Player Profiles: Dennis Bergkamp

Earlier this week I launched the player profile section of the site. All was right with the world, and then Robin Van Persie went and did that. As an Arsenal fan I needed reminding that not all Dutch strikers will abandon you. So I went to Youtube and searched for videos of one man. This week’s profile is: (to quote Dutch commentator Jack Van Gelder) DENNIS BERGKAMP, DENNIS, BERGKAMP, DENNIS BERGKAAAAAAAMP.

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Fact File

Name: Dennis Nicolaas Bergkamp

Date of Birth: 10th May 1969

Nationality: Dutch

International Caps/Goals: 79/37

Born in Amsterdam in 1969 to a working class family, Bergkamp was named after Manchester United legend Denis Law (the extra ‘n’ was added so as to be accepted by the registrar) and at a young age joined the fabled Ajax youth system. Seriously, look at some of the players they have produced over the years, it is ridiculous. Bergkamp broke into the side in 1986, under the tutelage of Johan Cruyff, and soon became an integral part of a side that saw great success, including winning the 1992 UEFA cup. In total Bergkamp scored 122 times for Ajax in his 239 games before a £7.1 million move to the San Siro to play for Inter Milan.

The move to Inter didn’t suit the Dutchman, who found it difficult to break down Serie A’s legendary organised defences. He was also asked to play in a front 3 meaning his role was very different to what asked to do when playing in the 2nd striker role Bergkamp became famous for. He also had a somewhat strained relationship with the Italian media, with one newspaper renaming their “Donkey of the Week” award the “Bergkamp of the Week” award. After 2 years in Italy Bergkamp was rescued by Bruce Rioch and brought to Arsenal for £7.5 million in 1995, a price that smashed Arsenal’s existing transfer record of £2.5 million.

At this point I would like to throw in a quick disclaimer; I may become very misty eyed during this section of the profile. For that I apologise.

Bergkamp’s signing was a landmark moment for Arsenal, and the Premier League, not just because of the transfer fee but also because of the fact that he was an established international footballer (Bergkamp had already been part of the Dutch set up for 5 years) who was coming to ply his trade in England with his best years ahead of him. As had been the case in Italy, Bergkamp struggled to adapt quickly and was derided by some sections of the media for not scoring. Then it happened, in a game against Southampton he scored twice and all the criticism seemed to fade away. Arsene Wenger took over from Rioch after Bergkamp’s first season and the Dutchman went from strength to strength. In the 1997/8 season he was a key factor in Arsenal’s double winning season, winning the PFA Players’ Player of the year, and in a game against Leicester City he scored a hat-trick that saw him finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd in Match of the Day’s Goal of the Season competition:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LP73Ke5HR3E

After that season Bergkamp joined up with the Dutch squad to play in the 1998 world cup in France. Holland went out on penalties to Brazil in the semi-finals but it was the quarter final against Argentina where he made his mark. With the game at 1-1 and heading for extra time Frank de Boer played a long, hopeful ball forward, Bergkamp did this:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsZkCFoqSBs

I’m not sure I could even think about doing that let alone pulling it off. Appropriately that goal also made him Holland’s top scorer of all time (a record that is now owned by Patrick Kluivert) but it is Jack Van Gelder’s commentary strikes a chord with football fans everywhere. Obviously very few people understand the Dutch language but when he breaks into screams of Bergkamp’s name everybody knows that the man is absolutely loving it; and really, isn’t that what football is all about?

Following the world cup Bergkamp returned to Arsenal and continued to have success. Despite finishing his Arsenal career with 120 goals in all competitions Bergkamp was never a prolific scorer, his role in the team was more as a creator. Something he did with consummate ease, being an Arsenal fan in the early 2000s was simply a joy. A front 4 of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg with players like Patrick Vieira bombing forward from deep was breath-taking. I know I’m slightly biased but I will go as far as to say that it’s the best side ever assembled in Premier League history, although I’m sure the 1998/9 Manchester United team might disagree. This period of success culminated in the team going a whole league season unbeaten and winning the league at a canter.

Bergkamp’s Arsenal career finished, fittingly, with him scoring his last goal at Highbury on a day dedicated to him. His testimonial was the first game held at the new Emirates Stadium. He is now the assistant manager, to Frank de Boer, at Ajax. I like to think they spend training sessions attempting to recreate the goal against Argentina. Is it too much to ask that one day, after Wenger has had enough, he might come and manage at the Emirates?

To conclude I’m going to take you back to 2002. For a moment that defines Bergkamp’s career every bit as much as all the trophies, accolades and that goal against Argentina do:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n275iW54o68

This goal came 2nd overall in a poll looking to find the best goal in the 20 years of the Premier League, losing out to Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick against Manchester City. The question was did he mean to do it? To answer that I’ll tell you what Robert Pires said about the goal: “If you don’t think he meant that, then you don’t know Dennis Bergkamp.” Frankly that is good enough for me. Ladies and Gentlemen; Dennis Bergkamp, my favourite player ever, a genius and it was an absolute pleasure to have had him play for my club.

Thank you Dennis. Thank you.

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