There was only one Dennis Bergkamp

Always stylish, sometimes breathtaking and occasionally a bit naughty. As the incomparable Dutchman takes his leave of football today, Nick Coleman remembers the player who transformed the image of Arsenal Football Club

These hello-goodbye situations are never easy. Dennis Bergkamp entered the press room at Arsenal's new Emirates stadium on Thursday as one imagines he has insinuated himself into confined spaces thousands of times before: as imperceptibly as a hair in the breeze. One minute he is nowhere, the next second, zing! It's Dennis! - adzed features closed, composed, almost devoid of expression, except perhaps for the beginnings of a hint of a smile. There is something android about him. Bergkamp doesn't arrive like most people do; he materialises.

As in life, so in football. It has been the non-flying Dutchman's abiding gift as a footballer to insinuate himself like a stray hair into unexpected areas of the pitch and then make a pass as killing as an android's smile, before dematerialising again, as if he had never been.

It is Bergkamp's stealth, above all things, that we are saying goodbye to this weekend; his stealth allied to an array of technical armaments which have had few equals in subtle lethality, in addition to a remarkable capacity for disappearing from matches altogether.

It's an awful shame that the Emirates, which hosts Dennis's testimonial game tonight (Arsenal v Ajax), will never again resound either to choruses of "There's only ONE Dennis Bergkamp!" or its stentorian obverse, usually voiced by frustrated single Clock Enders going into spasms as another November afternoon drifts into frustration and anomie: "Where the FLIP is bloody Bergkamp?"

So, it's a big hello to the handsome ellipsoid edifice, glowing like a spaceship in the purlieus of Drayton Park; a sad farewell to the handsomely angular creature of flesh and bone who, as a player, has arguably done more than any other of his contemporaries to help put it there.

Do I mean it? The bit about being sad? Yes, I do, I really mean it. Dennis Bergkamp has enhanced my life, as he has enhanced Arsenal's, and the lives of the 38,000 other souls who have congregated at his workplace over the past 10 years to watch him go through his repertoire of feints, dinks and solid left-arm slams into the mugs of centre-halves uncouth enough to stand on his heels. The guy is a genius, any way you slice him. And like all geniuses, he will drive you mad.

How will our memories capture him in flight (as it were)? Perhaps with the fantabulous pull-down and angled shot which made his favourite goal - the one which completed his hat-trick - at Leicester City in the first Double-winning season of 1998; perhaps with the exquisitely balletic ball-goes-thisaway, I-go-thataway pirouette past Newcastle's defence in 2002, arguably the most divinely intuitive goal ever seen in English football. Both of those moments are football expressed as filaments of poeticised science: the art of the only-just-possible.

But neither of those moments took place at Highbury. I only saw them on telly. So, for me, the memory of Bergkamp in flight is a composite one, and a rather broken one - it's a kaleidoscopic whoosh of sudden passes at unimaginable angles; spooky bursts of acceleration into culs- de-sac (followed by immediate emergence from same with ball at bootlace); lashing, dipping drives; flying headers (oh yes, Dennis can head the ball all right); and painfully indignant on-field sulks which go on and on and on.

You see, Dennis wasn't always as good as he could be. In fact, the truth of it is that he seldom was. He was certainly never again as good as he was in the first half of that first Double-winning season in 1998. But then again, has anyone else ever been as good as that? This is the Clock End speaking, of course. We are gloomy on our stretch, tucked away under our low concrete ceiling. The glass is not half-empty up there; it's rolling between the seats with a dreg in it.

But for all his frailties and failures to turn up at the party, Bergkamp's status as an Arsenal colossus is assured for something less obviously beautiful than his technical gifts, but for a gift the more valuable because it has reached real fulfilment, enshrined by the new stadium, embodied by the way Arsenal now play football.

You see, just by coming to Highbury Bergkamp raised the bar of expectation at Arsenal. He foreshadowed Arsène Wenger, and then, when the Blessed Alsatian materialised on north London soil at last, Bergkamp expressed the first flowering of that new understanding in a way that has only lately been truly expanded on, in the realms of virtuosity, by Thierry Henry.

