Ray Parlour has revealed a classic Dennis Bergkamp wind up story that led to Arsenal signing one of their worst ever Premier League players.
It concerns the arrival at the club of Igors Stepanovs, who trialed for the club before signing from Latvian side Skonto Riga in 2000.
With the coronavirus pandemic, it just so happens that we all have time for a good, long read. So here it is:
According to Parlour, Martin Keown always had his back up when a new player arrived – and that was no different to when Stephanovs turned up at London Colney in the summer of 2000.
“Now, Martin Keown was always worried about people coming in to steal his position. If we had a centre-half on trial, Martin would say he was useless.” Parlour told talkSPORT.
“This big guy from Latvia, Igors Stepanovs, turned up. He was a unit, but seriously, he was not up to standard.
“A few of us were on the bench watching as he played in this trial game.
“Stepanovs is out there and every single pass he made, the boys started applauding, just because we knew Martin would be getting a bit steamed up by it.
“Dennis Bergkamp was sitting behind Arsene and kept doling out these compliments about this defender – ‘Great header! Unbelievable tackle!’
“Igors kicked this one ball 20 yards away from where it was meant to go but it still went to one of our players so we all stood up clapping.
“Martin’s muttering: ‘He’s not that good.’ He started to point out where he missed a tackle or a header.”
“But Martin is such an easy target because he bites. Once someone bites it’s too tempting. Dennis seldom missed a trick because Martin would kick him every day in training. He always came out with a blinder to explain it to Dennis: ‘I’m just getting you ready for what you are going to face in the match.’
“Martin was a great player, a great character, a great winner. I think we all cared so deeply.
“When we got back to the training ground at London Colney a week later we had a surprise though. Igors was sitting there.
“I said: ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘They signed me,’ he said. ‘Four-year contract.’
Due to an injury crisis, Stephanovs made several Premier League starts, including in Arsenal’s 6-1 thrashing at Manchester United in 2001.
The Latvian made just 17 appearances, but did see out his four year contract at Highbury.
Arsene Wenger had a knack for signing players from obscurity and turning them into world beaters, but this one certainly backfired.