Rioch signs Bergkamp to signal new era

 

For Arsenal, it was history in more ways than one. Not only did the pounds 7.5m paid by Bruce Rioch for Dennis Bergkamp treble the club's record outlay, but the Dutch international striker's arrival from Internazionale yesterday must be first instance of a Tottenham fan receiving a rapturous welcome in Highbury's marble halls.

Bergkamp, who idolised Glenn Hoddle and Steve Archibald as part of his boyhood devotion to North London's other club, signed a four-year deal to become Rioch's first signing for Arsenal. His contract is reportedly worth pounds 25,000 a week, making him the British game's highest-paid player and shattering the wage structure rigidly maintained under George Graham's managership.

As part of the transfer, which eclipses the pounds 2.5m Graham invested in both Ian Wright and John Hartson, Bergkamp will make his home debut in a friendly against Inter on 10 August. It may not be the most amicable of friendlies; he made little impact after an pounds 8m transfer from Ajax to the Milan club in 1993, scoring just 11 goals in 52 Serie A matches, and was apparently regarded within the Inter dressing-room as an aloof outsider.

Unconcerned by Bergkamp's problems in Italy, Rioch, who immediately allocated the Dutchman his favoured No 10 shirt, hailed his new recruit as "a world- class player with wonderful ability, technically excellent and an individual capable of applying his considerable ability to the benefit of the team". Rioch added: "This clearly indicates our ambition, intention and determination to compete with any club for the very best players."

The domestic campaign was a disaster for Arsenal last season, marked by slump on the pitch and sleaze off it. As a symbol of a fresh start, Rioch could hardly have picked a better signing than the skilful, deep- lying six-footer from Amsterdam. Bergkamp could well have the same galvanising effect that Jurgen Klinsmann had at Spurs. Unlike Klinsmann, Bergkamp has not insisted in an opt-out clause, and stressed that he intended seeing out his contract.

The 26-year-old newcomer clearly caught the revivalist mood after an afternoon spent at the stadium with two agents, his wife, brother, officials of both clubs and an army of media men. "It wasn't a difficult choice because Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs in the world," Bergkamp said. "It's very attractive to me because English teams like to attack, and whenever I've played against sides here there have always been possibilities to score. I'm also looking forward to playing alongside Ian Wright, a great player. I know Arsenal didn't win anything last season, but with this manager and this team I believe we can change that situation."

Bergkamp dismissed reports that Barcelona had shown a late interest, but suggested any bid would have been of no use. "When I heard from my agent one week ago that Arsenal wanted to have me I never thought about any other team," he said.

To make way for Bergkamp, Kevin Campbell is likely to join Nottingham Forest for pounds 2m, while Watford are among the clubs who have asked about the availability of Alan Smith.

Rioch's coup rather stole the thunder from Spurs, who had earlier agreed to pay pounds 4.5m for Chris Armstrong, the Crystal Palace striker. The 24-year- old picked Spurs in preference to Everton, forcing Joe Royle into a further re-think following his setback when Stan Collymore opted to join Liverpool.

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