Dennis BergkampThe Iceman's Journey
Born in Amsterdam on 10th May 1969, Dennis Bergkamp, nicknamed 'The Iceman', is a former Dutch international footballer. At club level he played for Ajax, Internazionale, and Arsenal. He is widely regarded as one of the English Premier League's all-time greatest players. He has also finished third in the FIFA World Player of the Year award twice.
Bergkamp was a renowned as a support striker. Playing ‘in the hole’, he was an expert at finding and exploiting the space between the midfield and defence. He embodied the total football principles of vision, control and balance. Skilful and attack-minded, he scored sublime goals and created countless opportunities for his strike partners.
Joining Ajax's famous youth system at the age of 12, he was given his professional debut by Johan Cruyff on 14 December 1986 aged 16. In the summer of 1993, after several trophy-laden years under Cruyff, Bergkamp was signed by Internazionale for £12 million, making him the second most expensive player in the world at the time, behind Gianluigi Lentini.
Cruyff had disapproved of the move. He felt that Dennis would find it hard to adapt to Inter's defensive style of play. He was proved right and Bergkamp’s time in Milan was far from happy. Scoring only 11 times in 50 appearances, he quickly became unpopular at the club. The Italian press as well as some of his Inter team-mates considered his big money move to be a huge disappointment.
After two unsettling years at Inter, Bergkamp escaped to London. Signing for Arsenal in June 1995 for £7.5 million, the pressure was on to quickly adapt to the pace and physicality of the English game. It took him seven games to score his first goal, but Bergkamp's elegance and efficiency soon made an impact. Playing behind the main striker, Ian Wright, they formed a formidable partnership.
Bergkamp's arrival at Arsenal was of huge significance as he was one of the first world-class foreign players to join an English club since the Heysel ban was lifted in 1990. He, along with Gianfranco Zola and Eric Cantona, was one of the first of many signings that brought a different style of play to the Premier League, enabling the English game to broaden its horizons.
When Arsène Wenger joined as new manager of Arsenal in 1996 he saw in Dennis a player that would be the catalyst for the club's transformation from a direct, defensive-style team, to a team acclaimed for its aesthetic brand of football. The club's rapid reinvention coincided with its return to success. They won the FA Premier League and FA Cup double in the 1997–98 season; with Bergkamp voted as PFA Player of the Year.
During his time at Arsenal Bergkamp was given a new nickname: ‘The Non-Flying Dutchman’ due to his aviophobia. His fear of flying would significantly compromise his availability to play oversees for both Arsenal and the Dutch national side. Wherever his fitness and the logistics allowed, he would undertake arduous journeys by sea, road and train. To emphasise the enormous importance of Bergkamp to his team, in 1999, he drove from London to Florence to participate in Arsenal's Champions League game against Fiorentina, an 850 mile trip.
‘A lot of people think that I've never flown but that's not true. I have flown before and just suddenly decided not to do it again. Nothing happened to cause me to make that decision. I had just come to realise that flying was affecting me a lot and affecting my game. In the days leading up to the game I was worrying about the flight and then during the game I would be worrying about the flight back. That was no good for me or the team.'
'When you have a player like Bergkamp, it is difficult to think about just letting him stay at home when you can get him to a game like this by other means.'
'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.'