In today’s world, the word legend tends to get thrown around a little too frequently. But in the case of Dutch soccer star Dennis Bergkamp, the word legend fits perfectly. He became a hero with the Dutch National Team and was a star for multiple club teams. Between his pure talent and all that he accomplished on the field, Bergkamp is a true legend of the game.
Throughout his career – and even now that he’s retired, fans, teammates, coaches, and pundits have had nothing but great things to say about Bergkamp. Former teammate Thierry Henry, an incredible player in his own right, described Bergkamp as a “dream of a striker.” Former player and media personality Jan Mulder, who played a generation before Bergkamp, applauded him for having “the finest technique” of any Dutch player, which is no small feat. It’s a shame that Bergkamp isn’t a player today because fans would flock to platforms like FanDuel sportsbook to bet money on him to score goals and his team to win games.
Bergkamp’s journey to becoming a legend began the day he was born. His father was an amateur soccer player who played in the lower levels of the Dutch system. When Bergkamp was born, his father decided to name him after Denis Law, a great striker during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s who played for Manchester United, among other teams, and scored 30 international goals for Scotland. It’s almost as if Bergkamp’s father knew his son was destined to be a soccer star from the day he was born.
At age 11, Bergkamp joined the youth system at Ajax, which is arguably the most prestigious club in Dutch soccer history. While coming up through the Ajax system, Bergkamp was exposed to the system of Total Football. This system preaches versatility, allowing him to be exposed to every position but goalie at a young age to help develop his skill set and allow Bergkamp to find the place on the field that suits him best. As a result, he was able to play multiple positions at different stages of his career despite being best known for his ability to control the ball, dribble past defenders, and register both goals and assists with either foot.
When he was just 17, Bergkamp made his professional debut with Ajax. At the time, Ajax was managed by Johan Cruyff, who is also one of the biggest legends in the history of Dutch soccer. It was Cruyff who gave Bergkamp his professional debut in December 1986. It was a moment that may have been overlooked at the time but turned out to be one of the most important moments in Dutch soccer history, linking arguably its two biggest stars.
Of course, Bergkamp was an immediate star at Ajax. He scored just seven goals in 39 matches in the Eredivisie (Holland’s top division) during his first two seasons. However, he scored eight goals in 25 matches during the 1989-90 season while helping Ajax win the Eredivisie title. After that season, Bergkamp finally started to blossom into a star, scoring 75 league goals over the next three seasons, leading the Eredivisie in goals each season and earning Dutch Footballer of the Year honors in 1992 and 1993. He also scored six goals in 11 European matches during the 1991-92 season while helping Ajax win the UEFA Cup that season.
In 1993, Bergkamp’s club career in his home country came to an end. He had outgrown the Eredivisie and needed to leave Ajax in order to achieve bigger and better things. Unfortunately, his two seasons at Inter Milan immediately after leaving Ajax didn’t go as planned. Bergkamp scored just 11 goals in 52 Serie A matches for Inter, struggling to build chemistry with fellow striker Ruben Sosa. However, those struggles led Bergkamp to move to Arsenal in 1995, a move that allowed him to reestablish himself as a star and turned him into a legend.
At Arsenal, Bergkamp quickly formed a great partnership with striker Ian Wright. His willingness and ability to be a playmaker was a perfect fit with Wright’s instincts in front of the goal. Bergkamp was just as good at collecting assists as he was at scoring goals and often preferred to be the player setting up his teammates for goals. That attitude and Bergkamp’s diverse skill set helped him to immediately transform Arsenal from a mid-table club when he arrived to a team that won both the Premier League title and the FA Cup in 1998.
During his first four seasons at Arsenal, Bergkamp scored 51 goals, including some truly spectacular highlight-reel goals that are still remembered by the Arsenal faithful today. Much like his partnership with Wright, who left Arsenal after the Gunners won the Premier League and FA Cup in 1998, Bergkamp also had great chemistry with Henry, who joined Arsenal in 1999 and was a teammate of Bergkamp’s for the rest of his time with the Gunners. Together, they became one of the most potent duos of the Premier League during the early 2000s.
“Dennis is the best player I have ever played with as a partner,” Henry said of Bergkamp at the end of his career. “It is a dream for a striker to have him in the team with you.”
In addition to leaving his mark at both Ajax and Arsenal, Bergkamp was a longtime star of the Dutch National Team. He represented the Netherlands at two World Cups (1994 and 1998) and two European Championships (1992 and 1996). Of the 37 goals Bergkamp scored in 79 appearances for the Netherlands, the best is undoubtedly a 90th-minute game-winner against Argentina in the quarterfinals of the 1998 World Cup that sent the Dutch to the semifinals. That was the penultimate goal of his international career and at the time made him the highest-scoring player in Dutch history, surpassing the 35 goals scored by Faas Wilkes.
While several other Dutch players have surpassed his record for internal goals and clubs like Ajax and Arsenal have had no shortage of great players, Bergkamp continues to stand out more than a decade after his career ended. Ajax and Arsenal fans still regard him as one of the greatest players in the history of those prestigious clubs. At the same time, Dutch pundits and managers struggle to name a more impactful player in Holland’s history. In other words, Bergkamp’s career and accomplishments have stood the test of time, which is why he is truly one of the legends in soccer history.