Both Dennis Bergkamp and Alessandro Del Piero were secondary strikers whose main aim was to play between the opposition's midfield and defence. They needed to be skillful, attack-minded and provide good assists to their forwards and other players.
The following article will take a look at these two greatest second strikers of our generation, and I will try to determine who was, in fact, the better of the two. To do this, I will look at goals scored, assists made and impact on the game:
700 appearances, 260 goals, 124 assists (club)
79 appearances 37 goals (National)
Alessandro Del Piero
661 appearances, 279 goals, 83 assists (club)
91 appearances, 28 goals (National)
Who is the Greatest Second Striker
Bergkamp is more known in England for his time at Arsenal, playing in the rough-and-tumble Premier League, whilst Del Piero played his whole career at one club, Juventus, which featured the defensive quality of the Serie A.
The point that I want to make here is that Bergkamp was part of an attacking team that included the likes of Thierry, Ljunberg and Pires. So, it was not necessarily easy for Bergkamp to have as high a goal-scoring record as he did with players who screamed for the ball and who were so attack-minded. However, he managed to do this with great timing, patience and skill, helping Arsenal achieve their 49-game unbeaten season in 2003-04.
Does he go for the assist or the goal? Do other players take his opportunities? In contrast, Del Piero scored in an ultra-defensive league, where it is harder to score. So, who works harder on his team? The answer to this would determine whose goals were more crafted.
FA Cup: 4 times (Arsenal)
Premier League: 3 times (Arsenal)
Eredivise: 1 time (Ajax)
Del Piero commanded total control of the Italian League, where he was a prodigy. He was untouchable and a total mastermind when it came to captaining his team to silverware after silverware.
Del Piero was—and still is—regarded as one of Juventus' and Italy's greatest players to rock the game. Del Piero played with some amazing talent as well, guys such as Zidane, Trezeguet, Nedved, Thierry Henry, Patrice Viera and a host of other stars who, in some cases, all played a massive role in making Serie A one of the toughest and most defensive leagues in the world during the 1990s and early 2000s. I believe that with such a talented team, it was equally astonishing for Del Piero to score as many goals as he did with Juventus, especially with the likes of Zidane and Trezeguet on the team.
Serie A: 5 times (Juventus)
Supercoppa Italiana: 4 times (Juventus)
Coppa Italia: 1 time (Juventus)
UEFA Champions League: 1 time (Juventus)
Bergkamp scored three times in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, including a memorable winning goal in the final minute of the quarterfinal against Argentina.
With three intelligent right-footed touches in a matter of seconds, he was able to turn the game and send his national squad into the semifinal round.
However, one major criticism of Bergkamp is that he suffered from aviatophobia (fear of flying), which resulted in the Dutchman missing some crucial away games for both the Netherlands and Arsenal. However, he still managed to score an array of goals, which at one point left him as the top goal-scorer for the Dutch team . That is rather impressive, especially if you look at what talent has come out of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, Bergkamp has never won any major trophy with the National Team, while he has played in several tournaments that saw his team usually reaching the last stages of the Cup.
Del Piero is one of Italy's all-time leading goal-scorers, and is currently fourth behind, for example, the great Gigi Riva. While Del Piero may have not scored as many goals in National Caps compared to Bergkamp, he has played an important role in bringing Italy the Euro Championships and, of course the World Cup in 2006, in which he scored the winning goal in the semifinal that knocked host Germany out of the tournament. He also scored a dramatic penalty in the shootout to claim Italy's fourth World Cup title.
Del Piero rarely used to get a sniff of a chance in Italy due to Roberto Baggio's presence in the team. This meant that Del Piero had to bide his time for his country; therefore, he had to make substitute appearances for Italy on a regular basis.
Who Left a Legacy?
Om David Winner’s analysis of the way in which Dutch football and Dutch culture blend, the sculptor Jeroen Henneman analyzes the effect of Bergkamp’s passes and how he can split a defence:
“It’s a miracle. One moment the pitch is crowded and narrow. Suddenly it is huge and wide.”
In April 2006, Simon Kuper wrote in the Financial Times:
"One night last year some legends of Dutch football gathered for dinner in an Amsterdam house. Around midnight conversation turned to an old question: who was the best Dutch footballer ever? Dutchmen have been voted European Footballer of the Year seven times, more than any other nationality except Germans. Yet Jan Mulder, a great centre-forward turned writer, chose a player who had never even threatened to win the award nor, at the time, a Champions League: ‘Bergkamp. He had the finest technique,’ said Mulder. Guus Hiddink, the great Dutch manager, nodded, and so the matter was settled.”
Arsenal Legend Ian Wright said of Bergkamp:
“He’s the messiah. We told him to get us into Europe when he joined and that’s exactly what he did.”
The "Del Piero Zone." This was a zone made famous by the Italian that saw him come in from the left flank. thus allowing him to curl the ball into the far left corner post. He has done this on several occasions. Here is a video:
Del Piero is eighth in the all-time leading goal scorers' sheet in Champions League competitions—a remarkable feat by anyone, but especially for a secondary striker. He is also the all-time leading goal-scorer for Juventus, and is also the most capped player in their lucrative history.
Carlo Ancelotti said:
“He is a world-class player who needs no introductions.”
Diego Maradona said:
"Here he is, he is different from Zidane, he likes to play, he feels it in his soul; between he and the French (Zinedine Zidane ), I stay with him.”
Marcello Lippi said:
“Del Piero is a champion with extraordinary technical ability and wonderful characteristics. When he is selected he never disappoints. He is an example to us all...He has great skills and intuitions that few other players have...He is a captain in the real sense of the word.”
Both men are without a doubt two of the greatest footballing icons the world has ever seen. Since the days of Maradona and Di Stefano, we did not think we would ever see two players of the same position to ever replicate what those two Argentines did.
However, from looking at the facts, I believe that Del Piero wins the title of the "Greatest Secondary Striker of Our Generation." He has accomplished more then Bergkamp in a shorter space of time, he has spearheaded Juventus and Italy into the right direction over the last 15 years and has been a true leader and the definition of class.
Bergkamp, for me, was great, talented and he defiantly redefined the English Premier League; however, besides his skill and amazing touch, Del Piero was able to do more with the ball—his pace, set pieces, penalties and precision put him a cut above the rest.
An interesting fact: Bergkamp's main partner in the EPL was Henry, and together they scored a lot of goals and created a lot of assists for each other; however, they only managed to win a handful of silverware for their club.
But if you look at Del Piero and Frenchman Trezeguet's partnership, they have scored many more goals with fewer assists in a tougher league.
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.