Trawling through the veritable time consuming mechanism that is YouTube, it’s easy to get sucked into a virtual black hole of related videos and links. A quick glance at Champions League final highlights can suddenly lead to watching all 547 of Lionel Messi’s goals for Barcelona, clocking in at 68 minutes and 46 seconds. While it is unwise to judge a player on short highlight videos soundtracked by obnoxious euro thrash music, YouTube can serve as a useful nostalgic tool for a football fan.
All of the above have received pages of adoration and extended briefs of analysis. Casual viewers of the sport naturally gravitate towards goals as a means to find enjoyment in football, but that tends to overlook all the other elements that can provide sources of inspiration. A moment in Bergkamp’s career that deserves honorary mention – even today – is his assist against Juventus in the Champions League all the way back in 2001.
If anyone requires evidence of just how farcically brilliant Bergkamp was, simply point them in the direction of this goal. Arsenal were leading the Bianconeri 2-1 with only a couple of minutes to spare, back when the Champions League hopelessly squeezed in two bloated group stage periods before Christmas. Bergkamp started on the bench but replaced Nwankwo Kanu in an effort to spread his calmness to his teammates and see the lead through.
As Juve understandably marched forward in an effort to snatch an equaliser, they left large gaps and opportunities for an Arsenal break away. Inevitably, as Juve’s attack malfunctioned, Arsenal countered. Patrick Vieira found Freddie Ljungberg with half the pitch to run into. He in turn found Bergkamp in a wide right position. Bergkamp proceeded towards the right edge of the penalty area. He paused, lifted his head to survey the defensive alignment of Juventus and look for the support of his own attackers.
What happened next was extraordinary. Faced by Paolo Montero, he checked inside on his left foot. As Montero engaged him, Bergkamp spun 360 degrees onto his right side before circumnavigating back to his left, the ball attached like a magnate to his favoured right foot the entire time. Alessandro Birindelli attempted to get back and nick the ball, but Bergkamp dragged it away from both and clipped a perfectly weighted pass with the outside of his boot for Ljungberg to lift over Gigi Buffon.
The clip is compulsive watching. It takes numerous views before figuring out exactly what Bergkamp managed to conjure up. In his match report for the Guardian, David Lacey lauded the Dutchman’s party piece and claimed that it had added “pomp and circumstance” to a previously “plebeian presence” in the tournament that season.
The control, skill and pass were all unmistakably familiar. Bergkamp always mastered the ball and appeared to have a zen like ability to make the right decision. All the traits that added up and made him so great were on display in that goal. To steal the tagline from his autobiography, it was the perfect amalgamation of stillness and speed.
Also published on Medium.