In quotes: Dennis Bergkamp

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Dennis Bergkamp is one of the most enigmatic characters the game has ever seen. The general perception of him is that of a quiet artist, a thinker – reserved and reticent. He was the ideal teammate and strike partner – intelligent, graceful and unselfish, but also with a ruthless streak.

I’ve trawled through the archives to gather some quotes about the non-flying Dutchman, helping to shed some light on one of the most aloof footballers in recent memory. I start with 10 quotes from the great man himself, detailing his philosophy and playing style. This is then followed by 10 quotes of high praise, and occasional criticism, from his fellow professionals across the footballing landscape.

While many of the quotes align with the commonly-held view of Bergkamp as a scholar, some of the accounts show that he also had an aggressive streak, as Gary Pallister said – ‘He was a bit of a chewy player, we always had a bit of needle’. What most of his teammates remember about him, though, is a ruthlessness in training – his control, an unrelenting focus on his first touch and always finding the right pass. Robin Van Persie described it as ‘plainly art’.

Stubborn in his philosophy of how to play the game, Bergkamp occasionally clashed with those with different views, particularly during his time in Italy with Inter Milan. His talent was undoubted, although he was certainly not universally popular. What is most apparent from the range of quotes below, and what most people can certainly agree on, is that, as a player, Dennis Bergkamp was different from the rest.

Dennis’s philosophy

1. On being named after Manchester United and Scotland legend, Denis Law:

‘The legend is true. My father was a Denis Law fan, but not a Manchester United fan. The extra ‘n’ in Dennis is so that it doesn’t sound ‘too girly’’

2. On one of his role models:

‘The player who really stood out for me was Glenn Hoddle, he was always in balance. I loved the way he plucked the ball out of the air and controlled it. His touch was perfect’
den3. On his finishing:

‘I was inventive in scoring goals, like lobbing the goalkeeper. I always liked that. It’s like a wedge shot in golf with the club face open…and it drops over the goalkeeper. I got a lot of pleasure from those shots’

4. His approach to passing:

‘I wasn’t interested in dribbling or doing tricks or scoring goals. Control. That was my thing… With every pass, there needs to be a message or a thought behind it. That was there from very early, in my body and in my mind’

5. On creating his own style:

‘I really love that Federer way of playing. To have such control that you can trick a goalkeeper, trick an opponent. That’s my interest: not following, but creating your own thing’

6. On his fear of flying:

‘I was told I should do something about it. People would say: “You can take a course to cure it, you know?” That really p*ssed me off’

7. On his fellow Arsenal players upon signing:

‘Sometimes you could smell the alcohol in the morning but you could never tell from the performance because they always gave one hundred percent. But I thought: “You can’t treat your body like that”‘

8. Discussing Arsene Wenger’s change to the players’ diets:

‘In my first season, the pre-match meal would be white beans in tomato sauce, bacon, scrambled eggs…I could not understand it! There’s no research that says: “Don’t worry, junk food is good for you! Take another burger, have six pints!” When Wenger took over, all of a sudden the minibars were empty in the hotels. And no room service!’

9. On his retirement:

‘When I’m home, I’m the father of my children and the husband of my wife. Football just does not exist’

10. On Wenger’s contract talks and the future of his beloved Arsenal:

‘I really like Arsenal. But you, do you like Arsenal? Or just Arsenal with trophies?’

 

Fellow professionals

1. Marco Van Basten:

‘If Ryan Giggs is worth £20 million, Dennis Bergkamp is worth £100 million’

2. Sol Campbell:

‘The Iceman was a tremendous player. He was strong and quick and had a bit of a nasty streak about him. However, he was a gentleman. We all used to go for it in training and he was great. You need players like that. He could link people into play and could score goals. He was a top professional and you learn from those guys.’

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3. Ian Wright:

‘An amazing player with sublime skill; comfortably the best I’ve played with. Not only did he score brilliant goals, but when he played, those around him scored more. We told him to get us into Europe when he joined and that’s exactly what he did…He’s the best signing Arsenal have ever made and ever will make. He’s the messiah!’

4. Riccardo Ferri:

‘Dennis was a big player, but not an outstanding one. With a different mentality and a different character, he could have been top top. He was a top player technically, but his character was not. He was too quiet – too closed and narrow-minded. Not like Zidane’

5. Thierry Henry:

‘The way he can kill a team with one pass is just amazing. Dennis is the best player I have ever played with as a partner. It is a dream for a striker to have him in the team with you…

The way he used to train was just not normal. The guy didn’t want to lose the ball, if he loses the ball he would foul you, get in your face, he wants to be first in the run, first to touch the mannequin in training’

6. Leo Beenhakker:

‘He’s the ideal son-in-law, slightly reticent, very well-mannered. These are wonderful traits – but not necessarily for a professional footballer’

7. Peter Schmeichel:

‘Played football like it was all a dream – you couldn’t even imagine some of the things that he was capable of doing with a football’

8. Matt Le Tissier:

‘He’s the best technical footballer the Premier League has ever seen’

9. Johan Cruyff:

‘You have to use your brain and find the right position. If you get to the ball late, it means you chose the wrong position. Bergkamp was never late…Dennis belongs to a group of special guys, with Van Basten, Van’t Schip and Rijkaard. Intelligent guys’

10. Finally, the last word from Arsene Wenger:

‘You do not find a player like that everywhere you go. It was a blessing, a gift when I arrived. The second striker position was his natural position. He was at ease there, he knew when to drop off, and he could just smell out the game…

Every single day of his career, for 20 years, until the last minute, he never made a pass in training without thinking about it, or without putting every part of his brain into it. As well as his talent, he had super, super intelligence’

 

Chris Henderson – follow me on Twitter here

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