Arsenal shouldn’t build a statue of Dennis Bergkamp outside the Emirates Stadium.
No, wait, please, don’t go. I can explain. Honest.
Look, let there be no misunderstanding here. Dennis Bergkamp was easily one of the most talented footballers ever to play for Arsenal. He was one of those few players that fans of all clubs respected, and was in that rare group that would convince you to part with your hard earned cash to watch him play, no matter what the setting or who he was playing for, as you could never be sure of what magic trick you were going to see on that day.
This is why Messi gets so much love these days but Ronaldo doesn’t. Ronaldo is a fabulous footballer, capable of feats that few others have ever been able to match, but because there’s such a clinical nature to everything he does, there’s no sense of surprise when he does something incredible, such as averaging a goal a game whilst playing for Real Madrid. We expect that he’ll beat the defender with a perfect stepover, or that his technique will be impeccable when he strikes a free-kick towards goal. We know what he can do, so when he does it, we’re not taken aback by it, we just applaud it and move on.
Messi, on the other hand, possesses the one thing that fans value the most in footballers, and it’s something that for all his ability, Ronaldo doesn’t have; imagination. If you put both players in the same position, 25 yards from goal and gave them 100 attempts to score, then the difference between the two would become clear; Ronaldo would soon perfect one way of scoring and continue to use that method. Messi, on the other hand, would go the opposite route, he’d score in one fashion, let’s say he curled it into the bottom corner for example, and then would try something else, like lobbing the keeper or dribbling around him. He wouldn’t let success dictate what he was going to do next, thus leaving his mind free to survey the pitch and adapt accordingly, instead of reverting to something that has been honed for hundreds of hours on the training field.
It’s that sense of not knowing what Messi could do at any time that draws us towards wanting to see him play. As football fans, we can appreciate Ronaldo’s athleticism, his technique and his consistency. But as people, we want to be entertained, we want to be surprised. We want to show up at a football match, support our team and maybe see something that we hadn’t seen many times before. You get that with Messi. You got it with Zidane, with Maradona, with Cantona, with Zola, with Ronaldinho, with Le Tissier.
And you got it with Dennis Bergkamp.
So, with that four hundred word ode to Dennis on the record, let me now explain why a player as brilliant as Bergkamp shouldn’t be immortalised in bronze. Or, at least not by Arsenal anyway. See, if you’re going to build a statue of someone, then they should have accomplished something incredible, something that will never be forgotten, something that changed the course of the club’s history. And whilst Dennis’ contribution over the years was indeed immense, does it stand out enough from the rest of Arsenal’s achievements throughout the years to be singled out for such praise as a statue?
Tony Adams deserved to be singled out for captaining the side for 14 trophy-laden years. Thierry Henry deserved to be singled out because he’s scored more goals for Arsenal than anyone else has in the history of the club. Herbert Chapman deserves to be singled out for his success in revolutionising the club in the 1920′s and 30′s. The cases for all three are in-arguable. Dennis? Well, here’s my argument:
- Cliff Bastin
- Alex James
- Charlie George
- Frank McClintoch
- Liam Brady
- David Rocastle
- Michael Thomas
- Ian Wright
- Gus Caesar (Just kidding.)
- Bertie Mee
- Bob Wilson
- George Graham
Give me one reason as to why Dennis should be given this honour ahead of any of those on that list, because I can’t think of one. Again, I’m not downplaying what Bergkamp did whilst at the club, but to place him ahead of the others named above, is at the very least, bordering on the generous side. If the whole purpose of erecting these statues is to commemorate the past, then isn’t there a risk of devaluing that past by putting more importance on recent history ahead of it? Obviously, the club’s intention isn’t to rank players in terms of importance to the club when it’s being decided on who gets a statue next, but as anyone who has been picked last out of a group will tell you, it’s usually pretty clear as to why they were picked last instead of first.
Also, let us not forget that Dennis has already been recognised for his achievements at the club with the honour of having his testimonial being arranged as the first ever game to be played at the Emirates. Not exactly a half-hearted gesture, that. Thierry Henry hasn’t been given a testimonial at all. And before you all point out that as Henry is still plying his trade in New York, it would be a bit strange to have a testimonial for someone who hasn’t retired yet, may I point out that he has scored a goal in a stadium that had A STATUE OF HIM OUTSIDE IT.
Dennis Bergkamp was a great player for Arsenal. But before he arrived at Arsenal, he had already been a great player at Ajax. It was only the fact that he wasn’t playing well for Inter that made him available to us. We bought a great player, and he performed at a great level. But is that enough to be an Arsenal legend worthy of a statue? I just don’t think it is, especially when given the alternatives named above. I concede that I’m judging him here to an extraordinarily high standard, but the whole point of casting statues is to celebrate the very, very, very best of Arsenal Football Club. It’s for icons and nobody else. We owe it to those whose legacy we have already celebrated, to be incredibly fussy about this sort of thing.
Was Dennis Bergkamp the best player that has ever played for Arsenal? Perhaps. But like the Messi/Ronaldo comparison earlier, it’s hard to imagine Dennis ever being revered by fans in the same way that Rocky Rocastle is, or Charlie George, or Ian Wright, or anyone else on the list above. He’s just that one step below them, alongside the likes of Vieira, Pires and Sol Campbell as foundation stones of the Invincibles, worthy of enormous respect and gratitude.
But a statue? Sorry Dennis, but we need to save them for the greatest of the great. And unfortunately, you were only great.------------
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