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Dennis Bergkamp
Gender Male
Nationality UK
Ethnic Dutch
Job Dutch Footballer
Desc Dennis Bergkamp is not just a player. He is an icon. Along with Arsene Wenger, Bergkamp is the man most commonly credited with transforming the perception of Arsenal. Under his imaginative leadership, ‘boring boring Arsenal’ became the home of the most attractive football in the Premier League. Bergkamp may have been unwilling to fly, but he helped Arsenal soar to new heights


Org Dutch National Team
Club as Player Arsenal FC

2011 11 23 Retrieve

[A prolific scorer at Ajax, with over 100 goals in just seven years at the club, Bergkamp revelled in a more withdrawn role during his time with the Gunners, creating chances for the unbelievable Wright to finish off] At Arsenal I was always more comfortable playing behind a striker, just outside the box. It wasn’t my quality to go in the box at the right time and tap in. I was always amazed by players like Ian Wright. He was unbelievable at that

2013 09 21 Retrieve

[q: What motivates you, Dennis?] I think about this a lot, especially now I’m a coach. You see players who have a hunger to succeed because they had a difficult childhood. You know, people often say: ‘You have to be down in the gutter to understand what it means in life.’ You’re always thinking about which of the young players has the drive to have a great career. As a coach you’re looking for that hunger. I know I had that drive

[q: You weren’t in the gutter] No, no, not at all. I had a very secure, happy childhood. We could just about manage. Maybe you could say: ‘Then money is my drive.’ But it isn’t

[q: Is it just passion? Is it something within yourself? You’re very shy and modest but deep down inside you want to be the best in the world and that’s your goal, your aim…] That’s me. Sometimes you hear of people having drive because their parents divorced. My parents weren’t divorced. Perhaps it was significant that we didn’t have much money when I was a child. It doesn’t explain my drive but maybe it formed me in some way. Perhaps it made me feel that, if you have a chance, you go for it and keep going for it

[q: What do you look for in the youngsters you coach now?] Well, you see straightaway who has drive. But it can come from different things. Let’s say this kid wants to be a millionaire when he’s 18. That’s drive. Is it bad? ‘By 28 I want to have three sports cars and the only way to get them is to win trophies and play good football.’ If that’s his conclusion, maybe it’s OK. But if he thinks: ‘I’m making one million each year now and if I play for five years I’ve got five million and that’s it, I can retire,’ that’s different. Or: ‘I’ll stay in the reserves and just keep training as long as I can put gas in my Lamborghini.’ I’m not sure that’s drive at all. It’s not a passion from the soul. And that’s what you’re looking for: the real passion that comes from inside

[q: And, in the end, perhaps the striving to improve becomes almost spiritual. Patrick Vieira says that with you it is both artistic and spiritual] Well, you set yourself goals, targets. And once you’ve got there you want to move on and go further. You keep raising the bar and therefore it’s never good enough. You want perfection. It’s never good enough but it’s within your reach. You climb one mountain and see the higher one. And I want to do it, I want to do that. But I like what you say that it’s a passion - something within the soul, isn’t it? It’s deeper. Whereas ambition, for money or whatever, is more calculating. It can be satisfied. But passion is … no … you keep … you want to grab it. You do the hard thing, always go for the difficult thing, and then you have to go for the next thing.

Arsène Wenger has an interesting view about this. He says: ‘It is a spiritual thing. I am convinced of that. I believe you have two kinds of players who play football. Those who want to serve football like you serve God, and they put football so high that everything that is not close to what football should be is a little bit non-acceptable. And then you have those who use football to serve their ego. And sometimes the ego can get in the way of the game, because their interest comes before the interest of the game.

Sometimes the big ego is linked with what we call strong personalities, charisma. But most of the time what people call charisma is just big ego. I believe that Dennis was one of those who had such a high idea of the game and such a respect for the game that he wanted that to be above everything. I believe that the real great players are guided by how football should be played and not by how football should serve them. If it becomes spiritual, it’s endless and you’re always driven to going higher and getting closer to what you think football should be.

Then Wenger gives the example of a player who knows he ought to pass but takes a massive gamble and scores. If he really loves the game he’ll go home and worry about it. He’ll know he really should have passed to set up an easy chance for someone else. But he was selfish and got lucky. If he doesn’t care about the game he’ll go home and think: ‘That was great - I’ll do the same next time’.

And he says that’s the difference. That’s why you have to teach the kids to respect the game and treat the game a little bit like a religion, that is above you, where you want to serve the game

[q: Would you talk about this sort of stuff with Arsène?] I remember when Arsène talked about players, sometimes he’d say: ‘Oh no, he doesn’t love the game … ‘ This is quite a big statement from him. But I know exactly what he means. There are some players who, as soon as the whistle went at the end of training … boom! … They went inside, got changed, then straight in the car and away.

But the real liefhebbers (the literal translation is ‘love-havers’, the guys who really have love for the game) stayed behind to practise. And not only players. David Dein and Massimo Moratti are people who really love the game too. At Arsenal it was always the same players, eight or nine, who stayed behind to work after training. And I guarantee if you do that you’ll become a better player.

[q: Freddie Ljungberg would stay?] Well, yeah. And Thierry was always there. Robert Pirés would stay. Others would stay and go to the gym, which is working as well

[q: And you competed with each other?] That as well. It’s part of being a successful team. But I like what you said about pushing each other, challenging each other, in training as well

[q: When you arrived at Arsenal you told everyone: ‘Don’t give me these soppy little passes, give me fast, hard balls because I can deal with anything that comes at me and playing faster is playing better.’ By the time Pires and Ljungberg are in the team, a few years later, it’s moved on a long way, it’s at a much higher level] Yes, always give me a strong pass because I want to challenge myself by controlling a difficult ball. You have to keep pushing and testing each other. Like you test your pace and strength against Sol Campbell. He’s your team‑mate but in training you’re against him. If you can beat Sol, who can’t you beat in the Premier League? And if he can stop me or he can stop Thierry Henry, who can’t he stop in the Premier League? That’s the challenge: always trying to improve yourself. But it can only work when everyone is giving 100%. Like having goalies who try in training.

