Who is Dennis Bergkamp - The Non Flying Dutchman
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Dennis Nicolaas Maria Bergkamp is a Dutch professional football coach and former player. Originally a wide midfielder, he changed positions twice to a main striker and then a second striker, where he played for the rest of his career. He was nicknamed the “Non-Flying Dutchman” by Arsenal supporters, thanks to his fear of flying. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of his generations.
Born in Amsterdam to parents Wim and Tonnie Bergkamp, he was the youngest of four sons. He was raised as a Roman Catholic by his family and regularly attended church as a child. Today, though visiting the church is a rarity, he still maintains his faith. As a newborn, Bergkamp’s fate as a star football player was sealed when his father – an electrician and amateur footballer – named him in honour of Scottish striker Denis Law. However, Bergkamp’s name was spelt with an additional “n” in order to comply with Dutch given name customs. As a child, he aspired to be like Glenn Hoddle, whose soft precise touch he admired, or Johan Cruyff, who had coached him when he was 12 years old.
At 11 years old, Bergkamp joined Ajax’s youth team, with his 1986 debut match ending in a 2-0 victory for his team. During his first season, he went on to make 23 appearances, including as a substitute for the 1986/87 European Cup Winners’ Cup competition, which Ajax won.
Bergkamp went on to establish himself as part of Ajax’s first team as they experienced a period of success. They won the Eredivisie title in the 1989/90 season – the first time they had done so in 5 years. The following season, he became the joint top scorer in the league, with a score of 29 goals over 36 matches. Bergkamp was instrumental in Ajax’s 1992 UEFA Cup Final win as well as their KNVB Cup win in 1993. He was the top scorer in the Eredivisie from 1991 to 1993 and was voted Dutch Footballer of the Year in 1992 and 1993. In total, he scored 122 goals over 239 matches for his team.
Bergkamp’s impressive performance while with Ajax caught the attention of several prominent European clubs. Though Cruyff advised him not to join Real Madrid, Bergkamp held Italian clubs in high regard, wanting to move to either Juventus or Inter Milan. In 1993, Bergkamp agreed on a £7.1million move to the latter club, stating: Inter “met all my demands. The most important thing for me was the stadium, the people at the club and their style of play.”
In August 1993, Bergkamp made his debut in a 2-1 victory against San Siro. However, under manager Osvaldo Bagnoli’s weak management, the team performed poorly in the league. It wasn’t until Bagnoli’s replacement Gianpiero Marini took charge in 1994, that the team (and Bergkamp) got to shine. Despite only finishing 13th in Serie A, they won the UEFA Cup, with Bergkamp securing 8 goals and being named the competition’s joint top scorer.
Stress injuries and fatigue from the 1994 World Cup, paired with another change in the club’s management during Bergkamp’s second season at Inter Milan, he suffered another disappointing campaign. Scoring only 5 goals in 26 appearances, Bergkamp’s relationship with the Italian press and fans began to sour. His poor performance on the pitch saw one Italian publication rename their award “Donkey of the Week” to “Bergkamp of the Week”, while his shy personality and preference to go home after matches was seen as disinterest. The club ended the league season in 6th place and failed to retain the UEFA Cup, being eliminated in the second round. In 1995, the club was bought by Massimo Moratti, who promised to invest heavily in the team. With Moratti preparing to transform the team, Bergkamp transferred to Arsenal for a fee of £7.5million.
Bergkamp debuted in the 1995/96 league season. However, he struggled to adapt to the English game and failed to score in the next six league matches, seeming to bring his troubles from Italy with him as he was ridiculed in the national press. However, the appointment of Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager in 1996 marked a turning point in Bergkamp’s career. Wenger seemed to be the first to recognise Bergkamp’s talent, putting him at the centre of the team’s forward play.
