Elegant, skilful and with a deadly eye for goal, Dennis Bergkamp was one of Holland’s greatest exports despite a tricky first spell abroad in Serie A. Although notoriously afraid of flying, Bergkamp scaled heights very few achieved during an illustrious career spanning twenty years.

  • By David Lee Wheatley
  • Follow David on Twitter

bergkamp bForward Bergkamp came through the renowned youth ranks at Ajax, starting out with the Amsterdam giants when spotted for his burgeoning talent at the age 11.

As with all graduates of the Ajax academy, Bergkamp had a strong grounding in all aspects of the technical skills preached by the coaches to those young players under their collective wings.

The blonde-haired youngster made a first-team debut at the age of 17 and seemed set for stardom. Despite not being an out-and-out goal poacher, the local boy rifled 103 goals in just 185 league games for the red-and-whites before his splendid form made him simply irresistible to foreign suitors.

By that point he’d broken into the international set-up, racking up several caps and performing well at Euro ’92 with three goals during the tournament. Clubs from all Europe had their beady eyes on the stylish striker and it was only a matter of time before Bergkamp left for pastures new.

In 1993, Italians Internazionale beat off stiff competition from the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus to secure the signature of one of football’s most sought-after stars. Serie A was the glamorous centre of the football universe and seemed a good fit for the considerable abilities of the 24-year-old.

Inter’s local rivals AC Milan had experienced significant success with their own Total Football protagonists from the Netherlands and Inter wanted some of the same for themselves. In fact, a double-Dutch deal was struck when midfielder Wim Jonk joined alongside his revered compatriot.

Unfortunately, due to a mixture of factors, Bergkamp failed to make a mark during two seasons in Italy. The organised, disciplined defences gave the forward little room for manoeuvre and his managers – he had three in his time at Giuseppe Meazza – appeared clueless as to the best way in which to utilise the Holland international. He was used in a three-man forward line that isolated Bergkamp and minimised his impact during matches.

It was a desperately unhappy period having reluctantly left boyhood side Ajax behind where he’d been happy and settled – it was imperative he moved on once again to kick-start his flagging career. Eleven league strikes over two campaigns hardly had clubs beating a path to Inter’s door for his services and past admirers had lost all inclination to even make an offer.

Eventually, a switch to London materialised with Arsenal when Bruce Rioch made Bergkamp his first signing at £7.5 million. The Premier League was beginning to catch up to Serie A in terms of finance, while it had already become the most entertaining domestic contest in Europe.

However, he looked a jaded man during the opening weeks of the English league season; it appeared a hangover had kicked in from the awful treatment he’d received during that ill-fated stint in Milan.

Matters improved somewhat, though, and he ended with 11 goals to his name by the end of his first season. Still, many observers had no idea what delights were to come from the mercurial Dutchman in the proceeding years.

September 1996 saw a change of leadership when Rioch was dispatched in favour of Frenchman Arsene Wenger. It proved to be a marriage made in heaven, as the former Monaco and Nagoya Grampus-Eight head coach undertook a major overhaul of the Gunners’ playing style resulting in a startling upturn in fortunes for everyone involved at Highbury.

Bergkamp became instrumental in everything Arsenal did within the attacking third of the field; his ability to pick a pass meant he was an absolute dream for his fellow strikers. Bergkamp could beat a man with a little flick here or a cute turn there and was a truly unstoppable force when in full flow.

Two league and FA Cup doubles arrived in 1998 and 2002, when the north Londoners overcame the standard Premier League supremacy of Manchester United to stamp their own authority on the competition. A further two FA Cup winners’ medals found their way into Bergkamp’s collection in 2003 and 2005, while an astonishing 2003-04 season saw Arsenal triumph in the league once again by a dominant 11-point margin.

Not only did Wenger’s men run away with the title points-wise, they also went the whole league campaign unbeaten to earn the nickname ‘The Invincibles’.

All told, Bergkamp scored 120 for Arsenal across all competitions and made 423 appearances. He hit double figures in each of his first five years with the club, but was just as renowned for his prolific assist-making and gorgeous all-round link-up play during a fine 11-year stay. Alas, the star striker chose to retire while the club readied themselves for a move to their new stadium in 2006.

Memories galore were created by ‘Dennis The Menace’ for his many fans to recall fondly, with myriad sublime strikes and skills to remember; Bergkamp was without doubt one of those footballers who punters would gladly pay the entrance fee to see in action.

A remarkable talent, he also proved resilient in the face of huge criticism during an Italian nightmare to later cement a place among the very best players to ever grace the English game.