Greatest Number 10’s – Dennis Bergkamp | As a child of the 90’s I grew up predominantly watching the English premiership. The premiership was full of brilliant talent however it wasnt regarded as the ‘best league in the world’ as many are quick to claim today. Italian football, especially the channel 4 coverage with a certain James Richardson, became a key part of my weekend, at a time when Italian football was at its peak. The English premiership was progressive in the 90’s, people wanted to see the style of football being played on the Continent, in britain, full of flair and creativity. The introduction of foreign managers such as Ruud Gullit at Chelsea and Arsène Wenger at Arsenal advanced the philosophies of these English clubs and had a lasting influence on the English Premier League.
When Arsène Wenger arrived at Arsenal he adopted a player with a technical ability and style that suited his philosophy perfectly, that player was of course Dennis Bergkamp.
Dennis Bergkamp arrived at Arsenal from Inter Milan after then manager Bruce Rioch offered the Dutchman the chance to escape what was a disappointing period in Italian football. Bergkamp struggled to adapt his game to cope with the aggressive and physical style of Italian defences. A move to England beckoned, yet he failed to hit the ground running at Arsenal which heaped pressure on the player and the club, as the media questioned the decision to sign him after his poor performances in Italy. The arrival of Wenger at Arsenal signaled a change in the career of Bergkamp. The two men believed in the same style of football, each sharing similar ideals of the game both on and off the pitch.
Bergkamp became the focal point of Arsène Wenger’s attack, sitting in his favoured secondary striker role, Bergkamp flourished. His touch, vision, skill and technical ability to play a clinical pass to a teammate ,or to evade defenders before calmly slotting the ball home himself, was as much a joy to watch as it must have been to play alongside.
As Wenger brought further technically gifted players to the club, Bergkamp became involved in a number of memorable partnerships. Combining with strikers such as Ian Wright, Nicholas Anelka, and of course Thierry Henry, Bergkamp’s skill brought not only the best out of himself but the players around him. Thierry Henry was always quick to praise the ability of his former partner, “If you are in the game, on the bench or watching on TV, you want to learn from Dennis Bergkamp.”.
One thing that would always hold the Dutchman back in terms of European involvement for Arsenal was his fear of Flying. Nicknamed ‘The Non-Flying Dutchman’ as a result, Bergkamp would often travel days ahead of his team mates to away European ties, which inevitably caused fatigue. Matches in distant destinations where unreachable and as a result Arsenal were forced to play without the key influence of their number 10.
If there was ever a goal to encapsulate everything about its scorer it came in March 2002 when Arsenal faced Newcastle United away. Certainly one of the greatest goals ever scored in the English Premiership, Bergkamp displays all the attributes which made him such a special player.
International football was bitter-sweet for Bergkamp, despite scoring 37 goals in 79 appearances from 1990 to 2000 for the Netherlands, The Dutch Master failed to win a major International tournament. The World Cup was a tournament Bergkamp never managed to win, however in the 1998 World Cup Quarter Final between the Netherland and Argentina. Bergkamp produced a sublime goal which he personally regards as his finest ever goal. Leaping in the air to control a 60 yard pass from teammate Frank de Boer, ‘The Iceman’ then controlled the ball, slipped it through the legs of Roberto Ayala, before volleying the ball into the back of the net.
During his 11 year spell at Arsenal, Bergkamp won 3 Premier League titles, and 4 F.A. Cups, making 423 appearances, scoring 120 goals, and producing 124 assists. The Dutchman received numerous Individual accolades such as Dutch footballer of the Year (1991,1992). He finished third in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 1993 and 1996 and was also named in the FIFA 100, a list of the greatest living footballers by footballing Legend Pelé. He was awarded FWA Footballer of the Year and PFA Player’s Player of the Year in 1998. Bergkamp was also inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2007, and in 2008 was voted Second by Arsenal Fans in a list of the 50 Gunners Greatest Players. One other unique achievement of the Dutchman was to be the first player to be voted first, second and third in Match of the Days Goal of the Month competition in August 1997.
Dennis Bergkamp was a key figure in the evolution of both Arsenal and the English Premier League. His technical ability and style of play made him one of the most enjoyable players to watch during the 90’s and 00’s. The contribution of Bergkamp seems to have been underestimated, his overall standing in World football undervalued, yet this was a player who his fellow professionals recognised as a true genius of the game and certainly one of the greatest ever Number 10’s.
“You can’t blame anyone for that. You just have to accept that Bergkamp did a beautiful thing.” – Sir Bobby Robson on Bergkamp’s goal against Newcastle United in March 2002.
“I have always said Dennis Bergkamp will remain the best partner I have ever had. He is a dream for a striker. Sometimes you have players who do not have to talk, you just have to watch them — and that is the case with Dennis. The way he can kill a team with one pass is just amazing. He will sometimes do things out of nowhere.” – Thierry Henry.
“If you are in the game, on the bench or watching on TV, you want to learn from Dennis Bergkamp.” – Thierry Henry
“He makes difficult things easy” – Patrick Vieria
“If he were in ‘Star Trek’ he’d be the best player in whatever solar system he was in” – Ian Wright
“I had such gigantic respect for that man. I sat next to him in the changing room. He had number 10, I had number 11, so every day I sat next to my idol,” – Robin Van Persie
“Behind every action there must be a thought” – Dennis Bergkamp