Eidur Gudjohnsen, One-on-One: "I’ve only been to Iceland once... I didn’t buy anything"
A car with darkened windows pulls up on a Barcelona back street. A front window is lowered. The driver looks across. “Gudjohnsen!” he shouts. Iceland’s greatest ever footballer glances at the driver. “Crack!” shouts the driver, before putting his foot down. A ‘crack’ is a great person. A legend.
A smiling Gudjohnsen, aged 37 and still playing, is a father of four now, with all but his eldest son settled in Barcelona, where another of his brood is on the books at Barça’s academy. Still an Iceland international – 80 caps and counting, over 20 years – he has firm intentions of going to Euro 2016.
He sits down with FourFourTwo at Da Greco, an Italian restaurant his former team-mate Thierry Henry used to adore, and answers readers’ questions cogently and candidly.
- Date of birth: 15/09/1978
- Place of birth: Reykjavik, Iceland
- Height: 6ft 1in
- Position: Forward
- Clubs: 1994 Valur 17 games (7 goals); 1995-97 PSV 15 (3); 1998 KR Reykjavik 6 (0); 1998-2000 Bolton 73 (26); 2000-06 Chelsea 261 (78); 2006-09 Barcelona 112 (18); 2009-10 Monaco 11 (0); 2010 Tottenham (loan) 14 (2); 2010-11 Stoke 5 (0); 2011 Fulham (loan) 10 (0); 2011-12 AEK Athens 14 (1); 2012-13 Cercle Brugge 14 (7); 2013-14 Club Brugge 49 (7); 2014-15 Bolton 24 (6); 2015 Shijiazhuang Ever Bright 14 (1)
- International: 1996- Iceland 87 (26)
- Honours: KNVB Cup 1995-96; Eredivisie 1996-97; Premier League 2004-05, 2005-06; League Cup 2004-05; La Liga 2008-09; Copa del Rey 2008-09; Champions League 2008-09; UEFA Super Cup 2009
Does growing up as the son of an international footballer give you more of a chance of making it as a pro yourself? What do you think you would have done if you hadn’t become a footballer?
I didn’t become a footballer because I’m the son of a footballer, but football is genetic and I was born with football in my blood. I’m told that from the first time I saw a ball, I didn’t see anything else. I knew at the age of three I was going to be a professional footballer! I just knew. It just felt natural to me. I was obsessed with football. I grew up in an environment where all my friends were into football. I loved watching my father play and went to every game possible. Then I played myself. I’ve never thought about doing anything else.
How much did you enjoy playing alongside Ronaldo at PSV Eindhoven when you were only 17? Did he teach you anything specific?
I soon realised I was playing with someone special. 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. The normal players, even the top-quality players, have to slow down to do certain things; he just did it at full speed. 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. I probably did learn to do the double one-two from him, though. I’d play a one-two with him and look on, thinking he was going to finish, then I got the ball back. I thought: ‘Yes, why not do that?’ He was a step ahead.
Who has been the best striker you have played with during your career?
That’s a difficult question. I could put together a pretty good list: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Gianfranco Zola, Didier Drogba, Hernan Crespo, Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo... I’m probably forgetting many more. Ah yes, Thierry Henry! If there are others, thenI apologise. The one I connected the best with, and most enjoyed playing with, was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. We were fire and ice, so different, but we clicked – two halves gelled into one.
Do you remember your dad missing the crucial penalty for Anderlecht in the 1984 UEFA Cup Final shootout against Tottenham Hotspur? Did that not put you off joining Spurs 26 years later?
I don’t remember the moment myself, but I remember videos. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy moment for my dad. He had just come back from an injury. He was one of two or three that missed a penalty but he was the last one and they’re usually the one people remember. It didn’t put me off joining Spurs. Tottenham is a great club and at the time it felt like a good move.
My dad was a really good footballer. He was around in an era of [only] three foreign players in a team with no Bosman ruling, so it was difficult to go abroad then. He had a great career – over 20 years as a professional – and won player of the year in Belgium as well as being top scorer. He was voted best all-time foreigner in Sweden at 34. He was unlucky with injuries, but all in all he had a fantastic career.
Did you fear your career was over when you had injuries and had to leave PSV?
There was an element of fear, especially when the doctors said: ‘You’ll probably never play again at a high level’. When you’ve been on and off for two years you do start to wonder, but there was something within me that knew that wasn’t the end. I didn’t succumb to fear; I just needed time, because I broke my ankle and had some complications with bone growth. I had seven operations in total.