In this new position, Bergkamp held much more influence on the team. In the 1997/98 season, he was instrumental in helping Arsenal complete a domestic league and cup double – taking the Premier League title from reigning champions Manchester United. With 22 goals and a recorded strike rate of 0.57, Bergkamp became the club’s top goal scorer. However, his season was cut short as Bergkamp was sent off for elbowing midfielder Steve Lomas, getting a three-match suspension, followed by an injury which caused him to spend the rest of the season on the bench. Despite this, Bergkamp was awarded the PFA Players’ Player of the Year – making him only the third non-British player to be recognised as an outstanding performer in English football.
The next season saw Arsenal fail to retain their Premier League title, but despite this, Bergkamp finished as the club’s second-top scorer in all competitions with 16 goals and the top assist provider in the Premier League with 13 assists. The team later lost in the FA Cup semi-final after a failed penalty shot by Bergkamp. After such a crucial miss, Bergkamp did not take another penalty shot for the remainder of his career. The disappointments continued into the 1999/2000 season as the club finished second in the league and failed to secure a win in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final.
Success finally came in the 2001/02 season as Arsenal regained the league and won the FA Cup. Bergkamp played in 33 league matches that season, setting up 15 goals. However, in January 2002, he was shown the red card and banned for three matches – two in the league, and one FA Cup round. His appeal against the ban proved unsuccessful and he did not return to the pitch until March 2002.
In the 2002/03 season, Arsenal failed to retain the championship. Despite this, Bergkamp scored his 100th goal for Arsenal as they won the FA Cup for the second consecutive year, and in 2003, he signed a one-year extension at the club. The 2003/04 season saw the club reclaim their league title as they became the first English team in more than a century to go through the entire domestic league season unbeaten. At the end of the season, Bergkamp signed a further extension to his contract, committing himself to another year with the club.
However, in February 2005, Bergkamp was shown a red card for shoving defender Danny Cullip. His appeal of this decision was rejected by The Football Association, causing him to miss the club’s next three domestic games. When he came back to the pitch, he was on top form, being man of the match in Arsenal’s final home match of the season with 1 goal and 3 assists in a 7-0 win. He was received well, with fans chanting “one more year” – a wish that Bergkamp fulfilled when he signed another one-year contract extension after the 2005 FA Cup Final.
Bergkamp was so well-loved, in fact, that after much campaigning from Arsenal fans, the club designated one of its Highbury matchday themes to him – “Bergkamp Day” took place on 15 April 2006. The day celebrated the player’s contribution to Arsenal, with fans wearing t-shirts that sports his national team’s colour, his initials, and his squad number. Soon after, Bergkamp retired from his career as a professional footballer.
Ajax Amsterdam U21
Appearances: 3 / Goals: 2
Appearances: 234 / Goals: 118 / Assists: 18
UEFA Cup Winner
2x Dutch Cup Winner
Appearances: 72 / Goals: 21 / Assists: 4
UEFA Cup Winner
Appearances: 403 / Goals: 110 / Assists: 89
3x English Champion
4x English FA Cup Winner
3x English Super Cup Winner
5x Top scorer
3x Player of the Year
Young Player of the Year
2x Footballer of the Year
Speaking of Bergkamp, Sol Campbell says: “He was strong, quick and he was a genius on the ball. He could be very clever in his movement of the ball. He was a magician and an incredibly tough, but skilful guy.”
“I remember a lot of assists with Ashley”, Bergkamp says, before praising his immense skills: “There hasn’t been a right-winger born who’ll track back that far!”
Where Is He Now?
Bergkamp retired in 2006, insisting that he would not go into coaching and instead focusing on travelling and spending time with his family. However, in 2008, he began a fast-track coaching diploma for former Dutch international footballers and took on a trainee role at his former club, Ajax. In 2008, he was appointed assistant for the newly formed Netherlands B team, before returning to Ajax to formally coach the U12 youth team. In 2010, he was appointed assistant manager of the U19 youth team. In 2011, he was named De Boer’s assistant at Ajax. In 2017, Bergkamp was fired from his management role.