Late on Wednesday, and deep within the Stade de France amid a maelstrom of outrage and indignation provoked by Arsène Wenger and his captain Thierry Henry, there is a sanctuary of serenity, of quiet dignity. It surrounds the figure of Dennis Bergkamp. But then the last day at the office possibly brings a curiously measured perspective to any man's thinking as he contemplates the unknown. In that, the Dutchman is no exception.
Not much of a leaving "do", was it? In different circumstances, the Champions' League final in Paris had been an occasion made for his contribution. A little second-half cameo, perhaps, to bring stability to an Arsenal nursing a slender lead? Such fanciful ideas evaporated into the Paris night the moment Jens Lehmann committed his match-deciding indiscretion. The possibilities of what would have been a 425th appearance for the Gunners in 11 distinguished years were left to the imagination. Instead Bergkamp sat and contemplated the promise of the team he departs.
Though it appears that Wenger's bottle of exceptional claret is half-full, it can also be argued that it remains half-empty, even now that Henry has reaffirmed his commitment. As Bergkamp declared pointedly, when asked to adjudicate on the relative greatness of Arsenal generations: "The way you can judge a team is in the Premiership, I feel. We are not happy, finishing fourth. That's not Arsenal-like. I've known it for eight years now... that you should finish in the top two." He adds more generously: "It's a very young team. I'm sure with all their experience next season, they'll be ready for the challenge."
But what will be the potency of that asault, if Wenger declines at a time when the club are Emirates Stadium-bound to enhance his team? And this when an already powerful Chelsea have been bolstered by Michael Ballack and possibly Andriy Shevchenko, when the Glazers have sanctioned further spending at Manchester United, and when Liverpool are likely to build on their recent advances. And what of a resurgent Tottenham, who may just have it in their bellies to overcome their north London rivals next season?
Arsenal are a club peppered with uncertainties; about Robert Pires, about Ashley Cole, and, in truth, about Sol Campbell's ability, both physically and psychologically, to remain near the summit of his profession despite Wednesday's herculean display. Some may describe Arsenal as a side in transition; yet in many ways it is the culmination of an era, symbolised by the retirement of Bergkamp at 37.
Even granted Henry's continued attacking presence, are the squad to whom he has remained steadfast substantial enough? That is not to impugn the reputation of young players like Cesc Fabregas - the teenager who has silenced the plaintive cry 'How are we ever going to win anything without Patrick Vieira?' - Theo Walcott, once he returns from the Sven Goran Eriksson Finishing School, Robin van Persie, Jose Antonio Reyes and Nicklas Bendtner.
Even as Wenger's men were being escorted by tumbrels to the guillotine in Paris, the last-named was scoring twice in Denmark's Under-21 defeat of Spain. Time is a friend to all of those players; the problem is that it is no great companion of Wenger's. Like a wily card sharp, the Frenchman has had a remarkable habit of producing an able young European or African from his capacious sleeve when required. This time, you suspect, he may also have to replenish his first-choice line-up with established personnel.
At least he no longer needs to discover a successor to Henry. But it will be just as daunting attempting to identify a player boasting anything approaching Bergkamp's virtues. Though enticed here by Bruce Rioch, the Dutchman epitomised the cultural evolution which took place between the George Graham years of pragmatic success and Wenger's uplifting new breed.
He appeared neither dismayed at Wednesday's outcome - nor his own lack of participation. "It's not really a disappointment," he said. "It was something extra, I felt, to be involved in this. It could have been perfect, but I'm still really happy overall with my career, and with this season."
It was as well that the non-flying Dutchman wasn't on my Air France flight back. Delayed for two hours with "technical problems", it was a real heart-in-the mouth ride through capricious winds, to the background of Arsenal followers, liberally anaesthetised, chanting their disdain of Spurs manager Martin Jol.
Bergkamp was aboard the Eurostar, not thinking too much about what happens at the end of the line. "Just a break from football now," he said of his plans. "If I miss it, I'll be back soon, I'm sure. If not, I'll take my time."
Maybe he could fulfil a similar ambassadorial role to that which Alan Shearer has agreed at Newcastle? "Maybe in the future. I may go back to Holland. I haven't made a decision."
Someone enquired of his career highlights, which is a bit like asking an oil-rich Arabian sheik about his finest treasures. Where do you begin? Bergkamp prefers to start with the end. "The best feeling was the last one [last year's FA Cup victory], because then you still know you can do it," he says with a wry smile. "Trophies are the best thing for a footballer. That unbeaten run, the '98 double, there's so many..."
If Arsenal have any sense, they will retain him in some capacity. The Dutch master has much to teach. Not least, about how to embrace defeat with good grace.
Solved: the last great mystery of the boys of '66
George Cohen, England's ever-present right-back in the 1966 World Cup, last saw the red shirt he wore in the Wembley final disappear over the shoulder of a dejected German player as the euphoria of the moment overcame him.
That was 40 years ago. He never knew who that player was until last week, when he received a call from a friend. "'Did you know your shirt's going to be sold at Christie's very shortly?' he told me," says Cohen. "I said 'Who had it?' He told me it was [Lothar] Emmerich, the German winger'. You see, I remember swapping it with someone, but until that moment, I never knew who had it. I just had no idea."
Then Cohen, the uncle of the England rugby union winger Ben, discovered something else. "The fellow said, 'Did you know it's estimated that it's going to go for between £15,000-£20,000?' Well, that made me feel absolutely wonderful," said the former Fulham player, now 66. "He asked me, 'Are you going to put a bid in for it?' I said, 'No chance'. If I bought it, who would I give it to? I can't divide a shirt up among my grandchildren, can I?"
Cohen, who has successfully fought cancer and is as generous in spirit as he was as gifted a defender - George Best described him as "the best full-back I ever played against" - added: "Emmerich's family need the money. If they make a lot from it, and they're comfortable, good luck to them.Things don't matter, do they? More important things have happened in my life than a World Cup final."
He did part with his World Cup medal. It was bought by Fulham, his only club until injury ended his career at 29. "Mr Al Fayed had a reproduction made for me and you wouldn't notice the difference," he said.
Cohen's shirt will lead the sale of Traditional Sports and World Cup memorabilia at Christie's, South Kensington, on 27 June, 2006.
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