World Football

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Farewell to the Master

The Dennis Bergkamp era officially came to a close today. Bergkamp's testimonial(a kind of sendoff exhibition match) was held today in Arsenal's brand new Emirates stadium. As Bergkamp spent the majority of his playing career in the Arsenal and Ajax shirts, it was only fitting that Ajax would provide the opposition. Some of the players on the field included former Arsenal legends David Seaman, Ian Wright, Patrick Vieira and the undisputed king of Arsenal Thierry Henry. Ajax's side was no less impressive with the GREAT Johan Cryuff, Marco Van Basten, the De Boer brothers, Frank Rijkaard and Edgard Davids suiting up.

Few players in the history of the game have played with the kind of grace that Bergkamp played with during his career. The hallmark of his game was the feathery first touch and his amazing vision. He always seemed to be thinking one move ahead of his opponent. My three favorite Bergkamp moments are: 1) the goal against Newcastle where he flicked the ball over his opponent to his right, spun left, went behind the defender and calmly slotted the ball beyond the keeper. If this all sounds like I'm making it up you can view the goal here: . 2) Bergkamp's goal against Argentina. Bergkamp takes down a 50 yard pass with his first touch and spun Ayala inside out and put it in the roof of the net, beating the keeper at the near post. He did this with no more than three touches of the ball. Simply amazing. 3) The game against Juventus where he drew three defenders and shook them all then laid the ball off fro Ljungberg to score.
Bergkamp will likely be remembered less for the goals that he scored or the ones he set up and more for the way he played the game. There was something very cerebral about the way he approached the game. He was never the type of player who would sit around the box and wait for goals like Van Nistelrooy or Owen, nor was he as versatile as Henry or Ronaldo in his prime. What Bergkamp had was something no other player I've seen ever had -- the ability to lose four markers with one touch of the ball, or the ability to go full speed then suddenly stop on a dime and chip the keeper from 20 yards out.

Farewell to the Dutch Master.

His arrival at Arsenal in 1995 signaled a change in the way the team would play the game. Long gone were the chants of "boring, boring Arsenal" and Bergkamp gave the team a style and verve that was never before seen at Highbury. Later came the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Marc Overmars and Robert Pires and Arsenal would go on to win three league titles in '2000, 2002, and the unforgettable undefeated season in 2004.
The burning question for me now that Bergkamp is gone is where does he rank among the great foreigners who have played in the premier league. He is certainly below Cantona, Henry and Gianfranco Zola and possibly beneath Vieira as well. Outside of those players I don't think any foreigner who has played in the premier league has had a greater influence on the style of play and the flow of the game that Arsenal developed in its ten years since Bergkamp arrived. Bergkamp will definitely missed by all Arsenal fans and the game will miss him as well. Players like him come around once in a lifetime.


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