Micky’s post on Sunday: ‘Calling International Gooners’, in which he asked why ‘millions of bright eyed and highly intelligent young guns from around the globe discovered their spiritual homes at The Arsenal’, led to a fantastic collection of comments. It became very clear there is a great support for Arsenal across the world and that the passion, with which International Gooners (IGs) support the mighty Arsenal, is equal to that of those who are based on British soil.
It was also fantastic to read that Gooners across the globe state that the style of play and the philosophy of how the club is managed were, and still are, major reasons for supporting the Gunners.
The lack of recent successes, as in winning silverware, hardly seemed to bother many IGs, which should bin the belief held by some ‘cradle-Gooners’ that many newly acquired fans by the club are predominantly ‘glory hunters’ – who would start supporting another team as soon as it would become clear that future trophies are no longer a guarantee for Arsenal.
The majority of Arsenal’s worldwide supporters, who responded to Micky’s brilliant post, have become Gooners in the last 17 years, and this seems to be directly related to the arrival, and subsequent impact on the club, of/by Le Professeur, and especially, The Iceman.
A considerable number of IGs said that it was the discovery of the phenomenally talented Dennis Bergkamp and his beautiful skills that got them interested in Arsenal. Subsequently, the club’s history, the philosophy of how the football club is managed, the style, and the passion with which Arsenal play football drew them further in, never to look anywhere else again.
Exactly the same happened to me. Dennis Bergkamp had become the embodiment of all that was beautiful about football. Nobody in Holland thought the national football competition would fully recover from the departure of Van Basten to Milan, but on to the scene came a young Dennis Bergkamp, another great youth product from the Ajax academy, and Dutch football fans – including many of those who, like me, did not support the Ajacieden – rejoiced in the sheer beauty of his football.
It seemed, back then, that he simply had everything, both as a football player and human being. Not only was he technically gifted and had a great spatial awareness, he also had a great desire to do beautiful things with a ball – but always in an efficient, extremely deadly way. He was strong and aggressive but at the same time light-footed and nimble on the pitch, a total professional on and off the pitch, humble when interviewed, always focussed on his health and fitness, and constantly practicing to stay fit and get even better.
I was 20 years old when Dennis started his professional football career, and it was probably the first time I started to understand football a bit more (still learning every day though). Bergkamp lifted my appreciation of football to another level, and I became a huge fan, and a ‘follower’.
It was inevitable that Dennis would leave Ajax/Holland sooner or later, and he ended up at the inventors of catenaccio: Inter Milan. In the two years he was at the Italian club, he did not settle down at all, due to both cultural differences and a couple of significant managerial/ownership changes at the club.
Dennis needed to escape/ to be rescued, and the rest is well-known history.
I never forget the initial welcome and warmth Bergkamp was given by the Arsenal supporters, as well the adoration he received almost straight away from newspaper journalists and TV analysts. Dennis had finally arrived at his spiritual home and after a slightly difficult start – it took a while before he scored his first goal – he slowly but steadily grew into a modern-day legend.
It is hard to think about Bergkamp without thinking about Arsene Wenger at the same time, and visa versa. Wenger cleverly built his team around the Dutchman and through him he was perfectly able to translate his vision and tactical ideas onto the pitch. Of course, it did help that Arsene had been able to build up a fantastic team of international world beaters – in goal, defence, midfield and attack – around the Iceman.
Dennis was a loyal player, and the fact that he was willing to end his career at Arsenal was, in terms of continuing and safeguarding Wenger’s football philosophy on the pitch, of great value to Arsenal.
Many worried what would happen once DB10 would leave, but in Cesc Fabregas, Wenger had found another player around whom he could build a team, and continue his total football-esque philosophy. And occasionally, we were able to forget about DB10 a bit.
Although Bergkamp and Fabregas had different attributes to offer, what they had in common was the ability to conduct the game, to translate Wenger’s vision onto the pitch, and to lift our football to another level. The Spaniard, however, decided that Arsenal was not his spiritual home and left us, just as we were ready to start picking the fruits of his phenomenal development at the hands of Wenger and his staff.
This season, it became clear for all to see that Wenger has been struggling with putting his Wengerball stamp on this new Arsenal team. Due to a bad start, the departure of Fabregas, and the season-long injuries to Diaby, and especially Jack Wilshere, Arsene had nobody with both the qualities and the stamina to fill the conductor role. Both Ramsey and Rosicky had decent stints at it, but they either missed the experience, form, consistency, or stamina to really make Wenger’s most important position theirs.
So what will happen next season? Who will become Wenger’s conductor in charge? My view has always been that Jack Wilshere is the man around whom Arsène wants to build his next big team, but his long term injury combined with his inexperience, make it very hard to bank on him next season.
It will be interesting to see what will happen this summer, and I would like to invite you to share your views on this matter with us today.
But there is also a more long-term question to be answered.
What will happen once Arsène decides an oeuf is an oeuf and retires, or leaves us to manage another club? What will happen to the spirit of Bergkamp & Wenger; the culture and style of football that they have been able to establish over the last 16 years?
Do the Board of Directors want to continue with it, and if so, how will they achieve it?
And what do you think Arsenal should do once Arsène’s hangs up his boots? What sort of football should we play / what do you want to be the long-term, future football-identity of the club?
‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit’ – Aristotle.