THE toddler stands in his cot, a smiling face presented to the world.

It is Amsterdam 1970 and Dennis Bergkamp is captured for eternity on film. On the wall behind him, two photographs of Denis Law look over the baby named in his honour.

The room is in "Kade", a working-class street in Amsterdam, and Bergkamp's affinity with Scotland is not just restricted to his first name. It was spelled Dennis because his three older brothers convinced his father, Wim, an electrician, that "Denis was too girly".

His father has a passion for football and Law. Dennis has an obsession with football and an experience recognisable to all inner-city boys. He was a graduate of the streets in much the same manner as a generation of Scottish ball players.

"It's not thinking. It's doing," he said of his endless practice with a ball and a brick wall near his home. "Most of the time I was by myself, just kicking the ball against the wall, seeing how it bounces, how it comes back, just controlling it. I found that so interesting."

The photograph of Dennis and Denis and the story of how an intense, intelligent boy became a personality who dominated Ajax and Arsenal and excelled for his country is contained in an extraordinary autobiography.

Written in collaboration with David Winner, author of the compelling Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, this is a life story rendered in the enigmatic, provocative and stimulating nature of its subject. It is a conversation with one of the greatest players of his age. It has the echo of games past but talks to the present and carries hope for the future.

Bergkamp, once a thoughtful player, is now a contemplative coach, the assistant manager of the Ajax side that plays Celtic tomorrow in the Champions League.

He accepts his experience of street football chimes with that in Scotland, he knows he is named after the great Law and he was signed for Arsenal by another Scotsman, Bruce Rioch.

But he is polite rather than revelatory when he addresses matters Caledonian. "Having played in England I've seen a lot of Scottish football as well because there have been a few Dutch players who played in Scotland. I've played a few times as well in Scotland and, of course, what stands out is the passion of the people, the atmosphere in the stadium which will give the players a boost," he said.

Of tomorrow night's Group H Champions League match, he will only say: "It will be a tough game for us but we do know that if we want to finish second or third then we need two good results against Celtic."

He is illuminating, though, when he addresses how the game should be played and coached. His experience as a player was speckled with glory, fraught with confrontation but always imbued with a reverence about the sport. He was both rejected and embraced at Ajax, finally becoming a star under Louis Van Gaal.

"We discussed things," said Bergkamp of his relationship with an innovative and assertive coach. "But ultimately I did what was best." The rift led to Bergkamp's departure for Inter Milan. "The first season was okay. The second was really difficult," he says of his spell in Serie A.

Arsenal offered both sanctuary and redemption. Arsene Wenger, who replaced Rioch, gave his footballing artist the broadest of landscapes. "I am not the product of any manager," Bergkamp tells Winner. "My best trainers were the ones who left me on my own. [Johan] Cruyff, Wenger, Guus Hiddink."

He won three leagues and four FA Cups with Arsenal. He was a virtuoso with a purpose. He was, at first, a stranger in a strange land. Bergkamp was amazed to see Arsenal colleagues drinking after training on a pre-season tour. He watched in disbelief as they wolfed down chocolate and crisps on the team coach. He was a commander in the friendly invasion of foreign players who changed the culture of the English game. 'You can always do better' was his motto. He trained and played with an unwavering dedication.

His retirement from the game was followed inevitably by a decision to coach at Ajax. A beneficiary of the Cruyff coup at the club, Bergkamp is now assistant manager. He has an enduring interest in coaching youngsters.

Asked about his coaching priorities, he tells me: "From a young age it's important to develop your technical skills, and with that I mean practising the basics like controlling the ball, passing, shooting, agility [quick feet], dribbling etc.

"Then, from about 13-14 years old you would make players think a little bit more about tactics. It's proven that only from this age onward they start to develop that part of the brain that makes them understand what a coach is teaching them, tactically. As soon as players get closer to the first team [about one or two years before] you'll focus more on making them understand what it means to be a professional footballer, what it takes to become one. So then the mental side of the game plays a bigger part.

"Apart from all of this, I think the main thing to teach a player is that football is enjoyment, focus on the good things, don't make the results important at a young age."

And what would he tell a young Dennis Bergkamp?

"I would encourage him to keep practising every single free moment he has. I would tell him that making mistakes is okay, it's part of becoming a better player."

Bergkamp talks continually in the book about his unadulterated love for football, but how has that changed since the roar of the crowd was replaced by the more studious ambience of the Ajax training pitch?

"The love for the game hasn't changed now that I'm retired but the frustration that sometimes comes with the game has grown. Mainly because you're not physically involved any more and, as a coach, you're on the sidelines most of the time so it's difficult to change things around, whereas a player you were able to make something happen directly," he said.

Bergkamp will not be at Celtic Park tomorrow night, not least because he has refused to step on to a plane since the mid-nineties. But he will watch on television with the focus of an expert and the passion of a true believer in the game.

Wenger told Winner that great players were welded to football by something intangible but powerful. "It is a spiritual thing. They want to serve football like you serve God," he said.

It offers a blinding insight into Bergkamp, whose twin pillars of the need for control and the scope of his imagination made him an untouchable performer but also ensured he was entirely unsuitable to sitting powerless in a metal box as it flies through the air, his brain finding problems at 30,000ft when it once found solutions on the grass.

He states simply that he will "never, ever" travel by air again but that his bond with football is satisfied with sessions on Dutch soil. "It is deep in the soul," he says of his devotion to the game. It is the gospel of Dennis Bergkamp, the footballing angel who does not fly.

Dennis Bergkamp: Stillness and Speed is published by Simon and Schuster at £20.