine,' he says, looking through the drinks menu. 'I collected wine since I was 19. When the team met on Monday we would all bring one bottle and taste it. We would have four glasses on the Monday night and talk about the wine. I've got something like 50 thousand bottles of wine now. You know Romanée-Conti? £15,000 per bottle, £140,000 per case. You would buy one case to sell and one to drink.

'When I was 24 I had spent basically all I had but I had bought wine, property, art. The cash flow completely broke. I was left quite alone with my money. I had a lot of support in the club but not so much outside of the pitch. One of the beautiful things I love about myself is that I like to experience different things. I will never say "No, I don't want to try" – I would rather go and try it. The money goes fast when you buy £150,000 wine.

He works out in a spit-and-sawdust gym, bench-presses 140kg, and can still talk tactics all day

He works out in a spit-and-sawdust gym, bench-presses 140kg, and can still talk tactics all day

His career is a story of living life to its limits and there are no regrets, just a twinkle in the eye

His career is a story of living life to its limits and there are no regrets, just a twinkle in the eye

'When I was 24 I had spent basically all I had but I had bought wine, property, art. The cash flow completely broke'

'When I was 24 I had spent basically all I had but I had bought wine, property, art. The cash flow completely broke'

'I would love to have had more support when I was heading down the wrong path but you live your best life. I wore a Robert Pires Arsenal shirt for my communion as a kid; it was the only shirt I wanted. I was living a dream. When you're young you see the world so beautiful and pure. Everything is so exciting. It's not until you become older that you see the world in a different light. Now you're more settled, you're happy, you're not in a rush.'

Here is a man who has had to learn the hard way. 'I don't really believe in regrets but I believe in being smarter at the time. Some things you can look back and say, "That was stupid". I had an overdue parking fine that ended up at 33 thousand pounds. I got the ticket in the post, never opened the post and it was just lying there. I got a call saying, "Do you realise the bailiffs are going to come to your house and take your stuff if you don't pay this?" I had to pay it.'

Bendtner's ultimate five-a-side team 


Buffon – the best keeper there's been.

Chiellini – one of the few that spoke a little bit of English when I got to Juventus! The way he marked players, in close and in tight, was ahead of his time.

Fabregas – he came from Barcelona and got into the first team at 17 and was one of the top five midfielders in the world.

Pirlo – the maestro. The second-best passer I've seen after Denis Bergkamp. One of the most stylish men I've played with.

Robin Van Persie – I played a few matches with Thierry Henry but I played with RVP for a long time. Like myself, injuries stopped his progression. He was fantastic at Arsenal and United.

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His most excessive purchase? 'I bought a Harley Davidson… after a night out in Las Vegas. We didn't need it. We just drove it round a bit and then we gave it back to the shop. I got some of my money back.

'I spent a lot of money on gambling. When you have that high from football, it's very hard to find it in other places. You go gambling to get that feeling and you don't get that unless you have a lot at stake. Blackjack, roulette… we played everything, You could be at the house, you get out a golf ball and put a cup 20 metres away for £1,000 every time you get it in. 

'You only play football twice a week so you seek out that kick more and it becomes like a rolling ball. Later on, I realised that it didn't matter if I won or lost, at the end it was just a kick. You have no winners in gambling at the end of the day so I stopped If I burn myself at something I'm quite good at retreating and saying 'no more'. At 24 I learned enough so it was easy to take a step back.'

How about the story that he asked for shirt No 52 because he was earning £52,000 per week? 'Couldn't be further from the truth… I would have been wearing a higher number!' he says with a booming laugh. 'Now players are getting paid about 400k a week… it's important they have good advice and good people around them.'

Dancing close to the dark side, trouble was never far away. He tells a shocking story about the night he was approached by a rogue punter about spot-fixing. Cash for yellow cards. 'I was in the casino a lot and I got approached by a guy in there. You would get approached by people who would say, "We'll give you 100k if you do this". I lost my head when I got asked about it. 

'I said, "F*** off". It just takes everything away from sport. The fact that anyone would approach you with a proposition like that is just so respect-less, it's ridiculous. The worst thing now is that you get a lot of players coming out and betting on their own matches, it's just so wrong. You just leave it.'

'I spent a lot of money on gambling. When you have that high from football, it’s very hard to find it in other places'

'I spent a lot of money on gambling. When you have that high from football, it's very hard to find it in other places'

He has had to learn some lessons in life the hard way and he tells Mail Sport of the excesses of his younger life

He has had to learn some lessons in life the hard way and he tells Mail Sport of the excesses of his younger life 

Bendtner has sometimes struggling to find meaning after his career, admitting that 'football was my first, second and third thing'

Bendtner has sometimes struggling to find meaning after his career, admitting that 'football was my first, second and third thing'

In many ways, Bendtner is Denmark's answer to David Beckham. He lived out his young life in the public eye - earning the nickname Lord after dating Danish royalty - and every mistake was lit up in the brightest of spotlights. Now, a few years after his retirement, his people hold him close to their heart. The autograph hunters are never far away.

