Can Watford's new signing Mitchel Bergkamp emulate father Dennis?

Mitchel Bergkamp did not make the grade at Arsenal where his father Dennis was so great… but after his deadline-day move to Watford, can he now begin to follow his father’s footsteps into the Premier League?

  • Mitchel Bergkamp will link up with Watford’s U23s after signing for the club 
  • He was released by Dutch side Almere City in the second division last July 
  • The 22-year-old attacking midfielder was invited for a trial at Arsenal last year 
  • His father Dennis earned legendary status there, so could Mitchel follow him? 

Watford’s January deadline-day capture of Mitchel Bergkamp drew more attention for the legendary surname rather than the fee or clubs involved.

The 22-year-old attacking midfielder signed a six-month contract with an option of a further deal – in the same week that Mauricio Pochettino’s son Maurizio also joined the Hornets on a free transfer from Tottenham – and will join up with the club’s Under 23s.

Bergkamp spent nine years with Almere City before being released last summer by the side that plays in the second tier of Dutch football. 

Watford signed the son of Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp, Mitchel, on Deadline Day

The 22-year-old attacking midfielder had been without a club since July last year

By his age, however, his father Dennis was already an Ajax regular and would go on to play for Inter Milan and more famously Arsenal.

The former forward scored 120 goals for the north London side and became an ‘Invincible’ following their unbeaten Premier League season in 2003-04.

So does Bergkamp Jnr have what it takes to follow his former Holland international father into the Premier League one day? And what could he bring to Watford? Sportsmail looks at all that and more…

Who is Mitchel Bergkamp?

Aside from the obvious answer that he is the son of Dennis Bergkamp, there is not too much to shout about so far in Mitchel’s career.

Bergkamp grew up in Hadley Wood in the London Borough of Enfield and walked on the Emirates Stadium pitch as an eight-year-old boy with his father for his testimonial match against Ajax in 2006, the game that saw Arsenal’s new ground officially opened. 

He has described his upbringing in England as ‘great’ and played for his then local football club, Hadley Rangers, but left the country 14 years ago aged nine when his father returned to Ajax, where a now retired Bergkamp Senior took his coaching qualifications and began working in the academy in Amsterdam.

The 51-year-old most recently has been helping out in a more technical role at Almere City, where Mitchel had been playing until July.

Mitchel – who was initially reluctant to go back to Holland and wanted to stay in England – joined the second-tier side in July 2011 from SV Spakenburg Youth and went on to spend six years with the U17, U19 and U21 sides in their academy.

Mitchel (right) grew up in London and walked on the Emirates Stadium pitch with his father Dennis (left) for his Arsenal testimonial in 2006

He made 49 appearances for Almere City altogether at youth level, scoring seven goals and recording two assists in nine years.

Now six months on from his release, Mitchel has found a new club just outside the city where he grew up, and has admitted first-team ambitions remain in his sights given that he has yet to make his senior debut at club level.

‘I’m very pleased and really excited for the future,’ he said. ‘It’s great to get this opportunity and I can’t wait to get on the pitch and start the hard work. 

‘I’ve been on trial, I’ve been working hard and I’m just really glad to get the chance to prove myself. I wanted to try something new and I’m really looking forward to the new adventure.

‘I want to prove myself with the Under 23s and then one day hopefully get an opportunity for the first team. But it all starts with hard work.’

But he then left London having grown up there when his father returned to Holland in 2006

How does he describe himself?

Speaking to Watford’s website after signing for them, Mitchel Bergkamp confirmed he was ‘an attacking midfielder, a No 10’ who ‘likes to keep possession, create chances and score goals’.

His assessment of himself sounds very much like the player who graced the Premier League with his vision and skillset during a stunning 11-year stay at Arsenal, which stretched from 1995 to 2006.

