Interviews

The big interview: Dennis Bergkamp – "I never expected to be at Arsenal for 11 years"

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If your family followed Manchester United when you were young, and your favourite player growing up was Glenn Hoddle, why on earth did you join Arsenal?
Jonathan Bowen, via email
My father was a Denis Law fan, not a Manchester United fan. And I wasn't a Tottenham fan; I was a Hoddle fan. My plan was always to come to England after Italy. I loved the passion, the crowds. My agent knew David Dein because Glenn Helder was at Arsenal, and they came on the phone. Bruce Rioch and Dein made a lot of promises; talked about playing in a more attacking way. I couldn't take that seriously because of the Inter experience. But I thought: Arsenal? OK. They'd won the Cup Winners' Cup, they had Ian Wright, they had a settled team with eight or nine who always played. It felt stable, and I thought: "That suits me. It's a big club and it's the way I want to play football. And Highbury is nice. Let's see what happens." I never expected to be there 11 years, but from day one it was exactly how I wanted it to be.

Arsenal was famous for having a big drinking culture in the '90s with the likes of Tony Adams, Paul Merson and Ray Parlour – was that a bit of a shock?
Andy Edwards, London
It was something I just couldn't understand! Pre-season we went to a training camp in Sweden and trained twice a day. In the evening I went for a walk with my wife and saw all the Arsenal players sitting outside a pub. I thought it was unbelievable. The funny thing is you never noticed it in training because they were so strong and they always gave 100 per cent. I didn't drink, and they respected me. They did, and I thought: 'It's part of England so you've got to respect that.'

The next year Arsene came and it all changed. Later, we were successful because of our English defenders. They put the spirit in the team, which the Europeans lacked. They would say, "Get stuck in!" and all sorts of other phrases. I loved it, especially: "How much do you want it?" I thought about it. It stuck with me. Do you really want it more than the opponent? How much are you prepared to give? How much time do you want to put in to become better? It's the English warrior tradition; a moral code. We go out together and we're going to give 100 per cent.

Pal's Poser

Lee Dixon, former team-mate: "Which was the best team you played in: the Double-winners of 1998 (that I played in) or the 2003 team that went unbeaten through the whole season?" 

Dennis says: "I'd have to say the Invincibles. We had games where I had the feeling, '3-0 or 4-0 today', without making an effort."

You were a bit of an assist machine at Arsenal: are there any that stick out? How about that pass to Freddie Ljungberg against Juventus at Highbury, when you beat two players and dinked it over the top?   
Anita Johnson, London
That was my favourite, though it was not like me to have the ball at my feet all that time. I was waiting for Freddie to make his run. At that time he was always coming from somewhere and I could find him. I remember a lot of assists with Ashley Cole as well. I'd see him out of the corner of my eye. He'd begin to move. If he stops, it's a silly pass, but he'd keep running, because he knew what I was going to do and I'd put it just outside the far post, inside the box, and he would just come across with pace.

You can't defend that. There hasn't been a right-winger born who'll track back that far! You can compare it to a quarterback: you want to see and play the perfect pass. The pleasure of scoring goals is known, but for me the pleasure of the assist came close. It's like solving a puzzle. I always had a picture in my head of how things would look two or three seconds later. I could calculate it. There's a tremendous pleasure in doing something that someone else couldn't see.

Were you worried for your place in the team when Bruce Rioch left Arsenal at the end of your first season? 
Arthur Potts, Halifax
At that age, with the way I was playing, I was never worried about my place. When Bruce left I was worried about the Italian syndrome happening again. We had a good pre-season with Bruce and suddenly – bang – he's gone. I didn't know what to expect. Then I heard Arsene Wenger was coming in and I knew his reputation. That did calm me down, because I knew the way he liked to play at Monaco.

Your hat-trick goal against Leicester in 1997, the winner against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup quarter-final, the flick and finish against Newcastle in 2002 – which was best?
James Jones, London
The goal against Argentina is my top goal. To score like that, in my style, on that stage. I love nice football but it has to mean something, and that got us to the World Cup semi-final. My reaction after the goal was emotional because I remembered the dreams of the World Cup I had when I was seven or eight. How did I do it? First, there's eye contact with Frank de Boer – he's going to give the ball. Then: sprint away, get six yards away from the defender. The ball is coming over my shoulder. I run in a straight line, jump up to meet the ball, kill it dead. The second touch turns inside, to make sure [Roberto] Ayala is gone, and get a better angle on goal. I aim for the far post and let it curve in.

After the second touch I know this can't go wrong. No chance! You give absolutely everything, like your life is leading up to this moment. As for the one against Newcastle, my first thought was: "I'm going to do whatever it takes to go to the goal." Ten yards before the ball arrived, I made my decision to turn the defender. The Leicester goal was pure, but there was luck with the Newcastle one. Against Leicester, when the pass came I knew what I wanted to do: control, ball inside, finish.