The Myth of Dennis Bergkamp

After the signing of Mesut Ozil, the talk in blogs and podcasts throughout the Arsenal world is about how the signing is ‘Arsene Wenger’s Dennis Bergkamp moment.’ The theory being that we have not signed a truly world class player since Dennis Bergkamp, and that as with the signing of Bergkamp, it will see more top signings follow.

This is frankly not true.

Firstly, when we signed Dennis Bergkamp, he was no longer a world class performer. After finishing 2nd and 3rd in the 1992 & 1993 Ballon d’Ors respectively, he had gone backwards. His star had fallen.

A disastrous two year spell at Inter Milan led him to leave them for just £400,000 more than what they signed him for. Whilst he went on to become one of Arsenal’s greatest ever players, when we signed him, he was certainly an underperformer. He was not the world class signing that many make out.

Whilst Mesut Ozil has not had the easiest of times over the last 12 months at Real Madrid, his star as not fallen anywhere near as much as Dennis Bergkamp. Whereas many were begining to doubt Dennis Bergkamp’s talent when we signed him, Ozil’s talent is in not doubt. with even Jose Mourinho labelling him as the best number 10 in world football.

The 2nd Dennis Bergkamp myth is his signing lead to the floodgates opening and many more world class players following him through the door. This was just not true.

Dennis Bergkamp signed nearly a month after David Platt had joined the club. No more transfers were made that year, in times before transfer windows. The next season, Arsene Wenger’s 1st, the transfers were as follows:

Valur Gíslason
John Lukic
Remi Garde
Patrick Vieira
Nicolas Anelka

Not a single world class player amongst them. And in 1997, the year of the double, things were no better:

Matthew Upson
Gilles Grimandi
Luis Boa Morte
Alberto Mendez
Marc Overmars
Emmanuel Petit
Alex Manninger
Christopher Wreh

These types of transfers would be the stock of Wenger’s transfer’s. A mixture of talented youngster, and senior players who had become out of favour / injured / unknowns. What is certainly true is that the signing of Dennis Bergkamp did not attract any world class talent to the club.

Whilst there are many comparisons between the signing of Bergkamp and Ozil. I do think we look back at Bergkamp’s through rose tinted, hindsight glasses. Were we really that excited? Or were we moaning we had signed a washed-up home sick Dutchman who can not fly?

For me, the signing of Mesut Ozil is bigger then that of Bergkamp. He is a truly world class player. And with the finances we now have, his signing should open up the floodgates of further world class players wanting to join Arsenal.

The signing of Mesut Ozil is not Wenger’s Dennis Bergkamp moment. It is bigger then that.


25 thoughts on “The Myth of Dennis Bergkamp

  1. Steve

    Absolute rubbish, i was a season ticket holder in the clock end and he was definitely seen as a marquis signing. Although he had 2 barren years he was still top top quality! When he scored his first 2 goals against the Saints the roof nearly came of the stadium. Bergkamp really did change the whole culture/expectations at Arsenal and his goal in the last game of season which clinched UEFA cup football propelled us into a great new era. NEVER under estimate what Dennis Bergkamp did for the Arsenal.

  2. avery

    Really, Vieira, Petit, Overmars and Anelka, not world class?
    They only starred for their national teams at the world cup and shined, and went on to play huge roles at Arsenal….

    1. davi

      The point is that they weren’t seen that way when they were signed. Overmars maybe was as he’d won the CL not long before, but as is said in the article, signings included senior players who had suffered from injury, and that’s what happened to overmars prior to his joining us. The others hadn’t really made a name for themselves before signing and certainly weren’t seen as world class players.

  3. john

    Finally someone with some sense. I read Amy Lawrence’s article in The Guardian and all I could do was shake my head in disbelief at the myth-making and sepia-tinted memory shift.. Dennis Bergkamp was, if anything, Arsenal’s first Wenger-like signing. He was a player with immense talent who was being misused at a club with more money than sense. Bergkamp flopped at Inter because he was in an ultra defensive set-up… you have to remember that Moratti bought him as an answer to Berlusconi’s acquisition of Rijkaard and Guillt. In Bergkamp’s last season at Inter he scored all of 3 goals in Serie A!

