Dennis Bergkamp signs for Arsenal
Sixteen years ago yesterday, Dennis Bergkamp signed for Arsenal Football Club. It is generally thought, by the press at least, that Arsenal changed when Arsene Wenger arrived at the Club. For most Arsenal fans that have been around since before Arsene the biggest change occurred with the arrival of Dennis.
By 1995 the Premier League was beginning to grow in to a major European League. The ban on English football teams in Europe had been ended for five years and more and more European players were coming to this country. Up until the Summer of 1995 most of the big names to have arrived were over the hill and looking for one last pay day. Then, on 20th June 1995, a Dutch superstar signed for Arsenal. Dennis was the first World-Class foreign player, still yet to reach his prime, to arrive in English football. Dennis set a trend that is still developing today, though most of the top men are going to Chelsea and Manchester City.
I still remember where I was, and what I was doing when I heard the news of Bergkamp's signing. The newspapers had been reporting that we were in for Dennis, and on that morning there was a virtual confirmation on the back page of one of them (this was in the days before the press felt the need to make up transfer rubbish). Still I think most of us didn't really think Arsenal would be buying this massive star. I had just finished my GCSE's and was playing Konami Hyper Soccer (fantastic game) on my Nintendo console, and listening to Radio One, when the sports news came on. I sat there and couldn't quite believe what I had heard. Arsenal had spent £7.5m on Dennis Bergkamp and had confirmed his signing in a press conference. We weren't used to paying anything like that kind of money for players - George Graham would have had a fit! Watching the news that night and seeing Dennis walk down Avenell Road in an Arsenal shirt, followed by lots of joyous Arsenal fans, was a bit of a surreal experience really. What I didn't know was that life had changed forever.
Arsenal Football Club suddenly had a World Class foreign player in the squad. A couple of weeks later we splashed more money to bring the England Captain back from Italy. At the time David Platt was a major star and rated among the very best midfielders in the World by anyone who followed England. Of course, Arsenal fans would come to realise that Platt wasn't quite as good as we thought - not a bad player, but not a top player either. Nevertheless, by the end of July 1995, Arsenal had entered a brave new World, and we were now playing among the big boys.
For the next eleven years, with the arrival of Arsene Wenger completing the jigsaw, I watched the greatest player I've ever seen make magical football artworks on pitches up and down the land. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that our successes have stalled since Dennis retired. His presence, his work ethic and, above all, his sheer ability pervaded the entire squad. Dennis acted as an awe-inspiring, God-like figure for both the players and the fans. Dennis carried an aura, and this was reflected in Arsenal Football Club as a whole. We were something special, all the time we had Dennis Bergkamp. The success that followed, and the players that came to Arsenal, were all a consequence of Dennis Bergkamp being here.
As I said earlier, Dennis is the best footballer I have ever seen. I am fairly certain that I will never, ever, see anyone who has the ability as a footballer, or the influence that Dennis had, at Arsenal. In some ways that is a very sobering thought. At the same time it makes me realise how privileged I was to see Dennis Bergkamp play on so many occasions. Part of me hopes that I don't ever get to see a player as good, or as important as Dennis - as the picture on our living room wall attests Dennis is my hero. However, if I do get that lucky then I know that he will have to be some player, and some man, to usurp Bergkamp as the greatest. I wouldn't complain too much if Arsene Wenger managed to sign that man this Summer.
Over to you, Arsene.