Dennis Bergkamp: ‘You climb one mountain and see a higher one’



What do you look for in the youngsters you coach now? “Well, you see straightaway who has drive. But it can come from different things. Let’s say this kid wants to be a millionaire when he’s 18. That’s drive. Is it bad? ‘By 28 I want to have three sports cars and the only way to get them is to win trophies and play good football.’ If that’s his conclusion, maybe it’s OK. But if he thinks: ‘I’m making one million each year now and if I play for five years I’ve got five million and that’s it, I can retire,’ that’s different. Or: ‘I’ll stay in the reserves and just keep training as long as I can put gas in my Lamborghini.’ I’m not sure that’s drive at all. It’s not a passion from the soul. And that’s what you’re looking for: the real passion that comes from inside.”

And, in the end, perhaps the striving to improve becomes almost spiritual. Patrick Vieira says that with you it is both artistic and spiritual. “Well, you set yourself goals, targets. And once you’ve got there you want to move on and go further. You keep raising the bar and therefore it’s never good enough. You want perfection. It’s never good enough but it’s within your reach. You climb one mountain and see the higher one. And I want to do it, I want to do that. But I like what you say that it’s a passion – something within the soul, isn’t it? It’s deeper. Whereas ambition, for money or whatever, is more calculating. It can be satisfied. But passion is … no … you keep … you want to grab it. You do the hard thing, always go for the difficult thing, and then you have to go for the next thing.”

Arsène Wenger has an interesting view about this. He says: “It is a spiritual thing. I am convinced of that. I believe you have two kinds of players who play football. Those who want to serve football like you serve God, and they put football so high that everything that is not close to what football should be is a little bit non-acceptable. And then you have those who use football to serve their ego. And sometimes the ego can get in the way of the game, because their interest comes before the interest of the game.

“Sometimes the big ego is linked with what we call strong personalities, charisma. But most of the time what people call charisma is just big ego. I believe that Dennis was one of those who had such a high idea of the game and such a respect for the game that he wanted that to be above everything. I believe that the real great players are guided by how football should be played and not by how football should serve them. If it becomes spiritual, it’s endless and you’re always driven to going higher and getting closer to what you think football should be.”

Then Wenger gives the example of a player who knows he ought to pass but takes a massive gamble and scores. “If he really loves the game he’ll go home and worry about it. He’ll know he really should have passed to set up an easy chance for someone else. But he was selfish and got lucky. If he doesn’t care about the game he’ll go home and think: ‘That was great – I’ll do the same next time.'”

And he says that’s the difference. “That’s why you have to teach the kids to respect the game and treat the game a little bit like a religion, that is above you, where you want to serve the game.”

Would you talk about this sort of stuff with Arsène? “I remember when Arsène talked about players, sometimes he’d say: ‘Oh no, he doesn’t love the game …’ This is quite a big statement from him. But I know exactly what he means. There are some players who, as soon as the whistle went at the end of training … boom! … They went inside, got changed, then straight in the car and away.

But the real liefhebbers (the literal translation is “love-havers”, the guys who really have love for the game) stayed behind to practise. And not only players. David Dein and Massimo Moratti are people who really love the game too. At Arsenal it was always the same players, eight or nine, who stayed behind to work after training. And I guarantee if you do that you’ll become a better player.”

When you arrived at Arsenal you told everyone: ‘Don’t give me these soppy little passes, give me fast, hard balls because I can deal with anything that comes at me and playing faster is playing better.’ By the time Pires and Ljungberg are in the team, a few years later, it’s moved on a long way, it’s at a much higher level. “Yes, always give me a strong pass because I want to challenge myself by controlling a difficult ball. You have to keep pushing and testing each other. Like you test your pace and strength against Sol Campbell. He’s your team‑mate but in training you’re against him. If you can beat Sol, who can’t you beat in the Premier League? And if he can stop me or he can stop Thierry Henry, who can’t he stop in the Premier League? That’s the challenge: always trying to improve yourself. But it can only work when everyone is giving 100%. Like having goalies who try in training.

At Inter they didn’t try and it was so frustrating. But Jens Lehmann? David Seaman? Fantastic! Jens couldn’t stand to have a single shot go past him. And if I tried to lob David Seaman … woaah! If it worked, it was a fantastic goal and he was like: “Great, well done.” But if it didn’t work out, he got hold of the ball and smashed it two hundred yards away! He’d just kick it away and say “Get that!” and I’d have to go and get it. David is a nice soft guy – but not when he plays. That was his drive: “You’re not going to fool me! Now get that ball!” I loved that attitude.”

Source; Guardian

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