Arsenal and Holland legend Dennis Bergkamp made his mark on the Premier League and the World Cup. The Dutchman could strike fear into any Premiership defence, but was himself afraid to take to the skies and fly to away games.
Voted the second greatest player to pull on the Gooners’ shirt by the club’s official website, Bergkamp’s talent was nurtured at the highly-acclaimed youth academy of his hometown club AFC Ajax. In December 1986 Johan Cryuff gave the 16-year-old forward his debut in the first team and Bergkamp finished the season with a European Cup Winners Cup medal having featured as a substitute in the final against Lokomotive Leipzig. He added one Eredivisie title, two KNVB Cups and one UEFA Cup to his medal haul at the De Meer Stadion in addition to a prolific 103 goals in 185 games.
It was not long before the heavyweights of European football were after Bergkamp and Inter Milan won the race for his signature in 1993, paying £12 million for his services. Despite lifting the UEFA Cup for a second time with the Nerazzuri he failed to replicate his antics in Amsterdam, scoring only 11 times in 52 appearances. After two seasons Bruce Rioch and Arsenal came knocking and the 6ft 2in striker headed to North London in the summer of 1995 for a knock-down price of £7.5 million.
Upon his departure, Inter president Massimo Moratti remarked, “They will be lucky if he scores 10 goals this season.” His goal drought at N5 lasted all of seven games after which the Dutchman announced his arrival in the Premiership with a brace against Southampton. That season he proved Moratti wrong by netting 11 goals in 33 games. In September 1996 Arsene Wenger replaced Rioch in the Gooners dugout and Bergkamp was at the forefront of the Arsenal revolution. The Frenchman described the presence of the stocky forward in his squad as a blessing.
In the year where he helped Arsenal secure a league and FA Cup double – their first since the historic 1971 triumph – as well as the PFA Player of the Year award, Bergkamp also wrote his name into World Cup history when he scored one of the greatest goals in the competition’s history for the Netherlands against
Argentina. On a hot July afternoon in Marseille, he latched onto 60-yard pass from Frank de Boer and fired home to send his home nation through to the semi finals – a goal which won him a place in the hearts of England fans whose team had been knocked out by the South Americans in the previous round.
Although he never repeated the goalscoring heights he achieved at Ajax, Bergkamp became an integral part of the Highbury dynasty. He demonstrated a large amount of skill on the ball and this could be seen in the assists he provided for strike partner Thierry Henry and his team mates. The way he danced around two Juventus defenders in December 2001 before playing in Fredrik Ljungberg to score Arsenal’s third of the night. Despite winning three titles and five FA Cups during his time in the capital, Bergkamp’s talents were restricted to only a handful of European appearances due to the Dutchman’s fear of flying which saw him travel to the Gooners’ Champions League away games.
Since retiring in 2006 Bergkamp has put his talents to good use by returning to Ajax as a strikers’ coach as well as assistant manager to the Netherlands B team. The non-flying Dutchman was one of the pioneers of the renaissance of English football and his contribution to not only Arsenal but also the Premiership, should not be forgotten.