Saturday 16 December 2017

Books: The Dutch Master: How Sir Dennis changed British football

Soccer: Dennis Bergkamp -- Stillness and Speed: My Story with David Winner Simon & Schuster, €16.99, 269 pages

Non flying Dutchman: Denis Bergkamp
Non flying Dutchman: Denis Bergkamp

Declan Burke

Manchester City fans may beg to differ, but it's becoming increasingly likely that this will be the year in which Arsenal FC claims the Premier League title for the first time since 2004.

Unbeaten for the entire season, the 'Invincibles' of 2004 were inspired by Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch Master who predated Arsène Wenger's arrival at Highbury and who, in tandem with Wenger, would transform a rather dour Arsenal team into one of the finest exponents of Total Football the Premier League has ever seen. David Winner is a self-proclaimed fan of both Bergkamp and the Dutch philosophy of football that created him, but Stillness and Speed isn't your standard hagiography.

Giuseppe Bergomi, the captain at Inter Milan during Bergkamp's ill-starred sojourn in Italy after his transfer from Ajax in 1993, isn't alone in his criticisms of Bergkamp's style of play and his lack of on-field leadership during that period.

Tony Adams, the iconic Arsenal captain, also recounts his crucial intervention with Bergkamp, galvanising a stylish but inconsistent deep-lying striker into becoming the maestro beloved of Arsenal fans and neutrals alike.

For the most part, however, and understandably so, the book is a celebration of Bergkamp's skill, vision and dedication.

An impressive list of interviewees that includes Bergomi, Adams, Thierry Henry, Johan Cruyff, Arsène Wenger, Patrick Viera and Ian Wright offer insights into Bergkamp's contribution to Ajax, Inter, Arsenal and the Dutch national team, virtually all of them employing superlatives to describe the player's passion as he pursued nothing less than utter perfection on the football field.

The book patiently explores the theory and philosophy of football, illustrating the ideas with potted highlights from Bergkamp's career: the phenomenal goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup; the physics-defying turn against Newcastle in 2002; the bewitching hat-trick against Leicester in 1997.

Tellingly, Bergkamp himself offers not a goal for his personal highlight but an assist for Freddie Lungberg in a Champions League game against Juventus in 2001-02.

All of which is intriguing to any football fan, but what makes Stillness and Speed such a fascinating read is the apparent contradictions of the man. The icy calm Bergkamp displayed on the pitch masked the personality of the chief practical joker in the Arsenal dressing room.

The clinical maestro who conducts the orchestra with his perfectly controlled passes is unable to master his own fears sufficiently to step on to an airplane. More recently, the ultimate team player, whose every move is calculated to benefit the group rather than burnish his individual glory, takes the side of his former mentor Johan Cruyff in a coup designed to revolutionise anew Ajax Football Club.

All told, it's an engrossing tale, and one smartly constructed by David Winner. Be warned, though, that buying this book might very well entail a further outlay on a DVD of Dennis Bergkamp's career highlights.

Available with free P&P on or by calling 091 709350

Irish Independent

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