Dennis Bergkamp: football legend and fantastic contributor to the history of AFC
It is fitting that Dennis Bergkamp's testimonial against Ajax tomorrow afternoon will be the first ever match played at Arsenal's magnificent new 60,000 capacity football stadium. He is a definitive Arsenal legend; a player whose positive impact upon AFC has been simply invaluable.
On the BBC website there is an excellent tribute on Dennis Bergkamp by the former Arsenal right-back, Lee Dixon. It sums up many of the points I want to raise about the awesome impact of Bergkamp on Arsenal's upward trajectory in the last decade to three league championships, four FA cups, one Champions League final, a record breaking unbeaten league run, and the most sublime football any supporter could wish to see.
First, the signing of Dennis Bergkamp in June 1995 signalled for the first time that AFC were in the market for the world's best football talent. I really liked the battling John Jensen and Stefan Schwartz, plus the wizardry of Anders Limpar, but Dennis Bergkamp was an overseas player of the highest repute and set a new standard for the sort of player that Arsenal should try to bring to the club. With Dennis Bergkamp in the team I'm sure it made it easier for Arsene Wenger to tempt the likes of Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Pat Vieira to the club in 1996/1997- and later on the likes of Robert Pires and current captain Thierry Henry.
Signing Bergkamp also showed an intent that Arsenal were ready to attack for the top honours again after a gradual decline in the George Graham era - and to do so by playing a more sophisticated and technical style of game that in time would prove to revolutionise the whole image of AFC. This intent quickly materialised into real success: with Dennis Bergkamp at the attacking fulcrum of a new Arsene Wenger-led Arsenal team, the side rapidly developed to the level of champions in the 1997-1998 season playing a new style of incisive attacking football that gained plaudits from many quarters.
Dennis Bergkamp was the main man of Arsenal's double winning side in 1997-1998. But for me the greatness of Bergkamp is in his sheer longevity at the top of professional football. He was vital to Arsenal's double-winning side in 2001-2002. Then, come 2003-2004 - the unbeatable season - he still was the player in the Arsenal team that every other teammate looked up to get the side playing in a fluent and incisive attacking rhythm. And then there is one of the most memorable and emotional performances I will ever see from a player in February 2005, when Bergkamp rolled back the years to put on a sheer master-class performance in a 4-2 loss to Man Utd. The spirit and mastery of Bergkamp's performance in the twilight of his career is one of the best things I've ever witnessed watching football.
Finally, aside from his enormously positive impact on the fortunes of AFC and the profound mastery of his attacking football, one more factor comes into play to explain why I and many others think that Bergkamp is an Arsenal legend: unmistakable loyalty to the club. He found his footballing home at Arsenal: a home where the fans loved him, the style of play suited him, and where the competitive ambition of the club met his. So - in what amounts to quite an achievement for a top player in the modern era of football - he stayed for eleven consecutive seasons. In this time he conducted himself off the pitch as a meticulous professional plus an honourable family man - and it's great for me that I can respect a guy as much for who he is off the pitch as I can for his footballing ability on the pitch.
There's only one Dennis Bergkamp…. and thanks for your magnificent contribution to the history of Arsenal Football Club!