At Inter they didn’t try and it was so frustrating. But Jens Lehmann? David Seaman? Fantastic! Jens couldn’t stand to have a single shot go past him. And if I tried to lob David Seaman … woaah! If it worked, it was a fantastic goal and he was like: ‘Great, well done’. But if it didn’t work out, he got hold of the ball and smashed it two hundred yards away! He’d just kick it away and say ‘Get that!’ and I’d have to go and get it. David is a nice soft guy - but not when he plays. That was his drive: ‘You’re not going to fool me! Now get that ball!’ I loved that attitude.

[q: There seems to be a critical mass. You have to get a certain number of people doing this, all with their different motivations and talents. Get the right number of the right kind of people together and somehow it works] It starts somewhere. Maybe, as the players say, it started with me because I was like that. I wanted to give everything and when training was finished I would go on and I would keep practising and going and going … and suddenly there’s goalkeepers staying on as well, saying: ‘Wait a minute, I’m going to have some of that.’ And then others would stay behind, too

2019 04 02 Retrieve

[on Wenger’s methodology and dedication] You can link him with Ajax, the philosophy, the way they both like to bring up players. When I was at Ajax there was only one team in the whole of Europe similar to us, and that was Monaco. That was always how he wanted to play football, and that was my idea too. Our philosophy just clicked. We were on the same wavelength

2019 10 10 Retrieve

[Dennis Bergkamp admits it hurts him to see Arsenal being a shadow of what they were in his heyday] It (Arsenal) is different, of course, from what I was used to with all the English players and a few foreign players. It’s now probably turned the other way around. Sometimes it’s good, but a lot of times, you don’t really feel that it’s the Arsenal how we know it, with the passion and a few players who make the difference. It’s different. It’s difficult to say if it’s better or worse, well better, of course, is always shown in trophies, which aren’t there at the moment. On one hand, there are so many clubs who have improved so quickly to a high level, whereas Arsenal, maybe improved, but not to that level. It’s hard, it’s difficult, it hurts sometimes because you feel about Arsenal that they should do better, but I’m still hoping

[Bergkamp has no desire to be a manager, but the former Ajax assistant would welcome the chance to fill a coaching post in familiar surroundings] At the moment it’s a bit difficult, family-wise, I’ve still got a young family, we’re settled [in the Netherlands], but as the kids move on, they’ve got their own plan in life. Once that happens, I would love to return into coaching, especially in an academy or be maybe even part of a first team. I don’t see myself as a head coach, I enjoy being part of a staff, but not being the main man

2020 05 30 Retrieve

[Bergkamp sees Arteta’s team as a work in progress] I watched Arteta’s first game in charge at home [a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea]. In that game it was clear to see what his intentions were with the team. The front four would chase the ball and put pressure on the opponents, but the midfield stayed behind. There was a big hole. I don’t know if you remember the AC Milan of Arrigo Sacchi, with Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. In training, they’d have ropes between them, so the distance between the players was always similar on the pitch. That was fantastic in our team as well. There was always a connection. There were no holes

[Pressed on how those problems can be solved] He’s working on it, but it needs time and maybe different players. Slowly you can see them trying to play a possession game. Everyone on the ball has three options, triangles on the pitch. It’s much better than before. But it’s a different culture which will take time. You have to put the hours in, like how we did with Arsene [Wenger]

2020 06 01 Retrieve

[Bergkamp admits to doubting Wenger when Arsenal brought in unknown coach from Japan] I do remember it was kind of a shock they had to let Bruce go. We’d not had the best of seasons in 1995-96 but I think it was good enough to progress to the next season with a lot of confidence, but it wasn’t meant to be. There was a certain period between the moment he was let go until Arsene came - I think it was a few months - which was an insecure time for me because I was remembering the lies from Italy again. I was thinking, ‘OK, wait a minute, what’s going to happen now?’ There were some doubts in my mind but they were soon taken away when Arsene came in because he was the one who had a philosophy that suited my philosophy, it was the same. His philosophy suited my game and therefore there were no doubts once he took over. There was a good understanding and from day one we knew what we expected from each other and that’s why it worked.

2020 06 04 Retrieve

[Dennis Bergkamp says Henry by far Arsenal’s best even at 70 per cent] I find it very difficult to say [who was the best]. I was lucky enough to play with the back four we had during the beginning of my career at Arsenal because I’ve never seen that. A back four and a goalkeeper that was so connected with each other, it was amazing! Of course, you could go for the obvious best player like Thierry Henry, which is probably true because he was the most gifted player I’ve seen. I saw it not only in games but in training sessions, most of the time it seemed like he was training at 70 per cent or 80 per cent and he was still by far the best player. It was a ridiculous time because he was so good. I played with Patrick Vieira who was a player who could change games, even in those days he would change the whole midfield by himself. Everyone knows his first game when he came on at half-time and he completely changed the game, how can you compare those players to each other? Henry to Vieira? Or to the back four? I find it very difficult … Pires? What a player he was. Freddie Ljungberg? Maybe he wasn’t the most gifted player but how effective, how decisive was he? The defenders who came after like Kolo Toure or Sol Campbell? As I said, I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of good players but to name the best player, it is really difficult. It’s impossible. Each and every one in their own position was very important to the team.