Bergkamp is Arsenal's John the Baptist. His was the voice that reached out of the wilderness of the unspeakable mid-Nineties and filled a generation of Gooners with hope. (And if Dennis is John the Baptist, what does that make David Dein and Bruce Rioch, who brought him to the club? Another time perhaps.) But never mind the metaphysics. What kind of a man has Dennis seemed to be? A very elusive one, for a start.

No one knows Dennis Bergkamp. We know he's a family man. We think he's held on to his dosh. We're confident that the on-pitch ice-man demeanour curtains a private life of irreproachable bourgeoisitude. But that's about it. We suspect that Dennis probably isn't a dogger.

I have a vague, unresearched memory of Bergkamp appearing in a glossy magazine feature at least half a dozen years ago. The feature, or so my memory tells me, photographed a number of celebrated sportsmen and women in the garb and place of work of their "natural" destiny, had high sporting achievement not supervened.

Dennis was a cheesemaker. There he was, the android smile warmed and widened almost to a grin, dressed in a white coat and little white bonnet, doting on a giant cheese.

Blessed are the cheesemakers, obviously. That's a given. But what I loved about that picture was not the fact of Dennis's alternative-universe job - come on, we can all imagine Titi Henry as an art teacher and Nelson Vivas as a barbary pirate - but the fact that Bergkamp looked so terribly, almost Buddhistically, content to be surrounded by cheese. He looked completely at ease, the image of a man whose inner life does not give him indigestion; a man neither reduced by his narcissism, nor inflated by it.

The real Dennis Bergkamp could have been a cheesemaker. Instead, he became a contender for the status of greatest player ever to don the red and white of Arsenal Football Club. He goes into non-specific retirement (he won't say what he's going to do) with our blessings crashing down on him in a great wave. Let us hope that he takes tonight's testimonial as the baptism of a new life.

His favourite goal

* LEICESTER v ARSENAL (Premiership, 27 Aug 1997, Filbert Street)

Bergkamp picked out the third goal of his hat-trick. "It was one of those occasions," he says, "when everything went exactly as I planned it in the second before it happened - the movement, the control, the finish."

His favourite game

* ARSENAL v MIDDLESBROUGH (Premiership, 22 Aug 2004, Highbury)

It was not a Championship clincher or a Cup final or even a 1-0 dogfight with Manchester United, but the 5-3 walloping of Middlesbrough, when Arsenal recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win with an attacking fluency that bordered on the delirious.

"That was special," Bergkamp says. "I was captain for the day - I really felt like I was a leader on the pitch."

His career

* BORN 10 May 1969, Amsterdam, Netherlands

* CLUBS

Ajax 1986-93

Internazionale 1993-95

Arsenal 1995-2006

* GAMES AND GOALS

Apps Goals

Total Club 661 240

Total League 552 203

FA Cup 39 14

English League Cup 16 8

European/Others 54 15

Netherlands career

Apps (as sub) Goals

79 (0) 36

Arsenal career

Total

Apps (sub) Goals Y R Assists

424 (78) 121 42 4 124

League

315 (62) 87 35 1 n/a

FA Cup

39 (5) 14 3 3 n/a

League Cup

16 (0) 8 0 0 n/a

European/Others

54 (11) 12 4 0 n/a

* SEASON-BY-SEASON BREAKDOWN (League only)

Season Club

2005-06 Arsenal

24 appearances, 2 goals

2004-05 Arsenal 29, 8

2003-04 Arsenal 28, 4

2002-03 Arsenal 29, 4

2001-02 Arsenal 33, 9

2000-01 Arsenal 25, 3

1999-00 Arsenal 28, 6

1998-99 Arsenal 29, 12

1997-98 Arsenal 28, 16

1996-97 Arsenal 29; 12

1995-96 Arsenal 33, 11

1994-95 Inter 21; 3

1993-94 Inter 31; 8

1992-93 Ajax 28; 26

1991-92 Ajax 30; 24

1990-91 Ajax 33; 25

1989-90 Ajax 25; 8

1988-89 Ajax 30; 13

1987-88 Ajax 25; 5

1986-87 Ajax 14; 2

* HONOURS

Dutch Championship 89-90

Dutch Cup 87; 93

European Cup-Winners' Cup 86-87

Uefa Cup 91-92, 93-94

English Premiership 97-98, 01-02, 03-04.

