Watching the World Cup always brings out the romantic in me. By that I mean it makes me think of the greats that I as a young one wasn’t around (and thus lucky enough) to see play. Those type of players who I feel are better than any that play nowadays.
A lot here could name them better than me, but I’ll throw out a few: Pele, Alfredo di Stefano, Zico, Bobby Charlton, Franz Beckenbauer, Liam Brady, Johnny Giles, Ferenc Puskas, Gianni Rivera, George Best and Teofilo Cubillas among others.
In my head, they are perhaps twice as good as they were on the field. I feel like I have missed out on something and the grainy footage that plays on my DVD player doesn’t do them justice. Last night after Germany demolished a static Australia, I sat down and instead of pining to “have seen Brady play at Highbury just once” I actually thought how lucky I was to have seen some of the players I have seen over the years.
I was born in 1986, got caught up in the football fever that swept Ireland during Italia 90 before becoming a Gooner in 1994. During that time I’ve seen some wonderful players: Maradona still had a bit left in his legs during the early 90s. There was that wonderful AC Milan team of Rossi, Baresi, Maldini, Rijkaard and Weah and the insane skills of Zidane, Raul, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) in their prime.
At Arsenal we had some of our own players who were above others on the field. One stands head and shoulders above the rest – the Iceman, DB10!
Dennis Bergkamp’s arrival in London in 1995 saw the beginning of a new dawn at Arsenal as the club began to look to Europe for more talent. Some say that it was Wenger who gave the go-ahead for Bergkamp’s signature, others claim it was David Dein but lets give the credit to Bruce Rioch. He was manager, he was there when Bergkamp first held aloft the wonderful red and white.
The Dutchman came to us under a cloud. At the time he was the second most expensive signing in the world after Inter Milan paid Ajax £12million for his services in 1993. He flattered to deceive in Italy and just two years on arrived in North London for £7.5million. During the very early days, many claimed that Arsenal had wasted what was then a decent sum of money – now it is seen as one of the biggest bargains in football history.
It took Bergkamp seven games to score his first goal for the Gunners (against Southampton) and during this time he went through a tough transitional period, but then he got going, oh how he got going! He got going so much after that there was literally no stopping him.
In 423 games he scored 120 goals and I have enough confidence to say that NOT ONE of them were run of the mill tap-ins. Bergkamp didn’t do run of the mill, he did majestic, he did magical, he did genius. I have studied English Literature in college, read the greats like Byron, Keats, Shakespeare and Joyce, yet I still struggle to find a superlative to do justice to the Iceman. It seems utterly useless to even try now, so I’ll go through some of the goals he scored and you can try and put an adjective on them in your own head.
1. September 1997. His hat-trick against Leicester is voted as the first, second and third best goal of the month on Match of the Day.
2. 1998 World Cup. Long ball by Frank de Boer, Bergkamp controls it with one touch – dismissing the Argentine defender Ayala in the process – then smashes home.
3. March 2002. With his back to goal Bergkamp receives the ball from Pires, he sends the ball one way before he twists the other, rounds the dumbfounded Nikos Dabizas of Newcastle and slots the ball past Shay Given.
I remember watching the Newcastle game live on television. When Bergkamp did what he did my jaw dropped and hit off the ground – I only managed to get it back up last week. Yes, it was THAT good!
But just talking about Bergkamp’s goals is like just talking about Michael Jackson’s dancing. They are merely the icing on the proverbial cake. Michael Jackson was much more than an extremely talented dancer – he was a songwriter, a singer, an entertainer. Likewise Bergkamp was more than a goalscorer – he was the songwriter, singer and entertainer in our pack. Some of the passes he tried to play were ridiculous – to even think of attempting these passes was madness but it was crazy that he could actually carry them off. He created goals and found space for teammates like it was going out of fashion.
And for 11 years, ELEVEN YEARS it was Arsenal fans and Arsenal FC who benefited from his genius. It was US who got to watch him week in and week out while everyone else just wished they would have taken a punt on the man who nobody in Italy wanted. Nobody else got him after us either – we had all Bergkamp’s wonder to ourselves. So never, ever forget just how lucky we were to see that.
Dream of Puskas, Pele and Maradona, wonder now at Messi, Kaka and Torres but remember that once upon a time everyone else was doing the wishing. Dennis Bergkamp is the most technically gifted player to ever ply his trade in English football and he did so at the home of football. Some say his career was marred by the fact he wouldn’t fly and thus missed out on some vital European games. Well let me end this by asking you a simple question: would you fly if you could walk on water?