    Ozil’s transfer is more unlike Bergkamp’s transfer than it is like it… and you are absolutely right… Ozil is transfer is a bigger deal, which is not say that Ozil will necessarily become a bigger player for us than the legend that is Bergkamp.

  4. Chris

    Yes, we really WERE that excited!
    I was 15 at the time, and it was the 1st signing that had ever made me think “OMG!”
    He was considered one of the very best players in the world 18 months prior, and until Ozil, only Overmars even registered on the scale.
    A torrid 2 years at Chelsea wouldn’t render Ronaldo/Messi a crap player; nobody with any footballing knowledge wrote off Bergkamp.
    Overmars was a massive signing. True, he was a gamble after a bad injury, but he’d regained fitness and form, and was one of the stars of that quality Ajax team of the time.
    It’s true that the floodgates of WC talent didn’t open upon his arrival, but his continued presence would have remained a factor in every incoming transfer and contract extension.
    Perhaps the truth is that it was us as fans that finally felt that with the signing of Dennis, we had arrived as a club?
    I agree that this Ozil transfer is bigger; better is yet to be seen, but bigger is certain.
    Was I the only Gooner watching Germany on Friday, drooling over his every touch? 😉

    1. john

      There’s no question that Arsenal fans were excited by Bergkamp’s signing but the writer isn’t disputing how excited Arsenal fans were at the time… and when we sign Bergkamp when we had previously been signing the likes of Chris Kiwomya and Glen Helder why wouldn’t we be excited! The point is that when we signed Bergkamp his stock had fallen so low that there’s no way that any right thinking individual can look back at his “reputation” at the time and still say that we were signing a “world class” player… if he was still considered world class he wouldn’t have signed for that time.. it may hurt our pride to admit it but it is nevertheless the truth.

      That’s why I consider Bergkamp our first Wenger-like signing. He was a player who’s reputation was way lower than his actual talent and that is one of the things that Wenger specialises in doing… finding good players who are being misused (ie Henry at Juve) and extracting their full potential by using them in line with their talent.

      The writer of this article speaks truth..

  5. john

    I’m sorry but none of Vieira, Petit or Anelka were considered world class when they fetched up at Arsenal. Overmars had just recovered from a horrendous injury and we were taking a big, big risk in signing him. The sort of myth-making that Arsenal fans engage in on the web is really silly sometimes. Vieira was an AC Milan reserve! How can that be considered world class? Wenger knew his quality and got Dein to sign him but to suggest that he was world class when he signed is frankly not true…. at all.

    Anelka was a stroppy kid at PSG and Petit was an OK Center back for Monaco not a world class midfielder.. The writer of this article is entirely correct in what he is saying,

    1. Steve

      you obviously are either too young or was not a regular at Highbury. I can assure you that Dennis was seen as an amazing signing by Rioch and Dein and we drooled over himfrom game 1 onwards. we never signed this typpe of player under Graham and he WAS the difference.

      1. john

        I can assure that I was a regular at Highbury and that I’m not too young. The point you are making is totally different from the argument made in the article. Bergkamp at Arsenal, to Arsenal fans, was like a god that much is true and no one disputes that, not me and not writer of this article.. That doesn’t make him world class though because world class means what it means and it certainly doesn’t mean a player rated by Arsenal fans alone.. Bergkamp was a class above anything Arsenal had signed before but at the time we signed he’d flopped in Italy and that’s the only reason we got him. So the writer of this article is correct.

        When we signed Bergkamp he’s reputation in world of football outside of England wasn’t that he was world class because he had failed at Inter Milan and he really, really failed. Now if you want to discuss why he failed and what that tells us about football players and talent and how talent is nurtured and why and how it prospers or fails to do so, that’s another discussion. But that is not the discussion we having here… what we are discussing is the guff that’s been printed in the media by the likes of Amy Lawrence contending that Bergkamp was a world class signing who opened the door to other world class signings at Arsenal. That narrative is fantasy, It simply didn’t happen and the writer of this article is correct to say that.

      2. Jacob

        I think the writer means that if ozil was put up for sale, the number of teams that would be dying to sign him would be nowhere close to the number of suitors bergkamp would have had or would have got the kind of bids that ozil would get.

