This week’s Premier League hero is undoubtedly the greatest technical player ot ever grace the Premier League, Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp.
Dennis Bergkamp is one of the most exciting and highly skilled players to ever put on an Arsenal shirt. As a youngster, Bergkamp was part of the youth system at Ajax in his native Netherlands where he learned the philosophy of Total Football associated with Dutch football from the Johan Cruyff era.
This type of football influenced Bergkamp’s career in a massive way as he played an attractive style that brought a lot of excitement to the Premier League. Wenger spoke of Bergkamp’s style in a high regard as he stated that,
“He needs fewer touches to score. Sometimes just one when others need two or three”.
This skill and vision that Bergkamp brought to Arsenal also brought a lot of success as he won 3 Premier Leagues, 4 FA Cups and 3 Community Shields during his time with the Gunners. On an individual level, Bergkamp also managed to score 87 league goals in 315 Premier League appearances.
Arsenal broke their transfer record to bring Bergkamp to Highbury for a £7.5m fee. However, there were doubts about whether Bergkamp could deliver in the Premier League as it took the Dutchman a few games to settle in. He struggled for form in his first few appearances for the Gunners but finally scored his first goals when he netted twice against Southampton on 23rd September 1995.
Bergkamp finished his first season in England with 11 goals in 33 appearances but Arsenal finished fifth. Bergkamp’s goal on the final day against Bolton earned UEFA Cup football for the following season.
Arsene Wenger arrived in the 1996/97 season and imposed a strict fitness and health regime on the Arsenal squad which improved the performances of the team immensely. Bergkamp also became more consistent and managed to score 12 times and create 13 assists for his team which, helping Arsenal to finish 3rd but they unfortunately missed out on Champions League football by goal difference.
Bergkamp also received his only Premier League red card in that same season for a high tackle during a game against Sunderland in January 1997.
The 1997/98 season was hugely successful for Bergkamp and Arsenal as they managed to win the Premier League and FA Cup. Bergkamp himself also enjoyed a successful season on a personal level as he became only the second ever foreign player to win the PFA Players’ Player of the Year while he also scored his first ever hat trick in a fixture against Leicester City.
Bergkamp later said that the third goal of his hat trick was his favourite goal that he scored for Arsenal. The goal came about when Bergkamp controlled the ball with one touch before juggling the ball around the defence and slotting home past keeper Kasey Keller.
Martin O’Neill, Leicester City boss at the time, also stated that it was, “the best hat trick I’ve ever seen”.
Arsenal lost the title on the last day of the 1998/99 season and it seemed to be a season full of heartbreak for Bergkamp as he also missed a penalty in the FA Cup semi-final replay against Manchester United and then never took another penalty again in his career.
The frustration continued into the 1999/00 season as they finished 18 points behind then champions Manchester United while they lost the UEFA Cup final to Galatasary on penalties.
Speculation surrounding Bergkamp’s future arose as Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars left Arsenal but Bergkamp opted to sign a new contract. The frustration seemed to continue for the new look Arsenal in 2000/01 as they finished second in the league again and lost in the FA Cup final to Liverpool but the team seemed to look as though they were much improved.
Bergkamp made the correct decision to stay at Arsenal as they regained the Premier League title in the 2001/02 season, defeating Manchester United in the second last game of the campaign. They also regained the FA Cup after defeating Chelsea in the final.
Bergkamp had a relatively impressive season as he scored nine times in the league and created 15 goals for his Arsenal teammates. Bergkamp also played a hugely influential role in Arsenal’s cup success as he headed in the winning goal in an FA Cup tie against Liverpool where he also got sent off and was banned for three games after a two legged lunge on Jamie Carragher.
The quintessential Dennis Bergkamp goal occurred against Newcastle in the league as the Dutchman controlled the ball with one flick before going around the Newcastle defender and slotting home. Sir Bobby Robson referred to the goal by saying, “You can’t blame anyone for that, you just have to accept that Bergkamp did a beautiful thing”.
Bergkamp carried his consistency into the 2002/03 season as he reached a milestone in his career by scoring his 100th goal for Arsenal in all competitions. Arsenal failed to retain the Premier League but held on to their FA Cup title by defeating Southampton in the final.
The 2003/04 season was easily one of the most enjoyable seasons for Bergkamp in his football career as he was part of “The Invincibles” which was the Arsenal squad that went on to win the Premier League by not losing a single game in the Premier League season. This was Bergkamp’s third Premier League title and the manner in which they won it had given Bergkamp legendary status alongside the likes of Henry, Vieira, Pires and other members of the invincible squad.
The 2004/05 season wasn’t as successful as Arsenal finished second in the league but Bergkamp began to become more of a leader in the Arsenal side. This leadership was shown in a fixture against Middlesbrough where Bergkamp stood in as captain and Arsenal went down 3-1 but ending up winning 5-3. Bergkamp ended the season with 8 league goals in 29 league appearances but the highlight of the season was defeating Manchester United in the FA Cup final on penalties.
Bergkamp’s final season for Arsenal came in the 2005/06 season where Arsenal slipped to fourth and had a magnificent Champions League run only to lose 2-1 in the final to Barcelona. Bergkamp decided to end his Arsenal career at the end of the season and he was given a testimonial on the 22nd of July 2006 where Arsenal faced Ajax.
Bergkamp’s successful career at Arsenal wasn’t forgotten after he left though as he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in April 2007 and he was then voted as the second favourite Arsenal player ever after Thierry Henry by the Arsenal fans.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said of Bergkamp after his departure,
“Nobody will ever forget Dennis Bergkamp and everybody who will play in this position for years to come will be compared to Dennis Bergkamp. As much as Thierry Henry is a top target striker, Dennis Bergkamp as a provider was unique”.
His memory lives on outside the Emirates through the statue the club erected in his honour. Dennis Bergkamp, you are a Premier League legend.
Sarah Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image “Dennis Bergkamp statue 2” by Ronnie Macdonald – Flickr: Dennis Bergkamp statue. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dennis_Bergkamp_statue_2.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dennis_Bergkamp_statue_2.jpg