With the biggest ride in football (Football to Amsterdam 2019) set to be another legendary trip for Men United, we asked one of Fleet Street's finest to tell us why and how Dennis Bergkamp became a legend in London. Matt Elliott and Nikos Dabizas look away now.
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With the Premier League season in full flow, all the talk about the latest Prostate Cancer UK cycle ride from London to Amsterdam stirred thoughts of the man from Amsterdam who became a legend in London. After 11 years at Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp returned from Arsenal to his beloved Ajax to begin his coaching career. As the Dutchman famously hated flying, cycling could have been an option.
Bergkamp’s impact on English football can never be overstated. He won three league titles, four FA Cups, scored 120 goals in 423 games, made 94 Premier League assists and bequeathed countless golden memories.
He was forward-thinking in every sense. Off the field, this model professional subtly introduced many of the local players to the world of dedication he had long inhabited.
On his first day at Arsenal training in 1996, Bergkamp emerged from the pavilion clutching all manner of fruit. He stopped in the car-park for a chat with a few of us reporters, explaining that the fruit was part of his balanced diet.
In the background, some of the other Arsenal players could be seen heading off to the pub, but slowly they began to appreciate that if such a well-known international as Bergkamp was making sacrifices, so should they. Bergkamp helped English football change its refuelling habits.
On the pitch, Bergkamp was an artist with the ball, bemusing Premier League defenders like Leicester City’s Matt Elliott and Newcastle United’s Nikos Dabizas with sumptuous skill and audacious invention.
Elliott was a decent centre-half, and was joined by fellow-defender Steve Walsh and midfielder Neil Lennon, who dropped deep, in seeking to control Bergkamp when Arsenal visited Filbert Street in 1997.
Even with this experienced reception committee waiting for him, Bergkamp was untouchable, scoring a hat-trick to claim the top three positions in the BBC “Match of the Day” Goal of the Month competition.
His first was clever, drifting to the edge of the area to collect a Marc Overmars corner and steering his shot past Kasey Keller. He then lifted the ball over the Leicester keeper but it was his third that will be remembered by all present, that will be celebrated as Bergkamp’s calling card.
When David Platt caressed the ball into the box, Bergkamp elegantly controlled the ball with his right foot, taming its momentum. He bamboozled Elliott with a delicate flick with his left to take the ball past the centre-half.
Another touch with his left teed up the finishing chance. Bergkamp calmly, almost casually, stroked the ball past Keller. “Exhibition stuff from Dennis Bergkamp,” screamed the commentator.
Elliott was one of a number of centre-halves working in English football who came to be humbled by the mighty Bergkamp. When Arsenal journeyed to St James’ Park in 2002, Dabizas was the one to suffer.
Ten minutes had elapsed when Bergkamp spread the ball from his own half to Robert Pires on the left, before racing to the edge of the Newcastle area, raising his arm to signal to Pires.
When the ball returned, Bergkamp stunned it, sending it spinning around Dabizas while Arsenal’s No 10 darted the other side before coolly placing a low shot past Shay Given, the Newcastle keeper.
As with his Leicester goal, Bergkamp utterly controlled the situation, imposing his advanced technique and imagination to manipulate the ball where he wanted. Dabizas, like Elliott, was a statue, an onlooker, helpless to intervene.
After his missionary work in England, spreading the gospel of enlightened football, Bergkamp returned to his native Holland, and to Ajax. He worked with their Under-19s and is now assistant to Frank de Boer with the firsts at Ajax - where the staff team must be strong – inspiring the next generation.
Henry Winter, The Telegraph and Men United. Henry has written this feature in support of our Football to Amsterdam 2017 fundraiser.
It's the biggest cycle ride in football, set to take place on 7-9 June 2019. Dennis Bergkamp is an Arsenal legend. Find out how you can become a legend for Men (that's Men, not Man) United next summer with Football to Amsterdam 2019.Football to Amsterdam Challenge