It has been a while but its time for another trip back to Arsenal’s past. So without further ado let’s take the dust cover off the time machine and go back to the summer of 1997. When a devastating Dutch winger arrived in North London. This week’s Highbury Hero is our Flying Dutchman Marc Overmars.
Marc was small and compact with a low centre of gravity, which enabled him to turn quickly. He operated at Arsenal as a wide left midfielder when he came to Highbury, whilst prior to joining Arsenal he was an out and left or occasionally right-winger at Ajax.
He was a clinical finisher with either foot. However, Marc’s greatest asset was his blistering pace. His nickname in Holland was “Roadrunner”. He was very direct and a real speed merchant and his explosive speed destroyed many a decent full back.
Gary Neville said that Overmars “Was the best winger he came up against in his time at Manchester United”. Louis Van Gaal his manager at Ajax said of Marc “He was a good dribbler who could beat people one-on-one and that was important for a winger in our system. But he also had a very good assist record and he could score goals.”
Marc had great technique, with superb close control and was a brilliant outlet for Arsenal counter attacks with the likes of Dennis Bergkamp linking superbly with him sending him through on goal or down the line where he would send in a fine cross or cut the ball back for runners arriving in the box.
Marc Overmars was born on the 29th March 1973 in Emst Holland. He was not very academic but loved playing football. Marc grew up on the family farm and when the potatoes were ready to harvest and as there was no machinery or tractors, when the time came to extract the potatoes his family tied a rope round Marc’s waist, tied the other end to a cart, and made him run along while they pulled the crop out. Maybe this helped to build up Marc’s legs to give him that powerful acceleration!
Overmars joined his local club SV Epe, before going to Go Ahead Eagles in 1987 making his debut for the first team in the 1990-91 season. He was transferred to Willem II the following season, but in 1992, he joined Ajax where he really made his name.
At Ajax, he won three Eredivisie titles in a row between 1994 and 1996. He was also part of the Ajax side that won the Champions League in 1994-95. In December 1995, Marc sustained a bad cruciate ligament injury that kept him out of football for eight months.
In June 1997 Arsene Wenger paid around around £5.5 million pounds for Overmars although some newspapers at the time reported the fee to be as high as £7 million. I remember at the time there were question marks over whether he had fully recovered from his injury and this put many clubs off signing him. However, he was a world-class talent and Arsenal were prepared to take the risk.
Emmanuel Petit also arrived that summer and the two of them were to become integral to winning the Double that season. Nevertheless, the new influx of foreign players had to adapt to the English game as well as gelling with their English teammates. They found it strange at first with all the banter that went on in training and the drinking culture that still existed at that time.
The players went out at Christmas 1997 to the Cafe Royal and that helped to really bond the English and foreign players together. The foreign players were laughing at Ray Parlour’s dancing and Marc Overmars enjoyed it so much he wanted to take out a subscription at the club! It was great for team spirit and the team really kicked on in the second half of the season.
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Marc always used to love the big games and they do not come much bigger than Manchester United away at Old Trafford. Marc scored the winner that day. Latching onto a header he nodded the ball forward into space and he was away to tuck the ball into the back of the net. I will always remember the way he celebrated standing still and just turning his head round. This match confirmed to the Arsenal players and fans that we were destined for the Title.
Marc destroys Manchester United at Old Trafford
The day we clinched the title at Highbury against Everton is always remembered for the wonderful Tony Adams goal, but Overmars played a big part that day scoring a brace to help us to the Title and the first part of the Double. I remember driving home that day with my 13-year-old son Neil, me tooting the car horn while he waved a massive red and white Arsenal flag out the car window.
An Overmars brace against Everton as the Gunners clinch the Title
In the FA Cup Final Marc secured his place as an Arsenal legend when he scored a typical goal, racing onto a through ball to finish clinically, send us on our way to winning the FA Cup, and complete the Double. Neil and I had a great view it, as we were right behind the goal at that end. Marc had made a massive contribution playing 46 games and scoring 16 goals in all competitions, completely justifying Arsenal and Arsene’s decision to bring him to Highbury.
Arsenal complete the Double
It was also Marc who famously named Ray Parlour the Romford Pele. Here’s what Ray said about it. ‘Marc Overmars made a big impact straight away. He was a funny little character. Like his fellow Dutchman Dennis, it was easy for him to fit in. Marc was the one who gave me my nickname. We were training one day and I went around two or three players, nutmegged Dennis, smashed the ball and it went right in the top corner. David Seaman did not move. Little Overmars ran past me and said to me, “You are like the Romford Pele”.
My reaction was, “You don’t even know where Romford is do you?” And he said, “No. Someone told me you come from Romford”.
That afternoon we had a press conference and it was his turn to do it. The line of questioning was all about whether we could beat Manchester United to the title; they were the ones to finish ahead of. The press were full of it, testing us out to see if we could pose the threat.
Little Overmars came out with this: “Yes we definitely win the league because we’ve got the Romford Pele in our side!” That ended up in the papers and it seemed to stick.
The following season Arsenal and Marc did not quite reach the dizzy heights of the previous season. However, we came so close to making it a Double Double. We had Manchester United on the ropes in an epic FA Cup Semi-Final replay. Dennis Bergkamp stepped up to take the penalty to apply the knockout blow. Schmeichel saved it and United went on to win the game and the treble. Bergkamp never took another penalty again after that. I cannot help feeling that had Dennis scored we would have won the game and had the momentum to go and win another Double, as it was we only missed the title by a single point. Fine margins and all that. Marc played 49 games that season scoring 12 goals in all competitions.
1999-2000 season was Marc’s last for The Arsenal. A personal highlight for Marc was scoring a hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Middlesbrough at Highbury and he was part of the Arsenal side that lost the UEFA Cup on a penalty shoot-out, at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen. That unfortunately was the last game Marc Overmars played for us. It was also the last game Petit wore an Arsenal shirt as well.
Marc gets a hat-trick as Arsenal thrash Middlesbrough
In the summer of 2000 Overmars and Petit both joined Barcelona in a joint £32 million deal with Overmars valued at £25 million, the most expensive Dutch player at that time. So after just three seasons the pair who joined The Arsenal at the same time left together at the same time as well. I remember being very despondent at losing the pair of them to Barcelona.
Marc spent four years at Barcelona but didn’t have a great time there due to the constant change of managers and persistent injuries. Eventually Marc had to retire in 2004 due to a knee injury. He came out of retirement in 2008 for one season to play for his old club in Holland Go Ahead Eagles before finally calling it a day.
He also had a brilliant international career with Holland winning 86 caps and scoring 17 goals. He played for his national side for eleven years from 1993 to 2004. Marc played in several major tournaments for Holland and was awarded Best Young Player at the 2004 World Cup.
These days he is the Director of Football at Ajax and has been linked with a return to Arsenal in a similar role.
He has returned three times to Arsenal to wear the famous red and white colours. In 2004 for Martin Keown’s testimonial. In 2006 for Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial and the last time was last season for the Legends game with AC Milan. Looking quite a bit heavier than his playing weight, he was still rapid despite that! However, he was only an Arsenal player for three seasons making 142 appearances and scoring 41 goals. He made a huge impact in the short time he was with us.
Oooooh Marky Marky, Marky Marky Marky Marky Overmars.
A fine compilation of Marc’s goals
Back soon with further Highbury Heroes…….
Started going to Highbury in ’66. Season ticket holder since ’76. Love The Arsenal. Need I say more?