A small, often sub-zero island situated 850 miles to the north East of the United Kingdom, Iceland shot to footballing fame at last summer’s European Championship as the country’s national football side defied all odds to reach the quarter-finals of the competition at their first ever attempt.
With a mere population of little over 330,000, twenty-three of the country’s most gifted footballers propelled their nation into the eye-line of the world as they toppled some of Europe’s finest on the big stage. Of those twenty three, few were known to the general public. Besides one.
Born in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, home to the country’s infamous blue lagoon and it’s first ever permanent settlement, Eidur Guðjohnsen is Iceland’s most revered and famed footballer of all time. Son of the country’s now second most ever famous football player Arnór, Eidur enjoyed a glistening career in which he graced the fields of England, Spain, France, Belgium and even China in recent years, however the Ice Man’s heart lies only in one place: South-east London.
Speaking with SportsKeeda in the summer of 2016, Guðjohnsen said: “Chelsea holds a special place in my heart. Chelsea is the club that is close to my heart because I went there as a young man and matured as a player. It was the most successful time in my career. It is more than just a football club.”
Signed from Bolton Wanderers on the turn of the century for the measly fee of £4.5 million, the youngster from the Nordics had not had a customary route to the heights of professional football. Plucked from the ranks of Valur, a small Icelandic football team situated in the former farmland town of Hlíðarendi by Dutch giant’s PSV Eindhoven, Guðjohnsen became part of a squad managed by Dick Advocaat that contained the likes of Boudewijn Zenden (another future Blue), Jaap Stam, Phillip Cocu and most famously, Brazilian wonderkid Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima.
“I soon realised I was playing with someone special.” Guðjohnsen told FourFourTwo. “He was 19, only two years older than me, but I was a boy and he was already a man. He could do amazing things at full speed – stepovers, twists and turns, he was unstoppable at times. He was one of those talents where you didn’t think ‘I could emulate that’; he just had something special.”
An horrific injury his ankle in the season of 1996/1997 however meant that the Icelandic’s time in Holland alongside Ronaldo was to be cut short, with PSV deeming the then 18-year-old striker unfit to play professional football. The injury resulted in a loan-move back to his country of birth and to home town club KR Reykjavík where he made only six appearances in nine months.
Fearing his career may be over, it was Bolton Wanderers who came to the forwards rescue, the club with whom Guðjohnsen spent two seasons and scored 26 goals for before his well merited move to Chelsea and the top flight of English football.
It was at Stamford Bridge however that the Icelander’s career really took off and his true potential came to light as he became a key member of both the pre and post-Abramovich Chelsea sides.
Guðjohnsen’s debut for the Blues came as a short cameo during a disappointing 1-1 draw at Aston Villa, however it didn’t take long for the blonde haired hitman to make his mark at his new club, scoring on his first start to cap-off an emphatic 3-0 victory over Liverpool. The strike was one of thirteen the former PSV youngster scored during his inaugural season at the Bridge, despite being used mostly as a substitute.
There was a reason Eidur Guðjohnsen was nicknamed the Ice Man. Cool, calm and collective on the ball, the striker appeared to play at his own pace, seemingly slow but more often than not one step ahead of the rest. More than one time throughout his career he has been likened to Arsenal great Dennis Bergkamp. Compare this to his strike partner at Chelsea for the 2001/2002 season, Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink and you have polar opposites. The Dutchman was all hustle and bustle. Energy in abundance, frightening pace and a right foot similar to Iron Mike’s right hook made him one of the Premier League’s most feared forwards of the time.
They say opposites attract, and that is just what the pair did, scoring an astonishing 52 goals between them during 01/02, the biggest ever tally for a Premier League strike partnership in an single season. “We clicked off the field very quickly, and I think that helped a lot. Jimmy and I were different in how we played, but very alike in how we thought about the game. We were fire and ice, so different, but we clicked – two halves gelled into one.”
That season was to arguably be the striker’s finest in the colour of Blue. A number of minor injuries in the following years, as well as the appointment of the one formerly known as ‘The Special One’, Jose Mourinho, saw Guðjohnsen take a different role at the club, moving both into the Portuguese’s midfield – a role that suited his abilities on the ball – however slightly further away from the starting line-up. That should not distract from his impact on the team however, as over the next three seasons the Ice Man scored one short of forty goals for Mourinho’s side, helping win back-to-back Premier League titles in both 2004/05 and 2005/06, as well as a League Cup. Part of the most successful Chelsea side of all time and an integral part of a new generation of football in South-east London, Guðjohnsen had written his name forever into the annals of Blues history.
A good thing cannot last forever, for the Chelsea fans anyway. Next on the cards for the 27-year-old was a move to the biggest club in the world, Barcelona. It is a dream held by many a footballer, if not all, to walk out onto the hallowed ground of the near 100,000 capacity Camp Nou where the seats opposing the dugout read in striking yellow ‘Mas Que Un Club’, more than a club. Signed as a replacement for another legendary Nord Henrik Larsson, Eidur would have to prove himself to be ‘Mas Que Un Jugador’. More than a player.
Playing alongside some of the greatest players of a generation in the form of Xavi, Ronaldinho, Carlos Puyol and of course the talismanic Lionel Messi, Guðjohnsen appeared at home in their company. In three years with the Blaugrana, he made 112 appearances, scoring just shy of twenty goals, and was also part of the historic treble winning side of 08/09, who won La Liga, the Copa Del Rey and the Champion’s League.
Upon the conclusion of his trophy-laden Catalan adventure he became somewhat of a football journeyman. Spells at Monaco, Tottenham, AEK Athens, Shijiazhuang Ever Bright and a return to Bolton were amongst his eclectic mixture of destinations. “In the last few years I have had this opportunity to play football in different countries and get to see the world and experience new cultures, outside of football too. I see this as an opportunity, a blessing to broaden my horizons. It wasn’t intentional but just the way things have developed in my career.” he said in an interview with SportsKeeda. A reunion with ex-Barca team-mate Ronaldinho may be the Ice Man’s next and final destination having offered his well-travelled services to play for Chapecoense, the Brazilian club struck by the devastating plane crash that killed 19 of it’s players and 52 others.
Still going strong at the age of 38, the Icelander has without doubt had one of football’s most interesting and varied careers. However he bows out, Guðjohnsen will be remembered and revered by the fans of every club he played for, not only for his artistry on the field, but for his humble mannerisms and profound professionalism off it.
“I have had a brilliant career, but my heart will always remain Blue.”