O’don­nell says Celtic Park will bring out best in once-great Dane Bendt­ner

● Pair were youth team-mates at Ar­se­nal ● Rosen­borg’s striker still has goal threat

The Scotsman - - Sport -

Stephen O’don­nell must have thought he would never cross paths again with Nick­las Bendt­ner.

When you leave Ar­se­nal for Falkirk, as O’don­nell did in 2005, prior to spend­ing the rest of your ca­reer in Ire­land, the chances of bump­ing into one of the most talked-about play­ers in Europe are slim.

How­ever, O’don­nell did just that, last Wed­nes­day, in the Leerk­endal Sta­dium in Trond­heim. Bendt­ner was on the op­po­site side of the Cham­pi­ons League di­vide to O’don­nell’s Dun­dalk, as Rosen­borg snatched away the prize of a third-round qual­i­fy­ing en­counter with Celtic.

The Ir­ish mid­fielder and once-great Dane swapped mem­o­ries of their time in Ar­se­nal’s youth sys­tem, and O’don­nell is con­vinced that Bendt­ner still has some­thing to of­fer, even if go­ing to the far north of Nor­way to find a club was never on the hori­zon.

O’don­nell be­lieves that a huge stage like Celtic Park will bring out the best in Bendt­ner to­mor­row, and that the 29-year-old Rosen­borg striker will be a threat to Bren­dan Rodgers’ side.

“Nick­las is still a big, big boy and a huge phys­i­cal pres­ence,” said O’don­nell of the 6ft 5in Dane. “He’s not changed much as a player. He is still a hand­ful for de­fend­ers in the air and has a good first touch on the ground.

“Nick­las will be a threat to Celtic, al­though I felt we han­dled him quite well last week be­cause Rosen­borg didn’t give good ser­vice in terms of crosses.

“He used to thrive play­ing on the big­gest stages with Ar­se­nal and Den­mark and I’m sure that play­ing at a sold-out Celtic Park in a Cham­pi­ons League tie will bring out the best in him.

When O’don­nell said good­bye to Arsene Wenger in 2005, to move to Scot­land, the Ar­se­nal man­ager was hand­ing Bendt­ner a first-team de­but at 17 and a year later, the teenage striker re­ceived the first of his 74 Den­mark caps.

The con­trast was greater in 2010, when Bendt­ner played in the World Cup fi­nals, while O’don­nell swapped Cork City for Gal­way United, one of the mid­fielder’s five clubs in his na­tive coun­try, with man­ager Stephen Kenny also tak­ing O’don­nell to Sham­rock 0 Nick­las Bendt­ner: phys­i­cal pres­ence can trou­ble de­fend­ers Rovers and Dun­dalk where the pair have en­joyed Euro­pean cam­paigns.

Bendt­ner, though, is loved by nei­ther club nor coun­try. He was kicked out by Ar­se­nal and Den­mark and a life­style that saw him bet­ter known for car crashes than goals, means he’s now at Rosen­borg.

Ju­ven­tus would not touch Bendt­ner af­ter he was ar­rested for drink- driv­ing while on loan dur­ing 2012-13 and the Dan­ish FA banned the striker for six months from the na­tional team for that of­fence.

In Au­gust 2014, Bendt­ner signed a three-year deal with Vflwolfs­burg­but­the­bun­desliga club ter­mi­nated his deal af­ter two sea­sons. Ac­cord­ing to sport­ing direc­tor, Klaus

0 Dun­dalk’s Stephen O’don­nell says the 29-year-old striker will be a threat to Bren­dan Rodgers’ side. Allofs, the Dane “was a men­ace to the club” be­cause of so many missed train­ing ses­sions. Bendt­ner then had six months at Not­ting­ham For­est be­fore join­ing Rosen­borg last March.

“I was two years above him at Ar­se­nal,” said O’don­nell, 31. “He was so highly rated and Ar­se­nal brought him in at 16 from Den­mark. I came over from Ire­land at the same age, so I looked out for him a bit be­cause you know how home­sick­ness can get to play­ers.

“Nick­las and I spoke dur­ing the game in Trond­heim and then af­ter it. He says he is en­joy­ing him­self. Rosen­borg is still a big club, in Euro­pean terms, and he’s only 29, so Nick­las still has time to do well.

“Rosen­borg know that if they beat Celtic, that would guar­an­tee Euro­pean foot­ball even if they didn’t get through the play-off, be­cause they will have the Europa League to fall back on.

“That’s what we did with Dun­dalk last sea­son. We were nar­rowly knocked out by Le­gia War­saw in the play-off but had a great ex­pe­ri­ence in the Europa League group stage.

“We were very close to beat­ing Rosen­borg. We were the bet­ter side in the first match in Ire­land when we drew 1-1 and threw a lead away in Nor­way when lead­ing 1-0, to go into ex­tra-time. We hit the bar with a few min­utes to go when they led 2-1 which would have taken us through.

“That’s how close we came to hav­ing a tie with Celtic. Such small mar­gins. We were dream­ing of sell­out game with Celtic at the Aviva Sta­dium in Dublin, which is what we did with Le­gia last sea­son.

“It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how Rosen­borg do against Celtic . They are a de­cent side but don’t have a lot of pace, es­pe­cially at the back, which is maybe some­thing Celtic can ex­ploit.”

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