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Nicklas Bendtner reveals the story behind becoming the first ever footballer to wear PINK boots and the superstar he pipped to the accolade... as he speaks on his love for trainers and his latest footwear collaboration

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Despite the lavish spending, he has a healthy bank account, meaning he can pick and choose his business opportunities. His most recent venture is a trainer collaboration with Errant Official; a fitting move for the first footballer to ever wear pink boots. 

'As a kid we had no money so I was wearing the same shoe for four or five years until it was completely broken. Because of that I started loving shoes. When you start getting sponsorships, start getting shoes for free then all of a sudden you get too many!

'Without football, I miss my team-mates, being in the dressing room, walking out onto the pitch, the banter, walking out into the big stadiums. You can't find the adrenaline rush it gave you anywhere. Trust me, I've looked. I'm still looking - and I will never get it. But I live a fantastic life at the moment, I challenge myself all the time. I've been diving now for three years and I love it. My new thing is that within the next two years I want to climb mount Everest.

'Football is only a part of your life, then you've got to figure out something else to do that makes you happy. I travelled for a year after I retired. I started to get quite heavy. I was living a nice life but it was unstructured and without purpose. 

'I lived an unhealthy lifestyle, getting it all out. I was bored and I hate living without purpose. I needed something to wake up to so I started training, collabs with the sneakers, a podcast, TV work…'

This summer he will be based in Copenhagen, working remotely as a pundit for Danish TV coverage of the Euros. He speaks with searing honesty, his opinions are sharp and direct.

Mikel Arteta as Arsenal manager? 'He was our captain and he was always going to be a manager. His way of living was very different to mine but we always had a mutual respect. He's taken Arsenal to a level where we can sometimes get too hopeful because he's done it that fast. 

In many ways, Bendtner is Denmark’s answer to David Beckham. He earned the nickname 'Lord' after dating Danish royalty

In many ways, Bendtner is Denmark's answer to David Beckham. He earned the nickname 'Lord' after dating Danish royalty 

Mikel Arteta? 'His way of living was very different to mine but we always had a mutual respect.' Bendtner feels he has elevated Arsenal to a new level

Mikel Arteta? 'His way of living was very different to mine but we always had a mutual respect.' Bendtner feels he has elevated Arsenal to a new level

'Arsenal now is not afraid of saying, "Right, we want Declan Rice and we will buy him for 100million". He had a vision and he's been one of the best midfielders in the Premier League this season. I think he's a year or two ahead of schedule and I think they will be really, really strong.'

The one player he'd like to see his former club sign? 'A striker. The way Julian Alvarez moves and plays, I feel like he's an Arsenal player. I don't think he's available so maybe Victor Osimhen.'

How about the increasing theatrics on the pitch? 'I loved the old English way. If you get kicked proper, you get kicked proper. If you just get a little tap then no one acts on it. A lot of Danish players still have that old school English in them. I'd prefer that than the Spanish way. 

'When I played against John Terry, it was elbows flying all the time then at the end of the match you shake hands and everything is fine. It's just part of the game. No one was trying to outdo the other with a dive. That was the battle and I miss that sometimes.'

He bathes in memories of the old days. Nights out with Andy Carroll when he played for Sunderland, trips to watch the rugby with Aaron Ramsey, cigarettes at Juventus, the Paddy Power briefs he keeps in his drawer as a reminder of the day he was fined £80,000 for pulling down his shorts at Euro 2012. Plates of seafood keep coming. Swordfish garnished with hazelnut, gooseberry and wildflowers. Brill with rhubarb and miso. Bread with seaweed butter.

'They say an athlete dies twice and it's just so true,' he says, finishing his lunch. 'It's tough. There's a competitor within you that you have to put to sleep. You have to let that happen to move on. You have to let that side of you go and that's very difficult when it's all you've ever known.

'Your whole life you've been this competitive predator, knowing that losing is not an option. All of a sudden you move out of that competitiveness that has driven you 24-7, then you've got to find out what kind of man you want to be.

'There's many things you haven't tried, many things you haven't learned, because you've lived in this bubble you need to re-experience things. That can be very tough. It can take people years to find themselves. 

He'd like to see Arsenal sign Julian Alvarez, but would settle for Victor Osimhen if he isn't available

He'd like to see Arsenal sign Julian Alvarez, but would settle for Victor Osimhen if he isn't available

Reflecting on retirement, he claims: 'They say an athlete dies twice and it’s just so true'

Reflecting on retirement, he claims: 'They say an athlete dies twice and it's just so true'

'People become alcoholics, people become gamblers, because you're chasing that high that you just can't get. As I said earlier, where I was lucky was that I tried that a 24. Putting the athlete to sleep, it was four years ago for me now and I still haven't 100 per cent got it locked in.'

When it comes to coffee, he orders two double espressos. One cup stacked upon the other. 'I call it the double decker.' After all, he has got to find his kicks somewhere, these days.

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