Meet the new Bergkamp
The family resemblance is unmistakable, but can Roland do for Brighton what his great uncle Dennis did for Arsenal? Andrew Warshaw reports
Sunday 24 July 2011
Well before he put pen to paper and signed for newly promoted Brighton, Roland Bergkamp knew what to expect. Famous name, chip off old block, let's see how he compares with great uncle Dennis. That sort of thing.
Yet being saddled with the same name as one of the greatest players ever to grace the Premier League doesn't appear, at this early stage at least, to be fazing the Seagulls' newest recruit as they prepare for the excitement of Championship football in a new, 22,000-seater stadium.
''I've had it in Holland for a couple of years, people saying, 'Oh he'll never be as good as Dennis,' so I've already got used to it,'' said Roland, in his first major interview since joining his new club. ''Sometimes all the attention can be a bit annoying but I'm not the same sort of player as he was. He was far more technical than I'll ever be. I'm more of a 6ft 3in target man.''
Not surprisingly, as a child Roland was captivated when watching the talents of his great uncle, an Arsenal legend whose distinguished career ended in 2006, after more than a decade at the club. It turned the young Roland into an instant Gunners fan and it is a strong allegiance that he still carries.
''I didn't see him play at Ajax and Inter, I was too young. But I watched most of his games at Arsenal. They were always called Boring Arsenal but he helped changed all that. I really like the way they play. I didn't consult him about coming to England because, to be honest, I knew what I wanted to do.''
Emulating famous footballing relatives can be difficult. The former Manchester United striker Jordi Cruyff, for all his talent, never lived up to the hype after following in the footsteps of his father, Johan, who was Holland's greatest player.
While it would be unfair to place the young Bergkamp, just 20 and having turned professional only two years ago, in the same category, he understands the point. ''I'm anticipating all the scrutiny," he says, "but all I can do is play to my strengths.''
It was in part down to Bergkamp, who made his under-21 international debut in March, that Excelsior, the smallest of the three professional Rotterdam clubs, managed to hold on to top-flight status last season while playing bright, skilful football. Bergkamp was watched by the Brighton manager Gus Poyet's sharp-minded scouting network, whose reports led to an offer of a two-year deal.
No sooner had he booked into a local hotel that will serve as his temporary accommodation than Bergkamp was off to Portugal for a pre-season tour with his new teammates. A 2-2 draw against a young Spurs selection, in which he came on for 15 minutes, was followed by a 1-0 defeat against a strong-looking Paris Saint-Germain side in what was his first start for the Seagulls, alongside the club's record signing, Craig Mackail-Smith. Last night Brighton finished off against local side Olahense, and are due to return tomorrow to continue pre-season training.
''I always wanted to go to England as long as I can remember," says Bergkamp, "so when Brighton came in for me I had a look at them. I had no idea how big a club they were. The equivalent league is Holland is tiny by comparison, rarely topping 6,000. Even at Excelsior I was often playing in front of 3,000 fans.''
It was Brighton's spanking new ground at Falmer, up and running after years of false dawns and financial setbacks, that excited Bergkamp. That and the presence of Poyet, one of the brightest managers in the country, who has a refreshing one-touch approach to the game.
''When I knew Brighton were interested in me," says Bergkamp, "I did a bit of searching and couldn't quite believe what came up. There were a few other countries interested but when I saw what kind of stadium Brighton were moving into, I had to look again just to make sure.
''Then I went over for a talk with Gus and was surprised how they train. It's a very un-English way of playing. If you were to ask me what type of football they play in England, I'd probably say kick and rush, to a large extent. But there's no kicking and no rushing at Brighton. Gus works rather like they do in Holland, playing with the ball.''
Poyet says that the new kid on the block will face a learning process in the English game. ''I'm sure he is willing to come and keep learning and get stronger to adapt to our style,'' said the Uruguayan. ''His name is going to bring plenty of memories but we ask that people forget about his uncle. He has the same name but he is a totally different player to Dennis and we don't want people to compare him.''
Whether Bergkamp will be named in the starting XI for Brighton's first fixture, against Doncaster Rovers on 6 August, is unclear but he will certainly be in the squad. ''Dennis was one of the best foreign players to have played in England and we want Roland to get as high as possible,'' said Poyet. ''But, from the beginning, we just want people to take him as a young and promising talent.''
Great uncle Dennis:
Clubs: Ajax, Internazionale, Arsenal
Honours: International caps: 79
Arsenal: 3 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups Ajax: 1 league title, 1 Uefa Cup, 1 European Cup-Winners' Cup Internazionale: 1 Uefa Cup
What they said: "If Ryan Giggs is worth £20 million then Dennis Bergkamp is worth £100 million" – Marco van Basten
New boy Roland:
Clubs: Excelsior, Brighton & Hove Albion
Honours: Under-21 caps: 1
What they said: ''He is a totally different player to Dennis and we don't want people to compare him'' - Gus Poyet
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