Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp is as enigmatic off the field as he was graceful on the pitch.
But in his autobiography, Stillness And Speed: My Story (£20, Simon & Schuster), he tells his own story at last, from the lows of an unhappy spell in Italy to the highs of his incredible, trophy-laden Gunners career. In this extract from the interview-based book he discusses the Invincibles, the teams that changed the face of football and who was better - him or Thierry Henry…
Stillness And Speed: My Story
“I saw a quote from myself from that time - the Invincibles era - where I said something like we were rewriting football. I think that’s true. What Arsène said about me trying to reach perfection was true for the whole team at that time. We were really close to perfection. Of course, you had some silly games where you can’t kick a ball, but most of the time we were just unbelievable, really close to the way I think football should be played.
“Thierry mentioned that feeling of going on to the pitch knowing you are going to win. Yes, that’s what it was like. You don’t know by how many goals, and you don’t know when you’re going to score, but you know you are going to win. You have to take that from me and from Thierry, but it’s an unbelievable feeling. Like running in the hundred metres and you’re Usain Bolt. That’s something unbelievable for a sportsman. It’s what you try to aim for. Perfection. And that’s what we had in those years. You knew you were the best team in the league and everyone was smiling and everyone was happy and everyone had a contribution to make...
“It was fantastic. You knew exactly where to put the ball. You knew exactly what kind of run the other players would make for you, because you knew what they were thinking. It’s really interesting within a team. At the time you just experience it. But when you look back… it was an amazing period. Amazing performances. It’s funny to me how Thierry remembers all the details. I look back and it seems it was a very short time between me arriving at Arsenal and the team starting to have success. In fact, it was about two and a half or three years, but in my mind it was like half a season. Then we had success. Then it slows down a bit. Then you come to that period where it really flows, and you stay at a certain level and set yourself different standards.”
Can you compare the Invincibles to other teams you played in or saw?
“Everyone talks about the Dutch team in 1998 and 2000, which played really good football. If you look at other teams, then of course you come to that AC Milan team but in my opinion the team that stands out is the Barcelona of Guardiola. When they beat Man United [in the 2009 Champions League final]… I mean that was just from a different planet, with all the movement, the one and two touches, and one player, Messi, who just made a difference every single time he was allowed to make a difference… That was football that all other teams had to live up to. They set the standard and other teams start brainstorming and thinking what can they do about it.
“For me, there are lots of great teams, but they don’t all rewrite football. Of course, Manchester United was a big team, but what did they do different to what other teams had done before? The Liverpool I remember was the late eighties team of John Barnes. Other Liverpool teams won more trophies, but that John Barnes team played the most fantastic football. They could pass the ball all day long. Other Arsenal teams played some good football and won trophies. But who are the teams that play football that stays in your mind? Then you come to teams like AC Milan and you think: ‘Wait a minute, they really changed the game’.”
There’s an argument among Arsenal fans as to which of the two of you was the better. Thierry is very generous and says you were the Master, it was always your team and so on. How did you see it?
“The easy way, of course, would be to say Thierry was the bigger player. We’ve got so much respect for each other that we would say that about each other. But look at the things Thierry achieved at Arsenal. In a short time, he became the main goalscorer and won trophies. His pace and goalscoring were unbelievable. And he always had such drive. People talk about my drive, but look at his. In training he made others look silly. I always felt Thierry had a point to prove in every game, in every training session, which was quite similar to me, though I did it in a different way…”Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source