Full name: Dennis Nicolaas Maria Bergkamp
Date of birth: 10/05/1969
Dennis Bergkamp is one of the many success stories to come out of the Ajax youth system and is still one of the greatest foreign imports the English Premier League has ever seen. Never failing to display a lesson in “Dutch Masterclass”, the striker had an illustrious career picking up many honours in England and his native Holland.
The Early Years
Bergkamp was born in Amsterdam in 1969 and football was injected into his blood from the start. He grew up with a family who were football fanatics, so he got plenty of practice playing with his brothers. It is said that Dennis was named after the Manchester United great Denis Law, but the spelling was changed to stop confusion, with the Dutch spelling denoting the girl’s name “Denise”. His family were Manchester United fans and often holidayed in England. Growing up, his favourite player was Tottenham Hotspur’s Glenn Hoddle, so it may seem bizarre to some that he went on to become an Arsenal legend!
Prodigy of Ajax
Ajax took Bergkamp on at the tender age of 12, but he struggled to impress the coaches due to his lack of strength. After training hard and playing for the Youth team, Bergkamp was thrown a lifeline from Johan Cruyff. Cruyff, who was manager of the senior team at the time, kept an eye on Bergkamp’s development and decided to give him his professional debut on 14th of December, 1986 against Roda JC Kerkade.
From there Bergkamp never looked back and picked up various honours with the club which included a Dutch Championship medal, two Dutch Cup winners’ medals, a European Cup Winners Cup medal and a UEFA Cup winners medal.
Bergkamp played behind the strikers at Ajax and in his time there he scored an impressive 122 goals in 239 games. Ajax paved the way for future successes but he had to endure a torrid time in Italy beforehand.
The Iceman at Inter
Ajax agreed a fee in the range of £12 million with Inter Milan for Bergkamp. From the start, previous manager Johan Cruyff disapproved of the move. Nevertheless Bergkamp had his heart set on a move to Inter, despite AC Milan and Barcelona’s best efforts to lure him to their clubs.
His time in Italy started well when he won the UEFA Cup for the second time in his career, but everything went downhill from there. Fallouts within the Inter squad and with the Milan media led to Bergkamp’s departure from the Italian giants after just two seasons. Thankfully for Holland, this time at Inter didn’t affect the form he displayed for the national side.
The National Side
Bergkamp made his international debut for Holland in September 1990 against Italy and since then he never looked back. His first major tournament was Euro 1992, where he shone in an experienced Dutch side who were trying to retain the trophy. Holland got knocked out in the semi final on penalties but Bergkamp started to make a name for himself on the International scene. Following this, Bergkamp went on to play in World Cup 94 and Euro 96 where again the Dutch got knocked out in the latter stages of the competitions.
The most famous incident in Bergkamp’s international career came at World Cup 98, where he scored the goal of the tournament against Argentina in the quarter finals. The move started when Frank de Boer floated a 60-yard ball from the back which Bergkamp managed to pluck out of the air, spectacularly. This touch allowed him to keep the ball away from the imposing Argentine defender, Roberto Ayala, before producing a top class finish from a tight angle. This goal sent Holland into the semi finals and personified the player that Bergkamp was. It is one of the most recognisable goals in the World Cup’s history.
Bergkamp had a remarkable career for his national side and is up there on the list of top goal scorers for the national team. His impressive record stands at 37 goals in 79 games, a record that has only been beaten by Patrick Kluivert.
After a troubled two seasons at Inter Milan, Arsenal paid a club record fee of £7.5 million in the summer of 1995 for Bergkamp. This was to be the start of something great for the club, and the Dutchman. He was crowned with the number 10 shirt and graced Highbury with his talent and ability to change a game with a single pass.
The “Dutchmaster’s” first pieces of silverware came in the 1997/98 season where he helped Arsenal win the domestic league and cup double. This was the season where the Premiership had to stand back and admire his effect on the English game. His contribution that season was massive and Bergkamp won back-to-back Player of the Month awards.
Despite winning the double, Bergkamp had an unfortunate end to the season after sustaining an injury which consequently meant that he didn’t play any part in the FA Cup final against Newcastle at Wembley, though he did have something else to smile about when he picked up the awards for English Player of the Year and English Football Writers’ Player of the Year.
Other successes came the way of Bergkamp at Arsenal after winning the FA Cup another three times and the English Premier League another two times. This included another league and cup double in the 2001/02 season.
Bergkamp was known for scoring spectacular goals in his time at Highbury and won the Premier League’s Goal of the Season award twice. His most famous goal for Arsenal was in the 2001/02 season against Newcastle. The Dutchman executed a turn which has never been seen before and in true Bergkamp style, coolly slotted the ball into the far corner past a helpless and bemused Shay Given.
Unfortunately, Bergkamp was afraid of flying due to an incident with the Dutch national team. He was unable to travel to a lot of Arsenal’s Champions League games and was a huge miss because he was a vital part of the attacking free flowing football that the Gunners liked to play.
Arsenal said their goodbyes to hero Dennis Bergkamp on July 22, 2006. This was the first game to be played at the new Emirates Stadium and 54,000 people turned out to watch the Iceman pull on the red and white shirt for the last time. The game was fittingly between an Arsenal XI and an Ajax XI and every fan who watched the game was given a t-shirt specially made for the day.
People who took part in the testimonial were Bergkamp’s ex colleague and friend Marc Overmars, ex Holland legends Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Johan Cruyff.
Bergkamp married wife Henrietta in June 1993 and they have three children. Since retiring from football, he enjoys hobbies such as golf and tennis and he is a devoted husband and father to his family.
UEFA Cup: 1992 (Ajax), 1994 (Inter)
European Cup Winners Cup: 1987 (Ajax)
English Championship: 1998, 2002, 2004
English FA Cup: 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005
Dutch Championship: 1990
Dutch Cup: 1987, 1993
FIFA 3rd best Player of the Year: 1993, 1997
European Footballer of the Year: 1993 (third place)
English Player of the Year: 1998
English Football Writers Player of the Year: 1998
Arsenal Player of the Year: 1998
Goal of the Season Award: 1998, 2002
Dutch Player of the Year: 1992, 1993
Dutch Top Goalscorer: 1991, 1992, 1993