  6. Gunner

    When Bergkamp came it was a very big deal for Gunners indeed, he might have struggled playing up front on his own at Inter but he was no doubt a world class player who arrived with enormous expectations…. don’t forget all we really had before he came was an incredible back four and Ian Wright carrying us up front. In terms of the skill Dennis brought to ‘boring boring Arsenal’ it was an incredible signing.

    I sort of agree with some of the rest of the article, but Overmars was world class (albeit injury prone) when we signed him and Bergkamp certainly helped to attract him

  7. Chris

    Don’t know how young you are BUT in 1995 players like Bergkamp simply did not come to England, they all went to Italy and Spain … I remind you that Alan Sugar made his “Carlos Kick-a-ball” remark after that transfer !!!!

  8. naked goon

    Dennis was huge from the first minute, I remember going out for a few drinks on my own I was so happy and just talking to complete strangers about it. I remember people saying Arsenal have done something radical here. He and Wrighty instantly impressed each other and a team that had been rather predictable now put the fear into the oppostion.
    Overmars however, was really the only world class player signed by Wenger during Bergkamp’s early years. Wiltord? Not WC. Sol. Pretty damn good quality. Lauren,Pires and Rosicky would be my pick of the top players signed by Wenger until now. I know I’ve missed somone out though….

  9. davi

    The name of Andrei Arshavin is conspicuous by it’s absence. He was certainly one that got everyone excited and was considered a ready-made “world class” player by most fans when he joined, and he didn’t really have any injury problems to my knowledge. The difference between him and Ozil is that the German has joined from a much bigger club and is proven in a top league, while Arshavin’s reputation, at least with most Arsenal fans (imo) was built on some impressive performances in an international tournament.
    Gilberto’s a fairly similar case really except he did WIN the world cup as a starter for Brazil. I don’t think the excitement was quite of the level of Arshavin’s but he had impressed everyone on the biggest stage prior to signing for us. Whether that’s the same as having a “world class” reputation is questionable though.
    Sol Campbell was a fairly major one as well; I wasn’t SO impressed by him before, although I think most people were. (Turned out to be a GREAT player though of course)
    These are players who were signed with big reputations without serious injury or form concerns prior to their signing but whether they were considered “world class” is another question.

  10. KNVB

    Saying Bergkamp wasn’t world class at the time of the signing is on false pretense. Sure, he had a rough time of it during his time at Inter, but he was still as talented as anyone on the planet. Because Zlatan flopped at Barca didn’t make him any less of a talent going forward. Because Sneijder and Robben were allowed to leave Real after not making an impact did not deem them any less world class (especially evident that both went on to win major trophies with their respective clubs. Or… even more recent… Rooney was almost allowed to leave ManU due to him being second choice to RVP… yet the “bulldog” is still world-class in any group of players. Get my point? But the signing of Ozil is with out a doubt massive to the Gunners and I can only hope players of immense quality follow as well as the trophies. Have a good one mates!

  11. Jason

    Not sure i agree, while I agreed DB10’s stock had dropped after his time in Italy, he was still a world class player, just with piss poor form, I remember when we signed him and I could t believe it, he changed Arsenal more than you know

  12. Rids

    U dont no wot ur talkin about ,u mus b a spuds fan bergkamp was class mate he played wid all r top players and wen him and king Henry played it was a joy to watch so go support another club we don’t need fans like u the only think u said dat makes Sence is ozil is world class

  13. Goon

    No-one is drawing every parallel between the signings. The fact is, that for gunners old enough to remember well, until last Monday, news of Dennis Bergkamp’s signing was the most exciting signing before or after. End of.

  14. westlondongoon

    It is only our fans that could use the signing of a world class player to try to diminish the impact of one of, if not the, greatest players to wear the shirt? Desperate pseudo-journalism.

    Can’t wait for the follow-up where Vermaelen is argued to be a beter club captain than Adams.

  15. Matty

    Ozil ain’t even fit enough to lace bergkamps boots let alone be classed as a world class player, there’s only ONE Dennis bergkamp, so glad to be in the north bank ov HIGHBURY, so many times to see and have the privelage of watching bergkamp play, let’s see if ozil will get crowd to sing ONE MORE YEAR, Pfffffffffffft bergkamp had heart n love for arsenal football club n played wv the badge on his heart, not like that frog eyed mercenary ozil….


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