When he left Inter in 1995, Dennis Bergkamp had a clause in his contract at new club Arsenal saying that he wouldn’t have to take part in the longest away trips because he didn’t want to fly. Bergkamp was one of the most talented players of his generation, a top class player in the early 2000s. But in Milan, his brilliance only shone in short spells and the Nerazzurri fans remember him above all for his fear of flying.
It was a fear with a long history with various stories about how it had come about. Dennis had been traumatised as a child during turbulence on a flight to Sicily. There was then an accident in which Dutch footballers were killed (1989) and a joke made by a journalist on the National Team’s flight in 1994 further triggered his phobia, leading him to make a final decision and stop flying. Terrified at high attitude, Bergkamp was perfectly in his element on the pitch. A son of total football, he learned the art straight from one of its masters in Johan Cruyff who was his first mentor and coach at Ajax. He learnt well, he had great technique along with superb vision which allowed him to see where the ball would go before his opponents and he could make the ball move with an unreal trajectory for his shots and passes. In Italy, he had some difficulties in settling but he cast them aside in leading the Nerazzurri to the 1994 UEFA Cup where he finished as the tournament’s top scorer.
It was clear from the start that it would be a triumphant European campaign for him. In the first round, Inter faced Rapid București and the first leg was the Bergkamp show as he netted a hat-trick, putting his full repertoire on show. He tucked away a penalty with ice cool composure, he hit a superb lob and a spectacular acrobatic sideways bicycle kick. When the ball was close to him, Dennis wasn’t afraid of going in the air.