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.
What was it like to come on as a substitute for your father for Iceland? Did you know it’d become a quiz question for years to come?
It’s amazing to think that I played in the same game as my father. The fact that I substituted him was a big moment and he gave me a kiss on the cheek when I came on for him. He was more nervous than me, but the moment could have been even bigger. Some people say that [former Icelandic FA president and West Ham chairman] Eggert Magnusson stopped us playing together, but that’s unfair. There was another international in Iceland six weeks later and he wanted us to start together. I can see the logic: it would have been a bigger moment to do it in front of a home crowd. But in between the two games I got injured. My dad played on for another two years after I got injured. We would have played together for a couple of years.
What has been the best goal of your career? Was it your solo goal for Bolton in the League Cup against Wimbledon in 1999?
I liked that one. Wimbledon were a Premier League team who got quite a lot of attention. That season lifted me, my performances and my profile to a different level, and the goal was part of that. It’s one of my favourites.
There was another, for Chelsea at Southampton in 2004-05. I got the ball in midfield, where [Jose] Mourinho had moved me to. I played a one-two with [Jiri] Jarosik, then gave the ball to [Frank] Lampard, who passed to Drogba, who then put me through to score. That was a pure footballing goal. I also scored an overhead kick against Leeds.
Were you annoyed at Bolton team-mate Dean Holdsworth for missing an open goal in the 2000 FA Cup semi-final after you’d virtually laid it on a plate for him? What did you say to him afterwards?
I wasn’t annoyed; it was just disappointment. We played an amazing game and had an amazing season. We went to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup. We also got to the semi-finals of the play-offs. Pushing on all fronts was probably why we didn’t win a cup or get promoted. Also, I was a young boy and Dean Holdsworth was a senior pro – I wasn’t going to say anything to him!