Dennis Bergkamp at Arsenal: An earthling named Dennis

Dennis Bergkamp at Arsenal: An earthling named Dennis

This summer during the transfer window, So Foot returns every day of the week to a transfer that marked its time in its own way. For this 37th episode, focus on Dennis Bergkamp’s aviophobia, which pushed him to negotiate a rather special clause when he signed for Arsenal in the summer of 1995. A story of nasty little planes, European coercion and stands malicious.

“I have this problem and I have to live with it. I can’t do anything about it, it’s psychological and I can’t explain it. I panicked. It starts the night before, when I can’t sleep. I haven’t flown for two years” . This confession is that of Dennis Bergkamp, ​​delivered one evening in October 1996. That day, the Dutch striker was in Wales with his selection for a qualifying match for the 98 World Cup. , he drove all the way to the Netherlands to join the training camp, then drove back to Cardiff, alone, while the team flew. Terrorized by flying machines, Bergkamp would not have been such a great man in football if Arsenal had lacked understanding when signing him.

The Non-Flying Dutchman

This phobia of the plane, Dennis Bergkamp had it almost since the beginning of his career because of a trauma dating from 1989. While he was still at Ajax, an air crash in Suriname took the life of his teammate Lloyd Doesburg.

“We were traveling in nasty little planes that shake all the time. My phobia got so bad that I looked up at the sky during away games to see what the weather was like. Were there clouds ahead? Sometimes I was worried about the flight home while I was playing football.Dennis Bergkamp, ​​anchored in the ground.

Of Surinamese origin, the latter was invited like many players to go to the country for an exhibition match against a local team. Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard were also invited, but their clubs preferred that they decline the offer. Touched by this tragedy, Bergkamp no longer felt so comfortable in the air, but the Dutchman continued to fly regardless. It must be said that it was mandatory if he wanted to go to the American World Cup in 1994. During the transatlantic flight with the Dutch selection, however, there would have been great turbulence and even a bomb threat caused by a bad joke. ‘a journalist. What completely disturb Bergkamp, ​​already not reassured by his previous experiences in Italy. After the World Cup, the striker experienced a downturn during the 1994-1995 season with Inter. “We were traveling in nasty little planes that were shaking all the time. It was so cramped that I became claustrophobic. I felt so bad, I started to develop such a dislike, that I suddenly understood: I didn’t want to do this anymore. My phobia got so bad that I looked up at the sky during away games to see what the weather was like. Were there clouds ahead? Sometimes I was concerned about the return flight while I was playing football” explained the main concerned in his autobiography Stillness and Speed: My Storypublished in 2013.

Failed, partly because of this fear which distracted him on the pitch, Bergkamp was pushed out by Inter in the summer of 1995. Knowing the player’s potential, Arsenal jumped at the chance and even the most expensive recruit in its history. In a position of strength to negotiate, the Dutchman asks for a very specific clause in his contract: a formal ban on forcing him to board a plane. It doesn’t matter if it costs him 100,000 pounds every month. In other words, Bergkamp is giving up on away matches not accessible by land. “It suited him well to play in the Premier League since the trips are quite short in Englandsays Gilles Grimandi, his teammate with the Gunners from 1997 to 2002. When we arrived on the tarmac, he stayed on the bus while we flew back. On some short trips like going to Birmingham, he arrived before because he drove directly from the training center while we had to go through the airport. . This peculiarity has earned him the nickname of “Non-Flying Dutchman” derived from that of Johan Cruyff.

Down to earth

During his first three seasons at the club, his fear did not penalize him more than that. Bergkamp makes most of the journeys by car and the Premier League’s most exotic destination, in this case St James’ Park in Newcastle upon Tyne, is just three hours away by train. The story thickens from 1998, when Arsenal began to regularly qualify for the Champions League. “He had a driver. When we went far abroad, he left the day before after training while the rest of the group moved the same dayremembers Gilles Grimandi. But when he played during the week, it often condemned the Saturday game because of fatigue. I was very afraid of flying too, but I couldn’t afford to miss matches unlike him! »

“He had a driver. When we went far abroad, he left the day before after training while the rest of the group moved the same day. But when he played during the week, it often condemned the Saturday game because of fatigue.Gilles Grimandi, ex-teammate of Bergkamp

If he does not really understand the irrational fear of Bergkamp, ​​Arsène Wenger continues to trust his striker, who caps around 30 league games each season. Before a decisive meeting against Fiorentina to get out of the group stage of the Champions League in 1999, the Alsatian left him no choice. “When Bergkamp is not there, we miss him greatly. Traveling on the road for him will be very tiring but that’s how it is. If he makes the trip, I won’t put him on the bench” , warns the Alsatian. The Dutchman therefore travels the more than 1500 kilometers which separate London from Florence to leave with an unsatisfactory 0-0. He will also travel to Barcelona a fortnight later. Two of his rare trips to Europe during his London years.

Even if he misses a slew of games, his talent allows him to remain a leader in the locker room and a difficult starter for many seasons. “Faced with a group, it’s not easy to display a weakness like that. It’s the kind of thing that’s supposed to weaken you in the eyes of others.judge Grimandi. When he played, he was lit by the outside stands. If he had a penalty to take, there were 20,000 people in front of him flying to distract him. . In selection, his fear rarely blocks him since his team is strong enough to ensure outside without him. However, if his participation in Euro 1996 in England, the 1998 World Cup in France and Euro 2000 between Belgium and the Netherlands do not pose a problem, the next World Cup in Asia would, according to some rumors the cause of his early retirement from international football at the age of 31. But obviously these hours spent alone in transport allowed him to think of other ways of flying in the field. Maybe even that on March 2, 2002, on a train taking him from Kings Cross to Newcastle, he had thought, for three hours, of this big bridge check that would make a defender cold, which would take him to seventh heaven.

By Gabriel Joly
Comments by Gilles Grimandi recorded by GJ


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