Bergkamp bids farewell on Arsenal's day of renewal

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The Independent Football

"My life is here. My four children were born here, they are at school here. They would probably rather speak English at home than Dutch. My life is here, yeah." With that final, smiling, emphasis Dennis Bergkamp asserted his priorities as he contemplated his future as an ex-footballer.

"It is difficult to say goodbye to football after 25 years. Maybe I have to be a little bit selfish and enjoy what I have done. I am going to do nothing, basically. Relax, do things other than what football brings with it. I can now have," he said, a look of faint incomprehension flitting across his features, "a free weekend..."

Bergkamp bid farewell to 54,000 sniffly Arsenal fans, as they cheered him to the lowering Saturday evening skies following a 2-1 win over Ajax and, by extension, celebrated the fruit of his labours of the past 11 years: Arsenal's new £390m Emirates Stadium.

Bergkamp was chaired across the pitch on the shoulders of Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, both of whom had flown in from America specially for the occasion, while in the centre circle a small regiment of knackered-looking Arsenal and Ajax heroes looked on with clear deference, even love. It was a moment that introduced a measure of soul to an environment that is too young and shiny to have acquired anything of the sort.

The experiences which generate soul will come, no doubt. But this event was not a bad way to start. In a way, the structure of the Dutch master's testimonial constituted an extended meditation in reverse on what it means to gather experience, grow up, move on, and then watch the process of renewal.

The first half of the match was a distinctly soulless affair, in which Arsenal's younger generation, marshalled by Messrs Flamini, Hleb and the man of the hour, contrived to concede a 1-0 deficit to a surprisingly robust contemporary Ajax side.

The proper fun started in the second half, when a team of Arsenal Legends (back five: Seaman, Dixon, Bould, Grimandi/Keown, Winterburn) took on, and beat, an Ajax equivalent.

Bergkamp did not have his shooting boots on. Nevertheless, he pulled off a couple of trademark wrong-footing shimmies; and there was one majestic, high-stepping run from deep which had Wim Jonk, Danny Blind and Frank Rijkaard retreating like gammy rabbits towards the safety of their massed De Boers.

At the other end, a classy but not scintillatingly pacy strike force of Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff failed to strike. Yes, the biggest cheer of the game arose when Gilles Grimandi diced and kebabed Edgar Davids in the act of scoring. But, obligingly, Ronald de Boers hoofed the penalty into Finsbury Park. It was left to Kanu and Henry to secure a genteel win for the Arsenal Legends.

"I felt old in the first half, young in the second half," said Bergkamp afterwards. Which is, of course, how it should be. The stadium merely gleamed.

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