The Premier League has seen its fair share of foreign imports since its conception, often due to the lure of playing in one of the greatest leagues in the world, not to mention sky high wages thanks to the massive interest from a global audience; but of all those who have come to England, few have had the impact of Dennis Bergkamp.
In the long list of Arsenal managers down the years Bruce Rioch’s name is rarely mentioned alongside the likes of Herbert Chapman, George Graham or Arsene Wenger though he is responsible for overseeing the arrival of, arguably, the most influential overseas player to ever ply their trade in the Premier League.
Of course there are the exceptions. Eric Cantona’s talismanic arrival at Old Trafford, not to mention Chelsea’s foreign legion at Stamford Bridge during the mid-1990s; a time when foreign players often had something of a reputation for only using England’s top-flight as a means to top-up their pension after a long and fruitful career playing in Europe.
The Dutchman had made his name with Ajax before a lucrative transfer to Serie A outfit Internazionale in 1993 at a time when Italian football was the hotbed of the game but Bergkamp struggled to fit in and after failing to impress a number of managers would leave the San Siro after just two seasons.
Seizing their opportunity the Gunners swooped and smashed the previous club record of £2.5 million and spent £7.5 million to bring the unassuming Dutchman to Highbury in a move which not only illustrated the huge amount of money that existed in the game at the time; but also the ambitious nature of the north London outfit.
However, Bergkamp was far from an instant hit with the Arsenal faithful with many questioning the supposed lack of mental strength which had dogged his time in Italy. The doubters wouldn’t have to wait long before they caught a glimpse of the outstanding technique and vision which would later become his trademark.
He would go on to be the catalyst in one of the greatest Arsenal sides of all-time, slotting in seamlessly alongside the likes of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry; the ultimate equilibrium of brains and brawn which would become one of the most dominant teams of the English game for almost a decade.
The Arsenal that Bergkamp joined was a million miles from the club of today and didn’t even own their own training ground, having to share facilities with the students at University College London, while he later admitted to being shocked by the drinking habits of his teammates, but the addition of the Dutchman brought about huge changes off the field too.
The arrival of Wenger as manager in 1996 along with a host of other international players would see a huge overhaul of the club both on and off the field in which Bergkamp would play a huge part - using his experience and influence to revolutionise the club and the English game as a whole. Quite simply he redefined the club.
He was often referred to as the “Professor” due to his methodical approach to the game. On the field though, he was more of a conductor as he was able to combine jinking runs, feints, dribbles and back heels with his ice cold demeanour to frightening effect.
“I always tried to lob the goalkeeper,” he once said. “People used to say, ‘Oh, you’re always only trying to make a nice goal’. But I said, “Listen, if the goalie is a little bit off his line, how much space do you have on his left or right? There is more. It’s a question of mathematics.”
In his 11 years at the club Bergkamp won a total of three Premier League titles and four FA Cups while also being a vital member of the ‘Invincibles’ side which went through the entire 2003/04 season without losing a game in the league over a period of 49 games to forever cement his place as an Arsenal great.
Before his arrival Arsenal were often ridiculed for their style of play while being mocked by opposition fans who would chant, "boring, boring Arsenal." But Bergkamp's signing changed everything and almost overnight Arsenal were seen as a stylish and sophisticated outfit which other clubs would strive to emulate.
And thanks to his incredible contributions to English football Dennis Bergkamp will not only be remembered as an Arsenal legend, quite simply he will be looked-upon as a footballing icon who entertained us all while raising the bar for future generations of foreign stars who would follow in his footsteps for years to come.