Berkgamp ready to sign off on proud career
Dennis Bergkamp can look back on his Arsenal legacy as a proud man when he prepares for his final appearance in the famous red and white shirt on Saturday.
It will be an emotion-charged afternoon as the Gunners run out in front of 54,000 supporters to face Ajax at their new Emirates Stadium in Bergkamp's testimonial.
Bergkamp admits Arsenal will always have a place in his heart and he has even invested in a box at the new ground to watch his former team-mates.
But the Dutch master is fully aware of the role he has played in Arsenal's rise from Premiership also-rans to European aristocrats playing in a £390million super-stadium.
When Bruce Rioch persuaded the striker to swap Milan for north London in 1995, continental players of genuine quality were still a rare commodity in this country and Bergkamp was the only non-Englishman in the Gunners' starting line-up on his debut against Middlesbrough.
Now, 11 years on Arsenal regularly field an entire first team of foreigners having held a galaxy of international stars in their ranks under Arsene Wenger.
'In years to come, when I look back I'll see a different club to the one I joined,' said Bergkamp.
'I contributed to a style of football, very fluent and attacking, and my stats are good so maybe I made a difference.
'When I was looking to leave Inter Milan Arsenal were the first team to come in for me. I looked at the club and saw a solid base that I could fit in to.
'I didn't know anything about 'boring Arsenal', and I didn't know the importance playing against Spurs, but I soon found out.
'And the year after (Patrick) Vieira, (Emmanuel) Petit and (Marc) Overmars came in, and now we obviously have a world-class team whereas maybe 15 years ago these players would not be playing for Arsenal.
'A club like Arsenal deserves such a stadium, and I'm sorry I won't be a part of it. But you know people appreciate what you have done when it's sold out for you.'
Bergkamp made 423 appearances for the Gunners, and his 120 goals make him the 10th-highest scorer in the club's history, a remarkable achievement given the distinct lack of tap-ins on his CV.
The classy striker helped the club to three Premiership titles and three FA Cups, including the Double twice, and was named PFA Player of the Year in 1998.
He hit his first goal on his seventh appearance, against Southampton, and his final strike came against West Brom in April during a fixture dubbed 'Orange Day' by supporters in his honour.
In between came an array of Goal of the Month candidates including his favourite strike, the completion of a memorable hat-trick against Leicester.
'A goal like that has it all; movement, control and finish, and it all comes together,' he said.
His favourite match, however, was a thrilling 5-3 win over Middlesbrough during the 2004-05 season.
'I was captain and I was so proud when we came back from 3-1 down,' he added.
'It was one of the times in my career I felt like the leader on the pitch and led by example. That was special and it kept our unbeaten run going as well.'
Bergkamp admits Saturday will be an emotional occasion as he waves goodbye to his adoring fans while Arsenal usher in a bright new era, just 68 days after bidding a fond farewell to Highbury.
The 37-year-old is ready to take a break from the game, however, although he refuses to rule out a return in some capacity in the future.
'I joined Ajax when I was 12 and I've had 25 years in the game, so Saturday is going to be strange,' he added.
'It's going to be special. Orange Day was very emotional last season and this will be even more so. But I can enjoy the day and share it with the other players.
'I'll miss the simple things, the dressing-room humour and the training. But I've had a great time. The wonderful thing about coaches in England is they tell you to 'go out and enjoy yourself', and I've enjoyed my career!'