Each week on Football FanCast we will be celebrating those special breed who lit up the Premier League with their unique brand of utter genius. This time out we pay homage to an under-appreciated bombshell who made the best even better.
A strong argument could be made that Eidur Gudjohnsen was, is, and will always be the most under-rated talent of the Premier League era.
In his first full season as a starter at Chelsea he and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink shared 48 goals between them across all competitions, the Icelander a rumbustious front man who seemed destined to score a hatful a season for the duration of his career before going down as a striking legend. Soon after, though, Jose Mourinho rocked up to the Bridge and converted him to a more withdrawn role. There he got even better.
In his six seasons in west London he won the league twice, once so emphatically that some of their records still stand today. Then it was off to Barcelona and perhaps it was only at this point that we Brits began to appreciate just what we had under our very nose.
He ran riot with Lionel Messi. In 2005/06 he was a pivotal figure as Blaugrana secured a famous treble. His highly successful spell in La Liga also incidentally made him one of the very few players to be under the charge of both Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, cherished by each coaching giant.
This is the 22nd celebration of a slice of genius and never before has it been so difficult to define a nominee’s best attributes. Gudjohnsen was great in the air and had a sublime touch. He was direct and powerful. He was cute and clever. He was clinical and unselfish. He was, in short, that rare breed who could do a bit of everything and most of it very, very well indeed.
Such footballing polyglotism explains how the blonde bombshell adapted so well to the physical demands of English ferocity while excelling too within the technical environs of Spain. For the former, his learning curve came at Bolton where he soon established himself as a force to be reckoned with playing alongside the mighty Dean Holdsworth under Big Sam’s Lancastrian revolution.
While on the subject of striking partners let’s pause for a moment and consider some of Gudjohnsen’s over 22 years in the game. At PSV as a teen there was Ronaldo, the original and best. There was also Messi, Ronaldinho, Crespo, Eto’o, Drogba, Zola, and Henry and incredibly too Gudjohnsen’s own father, who made his international farewell making way for a young Eidur in 1996.
All of them he made better with his high calibre movement and high intensity running.
After Barcelona his itinerant ways made him a great quiz question. Which player went from Camp Nou to Monaco to Spurs to Stoke? Well, it’s easy when you know the answer, obviously.
Our focus here though remains at the Bridge, a decision that the player himself would probably approve of. Recently he said of his time in Blue: “I just felt great. I was young, fresh, enjoying my football; Chelsea was definitely the time where I felt like I was getting the best out of myself.” Nowhere was this more apparent than against Leeds United, at home on January 28th 2003.
Five months before Roman Abramovich’s fortunes utterly changed the club’s landscape and seven months deep into Claudio Ranieri’s final season Chelsea were experiencing a so-so campaign and probably could have done without the visit of Viduka, Kewell and co. A week earlier Manchester United had beaten them at Old Trafford. A week later Spurs held them at home. This was a testing period that would ultimately shape their months to come.
Things got even more testing when Kewell countered and scored early on and when the away side easily withstood toiling pressure until the hour mark the natives were understandably getting restless.
Then it happened. The magic. The nonchalant, brilliant magic.
Frank Lampard foraged down Chelsea’s right taking opposition players along for the ride before floating in a seemingly benign delivery. It was head height, which was obviously a positive. The downside was that Gudjohnsen – the only attacker in the box – was a good few feet ahead of the ball.
Unperturbed, the Icelander turned and scampered several tiny steps away from Paul Robinson in goal. He adjusted his footing, his stronger right planted into the earth. Then he took flight.
In stark terms, stripping it of all of its beauty, it was a bicycle kick; a perfectly executed over-head volley that thundered past Robinson from shortish range. But it was so much more than that.
It was extravagant. It was pure flipping poetry. There are goals of this ilk where the player is mere inches off the ground. Here Gudjohnsen soared and even then he needed to fully extend his leg, straight and true, to connect. It deserved strings playing over the top of it which sadly it didn’t get. It deserved admiration from a master and this it did get. As the striker ran to his adoring public he was caught and held by Gianfranco Zola. The look he gives says it all. The little marvel marvels.
A strong argument could be made that Eidur Gudjohnsen was, is, and will always be the most under-rated talent of the Premier League era. That’s on us. Zola, Ronaldo and Messi meanwhile knew just how special he was.