These revealing quotes shed light on the Arsenal legend like never before.
Bergkamp on becoming a no.10, or shadow striker, under the instruction of Louis van Gaal: “I suddenly felt completely free in my game… Everything I had learned playing for the juniors and what the fans didn’t yet know about me, could manifest itself in that position. Being the number ten gave me that wonderful tension again. It was new, it was exciting. I didn’t hesitate for a moment, wondering where I should run to. It was all automatic. Suddenly, something amazing happened to me.”
On the difference in coaching philosophies between van Gaal, Cruyff and Wenger: “For van Gaal all players are equal. For him there’s no such thing as big names, because everyone serves the team and the system – his system. By contrast, Cruyff relied on exceptional players, on individualists, because they were the ones who could decide a match. He stimulated his great players and challenged them, even by creating conflict if necessary. Johan himself was the greatest player of all and the other players served him, but that would be unthinkable in a team led by van Gaal. But imagine you have ten mediocre painters and you also have Rembrandt. Are you going to tell Rembrandt he’s really no better than the others? Or are you going to make him feel special and let him be special, so he can create his most beautiful works of art? Wenger is different again. He keeps his distance and goes out of his way to avoid creating conflicts. His calmness, seriousness, professionalism and intelligence all rub off on the group. That’s how he makes sure everyone behaves professionally and the big players are team players. At the same time, he lets them do their own thing, which gives them the freedom to be great."
Bergkamp on the theory of Dutch Total Football: ‘He (Cruyff) always says “it’s about distances”. It’s the space between players. (Arrigo) Sacchi used to train with ropes, and shadow playing, with eleven against zero. We did that with Arsene as well. It’s all about distances. So you learn that if your left-winger moves to make an attack, your right-back must also move (…) It’s like a framework or grid moving all over the field all the time.’
Bergkamp’s exasperation over the lack of understanding of these principles at Inter: ‘I always thought, “I’m on an island here!”. How am I supposed to teach them all that at the age of twenty-four?’
On joining Inter Milan: “I’ve made a lot of big decisions on feeling, on instinct. And that was one of them. And, you know, maybe it was the right decision in the end. I didn’t enjoy it, but I learned a lot at Inter. It was the making of me in a way. I would never have had the career I did at Arsenal if I hadn’t been there.”
Former Inter teammate Ricardo Ferri suggests why Bergkamp failed to become a truly top player in Italy: “Dennis was a top player technically, but his character was not. He was too quiet. Too closed. Narrow-minded. Not like Zidane.”
On his aversion to flying
‘Annoyingly often I was told I should do something about it. People would say: “You can take a course to cure it, you know?” That really pissed me off.’
On his dread of flights home from games: ‘It got so bad I would look up at the sky during away games to see what the weather was like. Were there any clouds coming? Sometimes I was preoccupied by the flight home while I was playing football. It was hell.’
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On the possibilities regarding his move to England: ‘Spurs was mentioned, and that had been Hoddle’s team, but even then I considered Arsenal to be a bit above Spurs.’
On joining Arsenal: ‘It was my own adventure again, like when I chose Inter instead of Milan or Barcelona. I thought: “I’m the sort of player you don’t see at Arsenal, so maybe I can show people this is my way of playing.”’
Love at first sight… ‘And then I saw Highbury for the first time…wow! This was football! I loved all the houses around it, then you turn the corner and there’s the stadium! That’s not Dutch, nor Italian; you don’t see it in Europe. It’s just typically English. And you see the Marble Halls of course.'
Bergkamp describes the moment when he realized the significance of his move to Arsenal: ‘The deal’s done, and we’re in our room relaxing. As normal, I look up the sports headlines on teletext. We get the BBC in Holland so I know about Ceefax. I call up page 301 and I’m shocked. The first two lines are in huge letters: “BERGKAMP JOINS ARSENAL.” For the first time it hits me: “Woah! What’s going on here?” I’m in this big country. I’m in London. I’m in this huge strange city where they drive on the left and… I’m on teletext. Me! They must rate me here, they still expect me to be like Van Basten or Gullit. I don’t think of myself like that. Quickly, I go to Page 302, the football page, and there it is in more detail: “DUTCH STRIKER GOES FOR £7.5 MILLION.” It was the first time it really hit me what people expected of me. I looked at Henrita: “This is amazing!”.
Ian Wright describes his first night rooming with Bergkamp: “I’d never seen a footballer wearing pyjamas before! Normally a player will have nothing on. And Dennis comes out in full pyjamas! That stands out more than anything else. It was so lovely. PYJAMAS!! It was so sweet.”
Bergkamp on opening his account at Arsenal and his relationship with the fans: “The warmth was incredible. I’d only been here for one and a half months. After that goal we never lost that relationship.”
David Dein on signing Bergkamp: ‘When we got Dennis we realized we had a footballing genius and he definitely changed football in England.’
Bergkamp on his first pre-season with Arsenal: ‘We went to Sweden and trained twice a day. The first evening I went for a walk with my wife and saw eight or nine Arsenal players sitting outside a pub, drinking beer. I thought: “This is unbelievable! You’ve just had two hard sessions to prepare for the season, and now everything you did is going down with the alcohol! What’s the point of being there?”
Former Arsenal (now England) physio Gary Lewin on learning from Bergkamp: ‘He was the first player I’d met who wouldn’t wear strappings during the week but would wear them for a match. I found that very interesting. From a medical perspective you don’t want players to wear strappings unless they have to… What they don’t understand is that when you strap a joint you restrict the range of movement (…) which will affect your balance, which could affect… Everything. So what Dennis did was to train without strappings (…) and then, for games, when you are at three times’ greater risk of getting injured, he’d wear a strapping, to protect his ankles (…). And I’d never seen a player do that before. That’s an example of where I was learning from him.’
Tony Adams on motivating Bergkamp: ‘I go to Dennis and I say it. “Dennis, you’ve been here two and a half years and you haven’t won anything. It’s time for you to win something. How much do you want it?” It looked like I got a reaction from him, physically, in his face. As I was going, I was thinking: “He might just turn round and punch me”. A few months later we’ve won the Double, Dennis is player of the year and he’s just played the best football of his life.’
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