Bergkamp: 'If you can't win the trophy with this Arsenal, who could you win it with?'

As a Dutchman, Dennis Bergkamp is the perfect witness to talk about multi-talented football teams who fail to fulfil their destiny. As a boy, he watched his country's near-misses at the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, while as a player, he was part of the exciting but flawed sides of the Nineties. "Glorious failures are the worst feeling," he admits.

At least there have been few such disappointments during his club career. The Dutch title with Ajax was followed by the Uefa Cup with Internazionale and then, in recent years, the double-Double with Arsenal. There is, Bergkamp believes, only one target remaining. Following his assertion in these pages last week that the current Arsenal team have rewritten the rules of football, the 33-year-old is now keen to see them spread the word across Europe. The Premier League title may say much about consistency, but the Champions' League trophy is the ultimate symbol of success.

"I think I speak for everyone connected with the club," explains Bergkamp, who has never been beyond the quarter-finals of the competition with Arsenal, "when I say that the European Cup is the one we're really keen on. In terms of prestige, the Champions' League is the biggest honour in club football and we, as a team, really deserve to win it. To be honest with you, I would find it very difficult to accept if this side didn't take the trophy. I mean, if you can't win the Champions' League with this Arsenal team, then who could you win it with?"

Bergkamp, though, knows that any talk of the latter stages is still premature. Arsenal may be in a healthy position at the top of Group B, following their wonderful win at Roma and the home draw with Valencia before the winter break, but qualification is by no means a formality. First up is a double-header with a club level on points with Arsenal, and even closer to Bergkamp's heart, Ajax. The Arsenal striker joined the Amsterdam club in 1980 as a 12-year-old with potential, and left 12 years later as a fully-fledged international. "I'm very excited about these two games," he says. "I was at Ajax for my formative years, so it's only normal that the place should hold very special memories for me.

"I remember the first time I walked through the doors. Arriving at the legendary Ajax school was such a proud moment for me, but also a slightly scary one. Out of around 200 kids, maybe one or two make it every year. The kids who don't are just asked to leave."

Two particular faces will add to the sense of homecoming. Ajax are now managed by the great defender Ronald Koeman, while the youth team are overseen by one Marco van Basten. These two giants of Dutch football are also two very close friends of Bergkamp's. "I played many times with those guys," says the man who made his European debut with the club at 17, "so it will be great to see them again. It will be difficult for me to switch off and think of them as any other team, but I'm sure I'll manage."

Arsenal's slick passing and movement, not to mention Thierry Henry's goalscoring skills, should be too much for Ajax's young and fast-improving side. In fact, Bergkamp believes the Gunners are one of the favourites for the crown. "I see no reason why we shouldn't go all the way," he says, "but, like any knockout event, this competition requires that little bit of luck. The domestic title is the fairest, because if you're top of the table in May then no one can say that you were fortunate on 38 occasions. But the Champions' League can be decided on a tiny detail, and that's what makes it so unpredictable. That's its beauty."

Bergkamp believes that last season's quarter-final reverse against the eventual finalists, Bayer Leverkusen, is a good example of the better team losing out. "I thought that we played really well against them," he says, "and we should have run out comfortable winners. But somehow we lost and they almost went all the way. It still hurts a bit, but I can tell you that if we reach that stage again, we'll make sure we win."

Bergkamp will return to Ajax with his head held high, if a little sore. Due to his refusal to fly, the Arsenal playmaker will be driving to Holland. "It's not a problem," he insists. "I've done it lots. In fact, the first time I made the journey was the day I signed for Arsenal in June 1995. I remember it well, because I went around the M25 the wrong way and had to stop for petrol. When I pulled into the station, I had a little argument with the driver of the car behind me, who was getting irate. After a while, the guy stepped out of the car. I kid you not, it was Ian Wright. That's when I knew I was meant to join Arsenal."

There have been no such signs in recent weeks, but Bergkamp can still think of one good reason why Arsenal should win the Champions' League this year. "The final is at Old Trafford," he smiles.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy