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  1. Bergkamp the Improver Book Review: Stillness and Speed – Dennis Bergkamp Ah, Dennis Bergkamp. In my opinion the greatest player Arsenal has ever had. And why? Because he could do things I have never seen anyone else do. I could watch a highlights video of him forever. Newcastle anyone? Bergkamp's control was magical Of course, Henry is regarded as our GOAT and probably rightly so, but it is illuminating that he rates Bergkamp as the best he has ever played with and that is because Dennis was the fulcrum of our attack and midfield. Ian Wright (probably regarded as our second GOAT) credits him with upping his game and wishes he could have played with him a lot sooner. Dennis could have been alongside Wolverine Bergkamp trained hard but smart, always watching what the ball does, how it moves, bounces, and how to control its movement. I would challenge anyone to demonstrate another player who could take a moving ball at any height and control it with, it seems, any part of his body. The ball stuck to him like glue. He was like a mutant and maybe we were lucky Professor X never snapped him up for the Xavier Institute. Better, better, better This book emphasizes one area above all else – Dennis Bergkamp improved Arsenal and Dutch football by being there, by showing his intelligence, by extraordinary diligence, and his never-ending striving for perfection. The Japanese concept of Kaizen could have been written by him, in which you must always push to do better, and is regarded as the manual of how Japanese became the world leaders in manufacturing. Cruyff always had the right ideas about football So what is this book? Well it is totally different from other soccer books in that it is less about his life and more about his football philosophy. But first I should explain that it is really two books, there is a huge Dutch version by Jaap Visser which basically includes both elements of this football book, it includes all the chronology of his life and covers what a normal football work does, photographs, upbringing, club records, etc., and the English version by David Winner which is a collection of interviews with Dennis and all the critical people in his life. Johan Cruyff, Arsene Wenger, Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and many others are interviewed and the ideas are bounced back and forth between them as Dennis comments on what they are saying and sometimes he sees things a bit different. Toy with the keeper If you read nothing else, read the extraordinary piece on freezing the goalkeeper, which Henry says was the biggest improvement he ever made to his game. When you are in on goal, you keep your eyes on the keeper, you do not look at the ball, and the keeper gets discommoded. You must always be calm but watch as the keeper panics. Henry became almost unstoppable when in on goal, we always knew he would score as we would with Bergkamp. I suspect that the two of them combined scored way more beautiful goals than any other pairing. Henry could put a keeper in the North Pole And hey, we could do with Bergkamp back and improving our goalscorers. Too many panic in front of goal, and our two icemen never did. Bring back Bergkamp and Pep would do poo poo in his trousers. Cruyff – the Dutch Master of all Johan Cruyff pops up all the time in this book and he has had an extraordinary influence on Bergkamp but also vice versa. I know some of my readers are young and I will give a brief resume of Cruyff here. He is regarded as one of the greatest players ever but I will nominate him as the greatest influence for good on the modern game. He pushed for total football, a strong press, an emphasis on creativity and attack, and that players must have the intelligence to decide what is best on the pitch. This he shared with Arsene Wenger. Players were not robots, and constantly telling them what they must do, a failing in the modern game, means that parking the bus can often work in the weaker team’s favour. Arteta, unfortunately, has this failing. He micromanages the team constantly which means the creative players can be stifled. Space – the football frontier Bergkamp believes that space is the most important element of football and you must have a clear vision in order to achieve that. Your opponent must never be able to predict what you will do and if he is confused, then you have space. It is why he put so much effort into controlling the ball, it creates space. Defenders could never predict Mesut Ozil Here he is on Mesut Ozil: “First touch in football is so important. If you talk about Mesut people say he is not marked properly, he always has a lot of space but he has got that space because he can create space by his vision and his first touch. With that you create your own time.” Dennis was multi-faceted This is a book for the football fan, certainly not just Arsenal ones. It shows a complicated person, a guy regarded as a gentleman yet hard as nails according to Martin Keown, and well able to handle the beasts of defenders prevalent in English soccer. He could not be pushed off the ball and I guess all the training with Adams, Keown and Bould helped a lot with that. Did I mention beast defenders? The book shows the unhappy time in Serie A. Still, Bergkamp learned a lot from them about diet, alcohol, and looking after yourself which slotted in perfectly to the next phase with Arsene Wenger who obliterated the English fast food and ten pints regime still prevalent at the time. Bergkamp gives great credit to how the English players could still perform strongly on the pitch and praises his Arsenal teammates for so doing. He did see them embrace the Wenger method though and add years to their game. To win all by improving Bergkamp, Cruyff and Wenger are shown as three different sides of the same coin. They didn’t always agree but perfection was what they all aimed for. Bergkamp was Invincible, thanks to Wenger, although I am sure they regard perfection as winning all matches. Cruyff was the genius who brought Barcelona to its peak. His flaw was that he had a penchant for argument, as the Dutch team are still famous for. Dennis preferred debate and not confrontation. But that dominant belief that you can always do better is the link that binds all three as they were conscious of it. I would say most great players were not. Rather they just loved being with a ball and doing amazing things with it. Everything must be improved I say read this book for a different perspective on what football has been for the past fifty years. It is a rare glimpse into what really goes on in the minds of the greatest names in world football. It is a cerebral tome about thinking about what you can do with a ball, what it does in certain circumstances and how you can train your body to use that to your advantage. Again I repeat that Dennis Bergkamp is the greatest footballer Arsenal ever had and the main playing reason, outside Wenger, that we won so many trophies. He made all the guys around him better. And I know, like me, you can watch those video clips forever.
  2. Our best of our crop The home grown team Martinez VS Jennings Rice Adams O’Leary Cole Dixon Toure Campbell Sansom Saka Fabregas Storey Brady Ljungberg Cazorla Vieira Pires Radford Smith Rowe Bergkamp Henry This week I turn my attention to our best home grown players. The rules being, like last week, that they have to be brought through from the younger age squads and also in my fan timeframe from 1969 onwards. Again it is incredibly hard but I have made my choices and this week, as promised, I will go head to head against the bought team I chose last week. Martinez was the only choice in goal It is hard to find a keeper from my period 1969 to today. We don’t bring them through homegrown. Graham Stack never made it and he was my second choice. Wilson, Rimmer, Jennings, Lukic, Seaman, Lehmann and the rest were bought. So step forward Emilio Martinez, a true Arsenal man who dedicated a great part of his career to us. He only had one great season but what a season. He never let us down. And he won’t let down this team. But on the head to head from last time I have to put him behind Pat Jennings. So one-nil to the buys. Defence was far harder to choose Pat Rice against Lee Dixon? Well, this is difficult. Rice was such a great servant for us and Northern Ireland, but Dixon probably had that touch of class above him so I am going to go 2-0 to the buys as they race into a big lead. Pat Rice -one of our greatest servants Ashley Cole vs Kenny Sansom and Cole has to be the choice. 107 England caps. Lots of trophies and surely an England all time great. He shades Kenny Sansom in a tight race as Sansom was superb. 2-1 to the buys. Cole: Not so popular because of his (bad)choices Martin Keown couldn’t get into this team as a centreback despite being a giant of a player but our 2 longest serving players, Tony Adams and David O’Leary did. And I am going to give it to evens with Sol Campbell and Tony Adams leaving Kolo Toure and O'Leary out. So now it is 3-2 to the buys. No, I am not going to tell you who these legends are Midfield even harder Saka vs Ljungberg, oh no, how can I make this choice? I am going to give it to Saka for one reason. He is our best player at the moment, causing danger all the time whilst getting kicked unmercifully. Ljungberg was never our best player because, well, we had extraordinary players like Bergkamp, Henry and Viera in his time. So now it is 3-3. I couldn't leave these two out Fabregas vs Cazorla? Gus, why did you start this? This is impossible. Looking at great players we have bought vs players we have brought through and they are all brilliant. But I think I will go Fabregas, he was a genius, he stepped into the boots of Vieira, despite being a different sort of player and we didn’t really feel the difference. And now the homegrowns have made a comeback, 4-3. We did bring through some great players, didn’t we? The genius Spaniard that was Fabregas But now Peter Storey vs Patrick Vieira and I am so tempted to go for Storey. He was truly tough, but he made himself available all the time and was incredibly under rated. Alf Ramsay didn’t pick him for England for a long time regarding him as a clogger. When he finally did towards the end of his career, he said he had made a mistake and should have been playing him all along. He was like Roy Keane, he drove the team on and was always available for the ball. We could do with such a player now. But still, Patrick Vieira is Patrick Vieira. I have to give it to him. Now it is 4-4 and it is looking tight going down to the wire. Probably the most underrated player we ever had - Peter Storey Robert Pires vs Liam Brady? I hope you now realise how difficult this is. Two legends, guys we will love forever. But I am going to give it to Brady for the same reason I gave it to Saka. He was our best player in the team winning 1st division player of the year. And so now the homegrowns have got in front late in the game – 5-4. Brady- our best player of his time Attack was also a hard choice I put Smith Rowe in that Bergkamp role as I feel that is where he can be killer for us. Scoring goals, creating assists, making a danger all the time around the box. He could turn out to be a world superstar. But John Radford, despite being a super forward, and always being a threat, was no Henry. Frank Stapleton and Ray Kennedy were my next choices. At least the front two are easy. Bergkamp and Henry. I need say no more. And so the buys wing it at the end 6-5. I would love to see this team playing against the other in real life assuming all players are at their best. I suspect the buys might just shade it again but you never know. John Radford - a seriously under rated striker Some of the decisions were so hard. But I had to choose 11 for both sides. For the home grown team in defence there were Sammy Nelson, Terry Neill, Martin Keown and others who didn’t make it. In midfield there was a huge choice, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Graham Rix, Jack Wilshire, Charlie George and lots of others were considered. In attack we aren’t so strong, though. Ray Kennedy, Kevin Campbell, Niall Quinn and Frank Stapleton spring to mind but none are like the legends up front of Bergkamp and Henry, one of the strongest partnerships ever at any club. Nketiah and Balogun, or Biereth could make it and displace the two I chose but I can’t see them being better than Henry/Bergkamp. Let's cheer for our own So there you have it. I have chosen my best bought team and compared it to the home grown. My conclusion? That the bought team is a little better than the home grown. That buying well is the key to a great side, but bringing on your own gives far more satisfaction and fun for the fans. The Arsenal chant of “He’s one of our own” reverberates throughout the decades. And for sure they will play football the Arsenal way. And hey, let’s raise a goalkeeper or two.
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