The Weekend Interview part one: Eidur Gudjohnsen
feature Sat 11 Nov 2017
In a special two-part interview with Eidur Gudjohnsen, who returned to Cobham recently for the first time since announcing his retirement in September, the official Chelsea website asks our legendary former forward to cast his mind back to his early years at the club…
During the summer of 2000, a promising young striker by the name of Eidur Gudjohnsen joined Chelsea from second-tier Bolton Wanderers. A pair of Premier League titles, a League Cup winners’ medal, 78 goals and six years later, he moved on, to European champions Barcelona. There can be no more fitting testament to the huge strides he made during his time at Stamford Bridge that a team with Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o in it wanted to add the Icelander to their forward line.
Such was Gudjohnsen’s all-round class. Composed in possession and clinical in front of goal, he made the most of these endearing traits because his vision and awareness allowed him to stay a step ahead, whether he was racing clear on to a through ball, or plotting a passing move from further back.
Gudjohnsen’s Chelsea story began when manager Gianluca Vialli recognised he needed to revamp his strikeforce at the end of the 1999/00 season. Chris Sutton’s big-money move had not worked out; George Weah’s loan spell finished; and Tore Andre Flo’s time at the club was nearing its end. So Vialli spent a club-record fee on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who joined from Atletico Madrid, and a much smaller sum on the 21-year-old Gudjohnsen, who was fresh from helping Bolton to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, League Cup and Division One play-offs.
‘It was a big moment for me,’ Gudjohnsen recalls. ‘I knew that I would probably be leaving Bolton that year. I had heard of interest from a few clubs and Chelsea were one of them.
‘It escalated quickly. The clubs had contact, I spoke to Luca Vialli on the phone. It was a mixture of anticipation, looking forward to it, a big step, and a few nerves. I was going to one of the clubs that would challenge for the Premier League. There were World Cup winners in the team, so it was “right, I’m at the top here, and now I need to perform under more pressure”.
‘Moving to London was a big step as well. Bolton was very quiet and friendly, and London is a big place for a young family to come to.
‘I struggled in pre-season a little bit,’ Gudjohnsen continues.
‘The first thing you do when you come to a new club is to feel the respect of your team-mates. They respect you as a person, but eventually you’re going to have to show why you’re there. I felt that they saw I had the quality, but it wasn’t coming out straightaway. It took me a good few weeks. I played a few games as a sub, and then after I started my first game against Liverpool and got my first goal, that was when I relaxed. It went on from there.’
The team’s results and performances that season were distinctly mixed. The Blues were as good as anyone on our day - evidenced by our 3-0 destruction of Liverpool on Gudjohnsen’s goalscoring full debut - but consistency, a long-term thorn in our aspirations, remained elusive.
Nonetheless, Gudjohnsen was a bright spark and his performances soon earned him a regular starting berth up front, sometimes next to Gianfranco Zola, but more often alongside Hasselbaink. A beautiful strike partnership was born. The fire of Hasselbaink, the ice of Gudjohnsen. It remains one of the most fondly recalled in Chelsea history.
‘Me and Jimmy saw each other for the first time, said hello, and that was it - it was a bit romantic! We spoke Dutch, and I don’t think that was a big factor, but we could sometimes communicate in private just talking about what we were going to do between us. But we could play without talking and we could still find each other easily. It was one of those things. It clicked.
‘Even in the first season we had games where it was obvious there was something special there. We had big competition for places in the team with Franco. It wasn’t easy competing with one of the greatest players in Chelsea’s history. I had a lot of respect for him and he obviously had respect for me as well, and I felt it. He could see me and Jimmy had something special. Sometimes the three of us sat down and we said: “why can’t we all play together? Surely there is a way with the quality we have.” In the end it was obviously the manager’s decision.’
Sometimes Hasselbaink, Gudjohnsen and Zola did start as an attacking trio, with the Dutchman usually the spearhead, but, by the early months of the 01/02 campaign, it was clear two up top was the way to go, so telepathic was Hasselbaink and Gudjohnsen’s understanding. They struck 52 goals between them that season.
‘Our styles of play complemented each other,’ Gudjohnsen notes. ‘We were completely different as players. Jimmy was so powerful that it was almost just up to me: how could I find a ball to him, or where can I find him, or how can I take a touch where I see his run, and vice versa.
‘Jimmy was underestimated. He was clever in the sense that he knew what he could and couldn’t do, and he knew how to use his ability perfectly. It was one of the most enjoyable times having him as a strike partner.
‘We had a good team, but we just didn’t have that quality to keep pressure on the top teams. It felt like the team were relying a little too much on me and Jimmy to get the goals. We needed goals from other areas.’
The next season those goals from elsewhere arrived, and qualification for the Champions League was secured. Zola, enjoying a glorious renaissance, netted 16 of his own, and reflecting on what it was like to play alongside the magical Italian as well as Hasselbaink during the first half of his Chelsea career, Gudjohnsen considers himself fortunate to have called them both team-mates.
‘Zola was a complete footballer. For someone of his size and his power, his intelligence, his feet, and his feeling for the ball are right up there.
‘Jimmy was an out-and-out striker. He bullied people, he had this unbelievable strike on him. If you talk about top, top players they are definitely in that bracket.’
In the second part of our interview with the Iceman tomorrow, Gudjohnsen remembers the change at Chelsea when Roman Abramovich bought the club, the trophies that followed - and why he decided to leave for pastures new…