The Weekend Interview part two: Eidur Gudjohnsen
feature Sun 12 Nov 2017
Yesterday Eidur Gudjohnsen spoke about signing for Chelsea, and what it was like playing alongside Gianfranco Zola and, especially, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
In the second part of our exclusive interview with the Icelander, he turns his attention to his later years at the club, including the memorable 04/05 season, then his move to Barcelona, and finally an international dream realised…
‘The pressure changed. That’s when we realised not even second place might be enough.’
Eidur Gudjohnsen was there to witness the transition Chelsea underwent when Roman Abramovich became owner in the summer of 2003. ‘The feeling was it went from a big club to a massive club,’ he states to the official Chelsea website when we ask what that time was like from an existing player’s perspective. We made 10 high-profile signings in a six-week period, among them strikers Hernan Crespo and Adrian Mutu.
‘I wasn’t concerned. I had prepared myself well for it, both mentally and physically. I remember Ranieri coming in and saying “Eidur, if you want to leave, I will help you leave. We will find a good club for you, you might have a difficult year”.
‘I said “don’t worry, I’m fine - I’ll be here longer than you!”
He was proven right. The following summer, after a season when we had fallen short in league and cup, Jose Mourinho took over as manager.
‘That was the biggest change during my time at Chelsea,’ Gudjohnsen remembers.
‘He inherited a good squad, some good players arrived with him, and he brought a change in mentality to the players who had been there a few years. The core of the team was Frank, John, and me. We had been together for three or four years, and we were all maturing as well and coming to our peak. It was the perfect timing for Mourinho to come in and make us realise it was about time we won titles.’
Despite two further arrivals up front, in Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman, Gudjohnsen’s class and consistency ensured he was an integral part of our first championship-winning team in half-a-century. Whether flanked by Arjen Robben and Damien Duff in attack, or pulling the strings in a three-man midfield, Gudjohnsen flourished as we racked up a record Premier League points haul, as potent going forward as we were solid at the back.
‘I enjoyed the deeper role. We had the perfect striker to be on his own up front which was Didier. I came on in the League Cup final against Liverpool in midfield for the first time that year, and it worked brilliantly.
‘We had Makelele, we had Frank, and me in a sort of half-advanced position. I knew Frank made a lot of runs, so I had to be careful I wasn’t too advanced. It worked well. I played in the same position against Barcelona and that worked, so it was gradually becoming my position, as in “I’m a midfielder now”.’
Only Frank Lampard made more appearances for the Blues than Gudjohnsen’s 57 in the glorious 2004/05 campaign. He got us off and running that year with the only goal in the narrow opening-day victory against Manchester United. He scored at Highbury and Old Trafford, and in the aforementioned Champions League win against Barcelona at the Bridge, one of the most thrilling matches we have ever been involved in.
But all good things must come to an end, and after we had romped to a second straight Premier League title the following year, Gudjohnsen decided to call time on his Chelsea career. He pauses before explaining why.
‘I didn’t play a lot in my last season. I had a difficult season, I had some injuries, I had some illnesses that kept me out of certain games. Every season I was at Chelsea I always had a point to prove. It was only the 04/05 season where I knew I was going to play a lot, otherwise I always had to fight my way in the team, and it wore me out over a long period of time.
‘I had great options. I felt terrible leaving Chelsea. I didn’t really want to leave, but I felt I had to. Then a few weeks after Barcelona popped up, and I thought I might be in the same position, but how do you say no to Barcelona?’
In Spain, Gudjohnsen won the lot, including the Champions League. It remains a regret he did not achieve that feat while at Chelsea, when we instead suffered semi-final heartache two years running.
After Barcelona came short spells in Monaco, back in England, then in Greece, Belgium, China and Norway, but it was on the international stage where Gudjohnsen added a final jewel to his already glittering crown, playing for Iceland twice at Euro 2016 as they sensationally reached the quarter-finals in their first-ever appearance at a major tournament.
‘After such a long time, 20 years with the national team, it made everything worth it,’ Gudjohnsen smiles.
‘We had periods when, let’s be honest, we were bad, and I felt so alone at times. Now we have a generation of players who are at the same age, same level of football, and they have this unbelievable bond when they wear the Iceland shirt.
‘Just to be able to be a part of that and to be a father figure of that group was great. I got my moment when I came on the pitch. That was my moment with the national team.’