Ex-Arsenal forward, Vincent van den Berg, has opened up about the ‘fairy tale’ that was his short time in north London, which was marred by injuries and illness.
Vincent van den Berg joined Arsenal’s youth team from SC Heerenveen in 2006. The young Dutch forward had played for his country at an u17 level and was over the moon to be at the same club as Dennis Bergkamp.
At 17, Van Den Berg even featured in the Non-Flying Dutchman’s testimonial, which the Excelsior Maassluis player describes as a day he’ll never forget.
“From the first moment I entered (London), I knew it was going to be Arsenal,” Van den Berg told KNVB about making a decision between Aston Villa, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund . “I saw my future as a professional football player in front of me, a fantastic stadium, a beautiful training complex, and of course I wanted to do this, but money had not even been talked about.
“I was able to train directly with the selection, purely to develop myself, only at the end of the season they would judge and there I stood after the summer, from the B1 van Heerenveen to a training field with boys like Alexander Hleb, Emmanuel Adebayor and Mathieu Flamini.”
He continued, “I played very well and also received a lot of compliments from Wenger, he was also very positive about the media, which made me appear as a great talent in the English sports newspapers, while I was introduced to Dennis Bergkamp, who trained because of his approaching farewell match. I played five minutes during that special game, I will never forget that.”
Unfortunately, the player grew unhappy and became unwell physically as well as emotionally. He lost a lot of weight, dropped in form and picked up an injury. He was eventually loaned out to Go Ahead Eagles in 2007 and FC Zwolle the following year.
“I ended up in the second team and did not feel comfortable in the host family, they were few and I got bad food, and in the first few months I lived on a cloud that I could still play football. Physically underneath it, I got kilo’s lighter and that was the club noticed,” Van Den Berg said.
“I was happy with it, but as a seventeen-year-old boy I suddenly had to take care of myself, and I wanted to get back on top of it, both physically and football, but that’s very difficult if you’re only by yourself.”
Van Den Berg went through a career-long battle with injuries, which he believes prevented him from making it as a footballer playing in front of ‘full stadiums’ in later life.
But still, he doesn’t regret a thing.
“Maybe I went abroad too early, but I would do it again,” he said. “You just cannot afford to run like that. If I had less setbacks, I might play for full stadiums now.
“Sometimes that hurts but, on the other hand, I have peace of mind how it went, it was a special adventure.”
The now-29-year-old, who never made a competitive appearance for Arsenal’s first team, still plays for Excelsior Maassluis.
In total, he’s made 130 appearances for the Dutch side and scored 31 goals.