So yesterday, Arsenal were forced into an announcement that they probably wanted to delay for just a little while longer. Unfortunately, the speed with which news travels down the information super highway in the age of social media forced their hand a little bit. And so, yesterday afternoon/ evening, this announcement was made through Arsenal.com. One of the greatest players to ever wear the red and white, Dennis Bergkamp was indeed getting his own statue outside the Grove. Fitting, I thought, seeing as it was Dennis signing that really paved the way for the stadium to be built. Having written a couple of pretty negative blogs recently, I thought it would be nice to get something positive down instead, even if it could potentially veer into the kind of nostalgia most Spurs fans have to content themselves with when talking up their back to back FA Cup wins of over 30 years ago. Or THAT Gazza free kick over twenty years ago (sorry everyone). I thought that and then I saw that Stephen Bradley had already written a piece here. Ah, my work is done, I thought to myself. But, no.
You see, Stephen thinks that Dennis doesn’t deserve this honour. Or, if I’ve understood his argument correctly, that he probably does deserve it, it’s just that he feels others are slightly more deserving. And in the case of Rocky and Wrighty, I feel some sympathy towards that argument (after all, they were, respectively, my first and second favourite players for the Arsenal). Although I’m not quite sure Rocky, great player that he undoubtedly was, really delivered on the promise of his youth due to the injuries that led to his signing for Leeds in 1992. Wrighty’s contribution to the Arsenal cause doesn’t really need repeating, 185 goals for us in just under 7 years (and his last season was an injury hit one) was some going by anyone’s standards. And he was one of the players who, I felt, really “got” playing for Arsenal. At least, up until that final season when he started agitating to move to Benfica (why, Ian, why?) as we were chasing a double.
Elsewhere, I feel it gets a little more complex. McLintock? Yes, I can see that; the legendary captain of our first double winning side, the first man to lift a European trophy for Arsenal and, like Bob Wilson who kept goal in that team, a proper “Arsenal Man”. But where was the longevity? Not McLintock’s fault, he was shifted off to QPR as he was, incorrectly as it turned out, deemed to be past his prime. Wilson had to retire due to injury, Charlie George fell out with Bertie Mee and whilst I love hearing the stories, or indeed reading them, I’m not sure that any of their contributions to the Arsenal cause were sufficient to elevate them into statue territory. Or, putting it another way, if you had one of McLintock, wouldn’t it therefore follow that you should also have one of Wilson, George, John Radford and, possibly, George Armstrong (RIP)? I would argue that of all of these guys, Wilson and Armstrong, both of whom dedicated their professional lives to Arsenal, would be the most deserving.
Liam Brady? Maybe, nobody could argue he wasn’t a red & white genius. But didn’t he bugger off to the Old Lady of Italian football, a departure that triggered Arsenal’s own great depression? A depression that lasted until a guy called George came along and turned it all around- and how he turned it around, the years 1987- 1994 saw glory unprecedented for any Gooner who didn’t remember the 1930′s. And then one briefcase full of money ruined it all for him and he became the person Arsenal didn’t really like to acknowledge existed. So, no statue for him. And those players of the 30′s? Club legends, undoubtedly. But who the hell saw them play and how are we to divine that Bastin and James, although the most high profile of that group, were really any more deserving than the likes of Hapgood and Male or anyone else?
On the other hand, and I’m concious that I’ve gone into full on Dana Scully style debunk mode here, which wasn’t really my intention when I started typing here.. on the other hand, Dennis, well as I said above, he helped build this monolith that 60,000 (or, if you read ANR, 40,000) Gooners descend on every fortnight. You see, whilst it is held that Arsene is the man most responsible for this stadium (and, of course, he probably is), it was the signing of Dennis Bergkamp which made it possible. It was the signing of Dennis Bergkamp that lifted Arsenal 7 places over the course of one Premier League season and took us back into Europe. Would Arsene have been able to build the team he wanted without him? Would Overmars have come? Possibly, but having Dennis almost certainly greased the wheel. Would the likes of Vieira and then Henry have signed for Arsenal? Possibly, bearing in mind the French connection, but how effective would they have been without the great man to play with?
Dennis was the catalyst for that 1998 Double team, a fact reflected in the Player of the Year awards that year- still, I believe, the only man to have a 1-2-3 in the Match of the Day Goal of the Month competition. Despite fading out of the picture for a couple of years, a period of time when apparently, Arsenal were prepared to sell him to Fulham, he returned with a vengeance to play a huge part in the trophy laden seasons stretching from 2001-05. A period of time where the board of directors realised that, with demand for tickets to the hottest show in London town far outstripping supply, a move from our spiritual home at Highbury (built on land owned by a Jesuit college, has that term ever been more aptly applied?) was an absolute necessity. Would this have happened without the influence of our non flying Dutchman? Doubtful, I think. It is also doubtful that many players of Bergkamp’s stature would have accepted the one year deals that Arsenal made de rigeur for any player past the age of 30 with such good grace.
I have come this far and managed to do so without going into great detail regarding Bergkamp’s feats of athleticism and skill, you will all have you favourite moments. I reserve particular fondness for the goal he scored against Tottenham in Arsene’s first North London Derby, the miraculous assist for Freddie Ljungberg against Juventus and the pass for Patrick Vieira against Leicester that prompted Thierry Henry (Thierry Henry!) to say something like, “I saw him pass and thought ‘what is he doing?’ and then I saw. But that is Dennis.” It was something like that, anyway, I can’t find the quote now. Speaking of Thierry, if he calls you the best player he’s ever played with, then I think that’s probably reason enough for a statue.
To return to Stephen’s comment about the differences between Ronaldo and Messi, you could probably apply the same comparison to the supercharged Henry and more balletic Bergkamp. Not that I am saying Henry wasn’t skillful, I hope you understand. However, for me, they are quite clearly the best two players we have ever seen, or are likely to see at Arsenal. I think the key for Dennis is that, along with Patrick Vieira, he was a central, vital, part of a team that won three league titles across six years; he helped to transform Arsenal from a big London club into a genuinely world class club. That, in my opinion, is why he transcends those teams and that is why he deserves his statue outside the ground he helped build. Incidentally, despite Vieira probably being my favourite Arsenal player, his annual summer flirtations with Real Madrid rule him out of statue contention as far as I’m concerned.
But who wouldn’t love the chance to go walking in a Bergkamp Wonderland one more time? Now we can, whenever we want to, and so can the generations of Arsenal fans who will surely follow us.------------
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