English FA Cup 98, 02, 03, 05

* AWARDS

Dutch Topscorer 90-91, 91-92, 92-93

Dutch Player of the Year 92, 93

English PFA Players' Player of the Year 98

English Football Writers' Player of the Year 98

Goal of the Season 98, 02

First Arsenal line-up (v Middlesbrough, 1-1, 20 Aug 95, Highbury): Seaman, Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Keown, Parlour (Helder 71), Platt, Merson, Bergkamp, Wright

Last Arsenal Line-up (v Wigan, 4-2, 7 May 2006, Highbury): Lehmann, Campbell, Cole, Eboué, Touré, Gilberto Silva, Fabregas, Hleb (Van Persie 79), Pires (Ljundberg 74), Henry, Reyes (Bergkamp 79).

* BIOGRAPHY

1969 One of four sons; named after former Manchester United player Denis Law.

1981 Joins Ajax aged 12.

1986 Makes debut in December against Roda JC.

1987 Comes on as a substitute in the European Cup-Winners' Cup final against Leipzig, which Ajax won.

1990 Makes international debut against Italy. Scores first international goal against Greece.

1992 Joint top goalscorer at Euro 92 with three goals.

1993 Leaves Ajax having scored 103 goals in 185 League games.

1994 Excellent World Cup; scores three goals in five games.

1995 After troubled stay at Inter, Bruce Rioch signs him for Arsenal for £7.5m but fails to score in first eight games.

1998 Comes first, second and third in Match of the Day's Goal of the Month competition. Scores three, sets up three at World Cup as Netherlands finish fourth. Retires from international football.

2003 Scores 100th Arsenal goal 2003-04 Goes Premiership season unbeaten

2005 Makes 300th League appearance

2006 Scores on "Dennis Bergkamp Day" at Highbury in victory over West Bromwich

What they said

If Ryan Giggs is worth £20m, Dennis Bergkamp is worth £100m Marco Van Basten

Intelligence and class. Class is, of course, linked to what you can do with the ball, but the intelligence makes you use the technique in an efficient way. It's like somebody who has a big vocabulary but he doesn't say intelligent words, and somebody who has a big vocabulary but he can talk intelligently, and that's what Dennis is all about. What he does, there's always a head and always a brain. And his technique allows him to do what he sees, and what he decides to do. Arsène Wenger

Can you not say he is the best player in the world right now? If there is a better one, then I have not seen him. Wenger, on Bergkamp's form during the 1997-98 season

Arsenal will be lucky if Bergkamp scores 10 goals this season. Massimo Moratti, president of Inter, on Bergkamp's transfer.

I have always said Dennis Bergkamp will remain the best partner I have ever had. He is a dream for a striker. Thierry Henry

A lot of people think that I've never flown but that's not true. I just suddenly decided not to fly again. Flying was affecting me and my game. I've played the best football of my career at Arsenal, since I made that decision. Bergkamp

Behind every kick of the ball there has to be a thought. Bergkamp

He needs fewer touches to score. Sometimes just one, when others need two or three. Wenger

What he'll miss...

* EMIRATES STADIUM

Capacity 60,000; 26,500 fans on the Upper Level and 24,200 on the Lower Level. Seats 128 seats in the directors' box

Disabled spaces 500

Press spaces 215

Away fans 1,500-9,000

Stadium dimensions: Distance between the North and South stands is 245.6m, between East to West is 199.6m. The total height of the stadium is 41.466m with the eaves reaching a height of 34.190m. Over 17 acres

Build time 124 weeks

Project cost £390m

Jobs created 1,800

Houses built as part of the project 2,000

There will be:

4,500m of metal handrailing 2,000 doors

100 flights of stairs

900 toilets and 370m of urinals

475 plasma screens

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Life and Style
Sony Computer Entertainment President and Group CEO Andrew House, executive in charge of Sony Network Entertainment, introduces PlayStation Now
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
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

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?