Do you remember where you were in June of 1995? Well, I guess a lot of you would say "kindergarten" or "elementary school", because good god I'm old. Anyway, in June of 1995, I was about four years in to my Arsenal obsession, and still a non-regular-user of the Internet, which meant I had to get my Arsenal news from either Fox Sports World, which if you can believe it was even worse than Fox Soccer, or by going to a newsstand (Ed. Note: This is a place where newspapers (Ed. Note: These were physical documents that were printed and sold that contained the news of the day) from around the country and around the world were sold) a few days after the weekend and either reading through (if I was broke) or buying (if I was feeling posh) English newspapers to get news about Arsenal.
On that fine June 20th, I turned on Fox Sports World, which was just starting to carry an hour of Sky Sports News every day, and heard some news that, at the time, made me go "ehhhhh, OK" because I had never heard of this person, but that day came news that Arsenal had signed Dennis Bergkamp from Inter for £7.5 million. All I saw at the time was a guy who didn't score much and couldn't hack it at Inter, who had finished sixth in the 1994-95 season.
This, friends, is why I am not a professional evaluator of sporting talent.
Bergkamp was the club's then-record signing, and the first player signed by Bruce Rioch, and both of those things combined to put a lot of pressure on the Dutchman as he settled into life at Highbury. His first stretch was kinda awful - he didn't score in six games, and as a guy who was brought in for a huge sum of money to score goals by the bagful, you can see why the Highbury faithful didn't take too kindly to Dennis at first. He finished that season with 11 goals in 33 appearances, which was fine but didn't really reflect how inconsistent his season was.
But then, next season, along came Arsene Wenger, who decided that rather than strand Bergkamp out on the wing, he'd be best used as the focal point of the midfield and of Arsenal's attack. This, to understate things a bit, unleashed a beast. Bergkamp rapidly became indispensable, largely because of his ability to pass the ball through or over six sets of feet and put it not just where the recipient wanted it, but also where Bergkamp knew the recipient would be by the time the ball got there. His vision and perception were otherworldly.
Oh, and he could score a bit, too. This one wasn't with Arsenal, but the whole sequence is just mindblowing - the pass, and then Dennis' touch, control, and calmness with the ball. I could watch that goal all day.
The only "downside" to Dennis was his unwillingness to fly - it stemmed from a traumatic flight once and it meant that he wasn't available for some of Arsenal's more far-flung Champions League games, and also for some games in Germany/Spain that he missed a league game around those matches, as he drove or took the train to get to the away match. I never really liked that about him - as a professional athlete whose job description requires travel, you'd think Arsenal would make him get counseling or drugs or whatever, in order to help him fly - but it's a minor blemish on an otherwise spotless record for Arsenal.
I could sit here and throw up thousands of links that demonstrate how awesome Dennis Bergkamp is, but I won't. I will just say how much of a treat it was to be able to watch Bergkamp, in his prime, do what he did, and watch him and Arsenal dominate so much for so long. One of the first Arsenal blogs, which is no longer around and whose name annoyingly eludes me at the moment, once said of Dennis that "someday, people will organize religions around this man". I'm not a religious person, but I'd convert if that were true. Dennis Bergkamp is one of a handful of Arsenal players who will be remembered long after all of us are gone, and I'm lucky I was able to see him in his prime.