Legends: Dennis Bergkamp
One night in 2005, a handful of Dutch legends gathered for a dinner in an Amsterdam house.
As the night wore on, the conversation inevitably turned to ‘who was the greatest Dutch player of all time?’
Instantly, the great striker Jan Mulder chose a player who had come close, but never won the Ballon d’Or or even a Champions League medal.
“Dennis Bergkamp,” Mulder announced, “He had the finest technique.”
The room went silent, Guus Hiddink nodded his head in agreement, and the matter was settled.
Dennis Nicolaas Bergkamp was born on the 10th May 1969 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. From an early age, his talent was apparent, earning him a place at the famous Ajax youth academy at the tender age of 12.
Honing his technical ability through the Ajax ranks, Bergkamp made his full senior debut at 17, going on to make 14 appearances that season.
The following season he became an integral part of the Ajax first team and achieved a number of honours, winning the Dutch League in 1990, the Uefa Cup in 1992 and the KNVB Cup in 1993.
Bergkamp was also the leading scorer in the Eredivisie and was voted Dutch Footballer of the Year both in 1992 and 1993. The Dutchman scored 122 goals in 239 games for his hometown club, before making a £12 million move to Internazionale.
Bergkamp’s transfer made him the second most expensive player at the time, behind Gianluigi Lentini.
Despite winning another Uefa Cup in 1994, his time at Internazionale was much less successful. The Italian press criticised Bergkamp severely for his poor form and inability to adapt to the Italian style.
They even renamed the “donkey of the week” (an award given to the worst player) the “Bergkamp of the week” award. Bergkamp spent two very unhappy years in Italy before moving to Arsenal, where he would truly show the world what a great player he was.
Bruce Rioch replaced George Graham as Arsenal manager and signed Bergkamp for £7.5 million pounds in June 1995. Previously the Gunners were labelled as “Boring, Boring Arsenal” under Graham, but the signing of Bergkamp proved the beginning of a new, altogether more beautiful Arsenal side.
It did take him seven games before he got his first goal, however, but slowly but surely Bergkamp found his form scoring a brace against Southampton and never looking back.
Rioch’s time at Arsenal came to an abrupt end and in 1996 Arsene Wenger took the reins. This was when Bergkamp found his best form and as a focal point of Arsene’s revitalised Arsenal, his technique, vision and class was a main contributor to Arsenal’s return to success, after a brief period of mediocrity in the mid-90s.
Deployed as a second striker behind Ian Wright, the two created a formidable partnership, landing the Gunners the Premier League and the FA Cup in 1997-1998 season, with Bergkamp voted the PFA Player of the Year.
In September 1997 Bergkamp became the first and so far the only player to have come first, second and third in Goals of the Month (including two goals from his hat-trick against Leicester City and one against Southampton).
Bergkamp’s success at Arsenal continued, winning the Double again in the 2001-2002 season, scoring the Premier League Goal of the Season with his ingenious flick against Newcastle along the way.
Another FA Cup in 2003, an unbeaten Premier League winning season in 2004 and the FA Cup in 2005, Bergkamp’s illustrious career came to an end in the 2006 season.
The Arsenal fans bid an emotional farewell to Highbury, as well as to one of the most talented and influential players in the clubs history. He scored a total of 120 goals in 411 games. Not bad for a player who doesn’t do tap-ins.
Making his internationl debut in 1990, Bergkamp did not enjoy nearly as much success for Netherlands, but he still produced some great moments on the biggest stage. Although impressing at the 1992 Euros and the 1994 World Cup, Bergkamp found his best form at the 1998 World Cup, scoring one of the most memorable goals of all time, in a quarter-final against Argentina.
The next major tournament, the 2002 World Cup, would be played in Japan and South Korea. Bergkamp’s fear of flying would prevent him from travelling, so he decided to announce his international retirement just after the 2000 Euros. He ended his international career first on the all-time list of goal scorers for the Dutch national team, with 37 goals in 79 games, although this record was later surpassed by Patrick Kluivert.
Currently assistant coach to Frank De Boer at Ajax, Bergkamp is destined for a future in coaching or even management, reiterating his ambition to one day return to Arsenal.
With a text book technique, a magnificent footballing brain and an eye for a killer pass, whatever Bergkamp did on a football pitch oozed class. He played the sport effortlessly and produced some of the classiest and most beautiful football Europe has ever seen.
A natural talent who made the sport into an art; Dennis Bergkamp is the true “Dutch Master”.
By Andreas Tziallis