SUNDERLAND have been told to expect a revitalised Nicklas Bendtner at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
The Dane is due to make his Black Cats debut at home to Chelsea and, having seen him change physically over the summer, his international manager has seen an even more dramatic change in mentality since the 6ft 5in striker moved to Wearside.
After four years’ frustration on the Arsenal sidelines, Denmark manager Morten Olsen has witnessed the mental release since the slimmer Bendtner agreed a season-long loan to Sunderland shortly before last week’s transfer deadline.
The 23-year-old was with his country at the time and scored twice in his first game since, their crucial European Championship qualifying win over neighbours Norway.
Olsen saw it as a return to the form Bendtner showed at the time Arsène Wenger still thought he might make it as a Gunners player.
“Bendtner was superb for us,” Olsen said after Tuesday night’s 2-0 win, which put Denmark level on points with Portugal and Norway in Group H.
“It was a flashback to his performances of two or three years ago.
“During the summer he dropped five kilos but it appears his switch to Sunderland has lifted even more weight from his shoulders.
“His impact on the result can’t be underestimated.”
The goals were Bendtner’s first at international level for six games.
His second strike in Copenhagen was a superb 25-yard effort, his first the result of good movement in the box. He was aggrieved not to be handed a penalty after a challenge from Kjetil Waehler.
The cocksure Bendtner has never hidden his frustration at failing to break into Arsenal’s starting line-up on a regular basis. In the wake of his move to Sunderland he vowed never to return.
It is four years since Bendtner played regular football, during a season-long loan at Birmingham City. Blues’ manager at the time, Steve Bruce, handed him 38 league starts.
He has only started 40 Premier League games for Arsenal, despite making his debut six years ago, in a League Cup game at the Stadium of Light.
Bendtner was involved in a serious car crash in September 2009 which wrote off his Aston Martin and caused himself minor injuries.
The Arsenal striker sees the incident as a turning point in his career, saying last week: “After my car accident I never really got the chance to earn a spot in the first team.”
Despite Robin van Persie being injured for much of the first half of the season and Marouane Chamakh desperately disappointing for the second, Bendtner started just 14 times in all competitions last term, often out wide. He came off the bench another 18 times.
Bruce signed the striker after apparently wavering in his faith in the four front men at his disposal.
At the start of pre-season, he declared himself happy with the quartet of Asamoah Gyan, Stéphane Sessègnon, Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won, although it would not be like the Sunderland manager to turn down an interesting opportunity were it to come his way.
By the end of the transfer window, he was actively seeking recruits. None have scored this season, and Gyan has looked alarmingly lethargic.
That fuelled doubts over the Ghanaian’s commitment after weeks of being linked to other clubs and rumours – denied by all parties – of a transfer request. Wickham and Ji are playing in the Premier League for the first time.
Meanwhile, Titus Bramble and Michael Turner both staked their claim to partner Wes Brown on Saturday with 90 minutes in the reserves’ 4-3 friendly win over Newcastle United.
Brown’s partner in the first four games of the season, Anton Ferdinand, has since joined Queen’s Park Rangers.
Bramble set up a goal for Irish winger James McClean – one of the least heralded of Sunderland’s summer signings – although his poor clearance was a factor in Michael Richardson’s late goal for the visitors.