Bergkamp Snr was able to find space behind the strikers and use those gaps to devastating effect thanks to his excellent close control, lightning-fast brain, and his ability to pull off some mesmerising strikes, such as his legendary goal at Newcastle in 2002, where he span 180 degrees past Nikos Dabizas with a bewildering first touch before slotting into the corner.

The 22-year-old had spent nine years with Dutch second-tier side Almere City until July

And while his son has some way to go before matching his 301 professional career goals, clips on Mitchel’s Instagram certainly seem to demonstrate that he has a touch of finesse about him.

A clip of him from July 2017 shows the kind of coolness in front of goal you would expect, chipping the ball over the advancing keeper after being played in one versus one.

Meanwhile, another clip shows him lashing home a drive on the half volley for his hat-trick in an 8-0 victory against fourth-tier side BW Barendrecht.

A post shared by Mitchel Bergkamp (@mitchelbergkamp)

The attacking midfielder has yet to make his senior debut despite nine years with Almere City

His father’s experience at Arsenal also meant he saw the very best at work, telling ELF Voetbal last year: ‘I often sat in the stadium [Highbury] in the corner. 

‘On days when there were no games, I got close to the players. From our house I went to the training complex, a bit away from the stadium. There I watched the workouts. I stood there as a boy talking to Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.’

He certainly seems therefore to carry a bit of the swagger that Bergkamp demonstrated with Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’, but as he admitted after joining Watford earlier this week, the hard work really has only just begun.

A post shared by Mitchel Bergkamp (@mitchelbergkamp)

Where else has he had opportunities?  

Unsurprisingly given the family links to Arsenal, Mitchel had a trial with the Gunners in October last year.

The 22-year-old was invited to the club’s London Colney base and spent a week with their U23s, now led by former first-team assistant coach Steve Bould.  

Arsenal however did not go ahead and offer a contract, despite the lack of experienced players at U23 level at the club at that time, with many of those eligible having been sent out on loan.

Mitchel was invited to train with Steve Bould’s Arsenal U23s side in October last year

Despite the club not taking up on their chance to add him to their youth-level roster, both Bergkamp Jnr and Snr view Arsenal as ‘home’. 

‘My father also played for Internazionale and Ajax, two wonderful clubs, but Arsenal feels like home,’ he told ELF Voetbal last year.

‘Whether I choose the Emirates or Highbury? I would have preferred to play at Highbury. There are the memories of everything my father has done for the club.  

The Gunners did not offer him a deal but he admitted last year Arsenal still feels like home

‘I remember well at Highbury, that stadium. I remember sitting there and my dad scored against West Brom. He really celebrated it beautifully by kissing his ring and pointing up.

‘I often look back at moments, but this is something that is etched in my memory.’

He saw his father lift three top-flight titles as well as four FA Cups, and his total of 94 Premier League assists is still a club record. It has not worked out initially for Mitchel at Arsenal, but success at Watford could tip the scales back in his favour.

Can he live up to the Bergkamp hype? 

Much like the situation of leaving England for Holland in 2006, Mitchell admitted he used to struggle constantly with comparisons to his father when he was younger, but now he insists he has adapted to it.

‘When I was younger it was difficult [to be compared all the time] but I’ve adapted to it now,’ he told Watford’s website. 

‘It’s just my name and I’m my own player and hopefully I can leave my own legacy. He’s been amazing to me and for me. 

Mitchel has admitted his father has helped him work on his game but wants his own legacy

‘He’s my No 1 fan and has always been there for me. It’s a privilege to have him as my dad and to work with him on my game.’  

Quite frankly, most players who break onto the first-team scene in their teenage years would struggle to live up to the impeccably high standards that Bergkamp set in England.

His son, without any top-level professional experience, therefore faces an even higher mountain to climb, but the sporting family links could well prove to be an advantage in the long-run despite the immediate hindrance of comparisons to his father.

But his focus now will be on developing in Watford’s U23 side, who play in the southern division of the Professional Development League under lead coach Omer Riza.

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