Eidur Gudjohnsen: The iceman cometh

Eidur Gudjohnsen talks candidly about Mourinho, Munich and playing midfield
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The Independent Online

Even the Special One calls him special. It is probably why Jose Mourinho did something utterly instinctive at half-time during the League Cup final in February. Chelsea were trailing, something had to change. The manager turned to Eidur Gudjohnsen and told him he was coming on. In midfield.

Even the Special One calls him special. It is probably why Jose Mourinho did something utterly instinctive at half-time during the League Cup final in February. Chelsea were trailing, something had to change. The manager turned to Eidur Gudjohnsen and told him he was coming on. In midfield.

"I'd not played there since I turned professional," Gudjohnsen admits. "I've always been a striker."

Not even in training?

"No, I was just thrown in. But maybe he saw something in me that other managers hadn't."

And?

"And it worked well, fantastically well,' Gudjohnsen adds, "a lot of people said to me that it changed the game." It did. And Chelsea won the trophy, their first under Mourinho.

Gudjohnsen's admission runs contrary to the image of Mourinho as the most meticulous and well-drilled of coaches. In Cardiff he did not have to take a chance on Gudjohnsen. But maybe it was a product of all that detail - with a bit of gut instinct as well. Mourinho knew that Gudjohnsen - bright, capable, resilient - wouldn't fail.

Despite a 4-2 lead, Chelsea may also have to adapt in tonight's Champions' League quarter-final second leg against Bayern Munich. And they will have to do so with Mourinho serving the second part of his two-match Uefa ban. Again it will be his assistant Steve Clarke, followed by Baltemar Brito - known as Mourinho's "policeman" - who will deliver the team talks.

Before that the planning will be watertight. Gudjohnsen says of the first leg: "The night before we had a late night meeting and then at lunchtime as well. Maybe we just spent a little bit longer than usual, maybe there was an extra meeting so that everything was clear because he (Mourinho) wasn't going to have that input in the dressing-room. That was it. It didn't feel like a major thing but it was obviously different not having your manager there."

Not that Mourinho said any "goodbyes". Bayern's tactics were pored over instead. "We obviously anticipated everything that they could come up with. In certain situations we were prepared - 'if this happens, we'll do this' and 'if something else happens, we can change that' but I think, in the end, we had to feel it as a team on the pitch as well."

It's an intriguing comment and one that sheds light on the zone of confidence Chelsea are in and the trust Mourinho has in his team. For example, it was always an option, Gudjohnsen says, for the players to be "direct", even if it led to some tetchy criticism from Bayern. "They played with one striker, one behind and we had man-for-man in midfield. So it was hard to create openings. And so we decided to go a bit more - I wouldn't say route one - but direct when it was on. It ended up giving them problems, and we managed to get the second balls and worked off the front-man well."

Gudjohnsen is no longer that striker, of course, and he talks as if his conversion into a midfielder could be permanent. "With the system we play I can play the one frontman role, but I wouldn't say it's my best position because I like to be more involved," he says. "I like to come and get the ball. And I'm not a natural goalscorer even though I've scored goals throughout my career."

Now a midfielder, Gudjohnsen has a lot more defensive responsibilities, but no one should be surprised that the 26-year-old has adapted so rapidly.

After all this is the player who, at a remarkably young age, was asked to partner Ronaldo at PSV Eindhoven, then survived a career-threatening shattered ankle, was released by the Dutch club, before rebuilding his career back home in Iceland. All while still a teenager. He arrived at Chelsea, in the summer of 2000, for £5m after scoring 21 goals in two eye-catching seasons with Bolton Wanderers. He has always been a class act.

Flicking back through the statistics also shows that Gudjohnsen is the only survivor - with Carlo Cudicini now on the bench - from his League debut that August. "In the end a lot of people have given me credit for being the one who has stuck it out and been in the team and been first choice," he reflects. "All that matters is that Chelsea is the club I want to play for and I don't mind a battle for a place. Players coming in takes you to the next level. Competition is only healthy. Of course, it's hard when you are sitting on the bench and the team is playing well and you don't see yourself playing. But football changes very quickly and you have to make the most of it while you are playing."

But no club has ever dealt with an experience like the arrival of Roman Abramovich. "We seem to have an exciting club to write about," Gudjohnsen concedes. "We have, for the media, an exciting manager also."

The attention, he maintains, doesn't affect the players. But what about the incessant speculation? Every summer he has to bear it. In the summer of 2003 Gudjohnsen was threatened by the arrival of Hernan Crespo and Adrian Mutu. Last summer the arrival of Didier Drogba for £24m meant Chelsea needed to get rid of an existing striker. However it was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who left, while Gudjohnsen agreed an improved four-year contract. He may be unassuming but he should not be underestimated.

Gudjohnsen relishes the challenge. "I think I'm like that naturally," he says. "There were times when other players might have left. But I stuck it out and ended up forcing myself into the team and I stayed there. I finished [last season] strongly and now this season I've probably played more games than I ever have done for Chelsea. It's probably part of maturing as a person as well. Experience gives you a lot of things and I'm lucky to be like that but still at a young age."

It doesn't matter, he declares emphatically, who Chelsea sign. "I think whoever comes will still have to show they are better than me in my position or will have to bring something more than me," Gudjohnsen says. "When I signed there was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Gianfranco Zola and Tore Andre Flo. So there were three big strikers and Franco is probably the all-time best Chelsea player. And I wasn't afraid of that challenge and it's been a challenge ever since."

His nationality, he thinks, doesn't help. "I think because people don't see me on a world stage, because they will never see me in the Euros or a World Cup, some players might seem more attractive because they get all the attention in a big tournament. For me the League here and the Champions' League are the biggest tournaments I will take part in so that makes me work ever harder and want to do even better." Both trophies are tangibly close and, although Gudjohnsen relays the usual, understandable lines about not taking anything for granted, he also admits that "now we have got this far we are starting to think beyond that [the Premiership] and want to win the Champions' League as well."

Mourinho, he says, has also made clear that he wants the title by the biggest possible margin. "We don't want to give anyone the pleasure of saying they beat the champions," Gudjohnsen says. "Hopefully, there will be only one team saying that and that's Manchester City, who beat us early in the season."

It's also clear where that confidence developed from. Mourinho, Gudjohnsen says, "has this presence about him, this aura. He knows football. And he loves football. It's amazing what he did at Porto and what he has achieved this year already." The "aura" was evident from the first meeting with his new team. "You could just sense what the man was about," Gudjohnsen says. "He just made you feel that you were part of a team that was going to win things."

Gudjohnsen was one of the first to be called in when the new manager took over last summer - mainly because he was one of the few not involved at Euro 2004. The Mourinho message was simple. "It was all about yourself and what you can bring to the team and what you can show the manager," Gudjohnsen recalls. "I think with every one of us, although I can only speak for myself, he made it very clear what he saw in us and what he wanted. From that first minute it gave me a lot of confidence and then it's up to me to cement a place." It was after that first meeting that Mourinho publicly announced that Gudjohnsen was "special" - and that he would make him a better player.

It's also interesting to hear that Mourinho is always "open to discussion". "He said, from day one, that his door is open, so come and have a chat," Gudjohnsen says. The manager also encourages criticism. "No one has a problem with that. We all criticise each other. We criticise ourselves and we have players who are happy to deal with that. The manager is always one for saying it the way it is. But we all seem strong enough to deal with that and he is always open to our suggestions. There's that kind of understanding."

The intense preparation helps. "The organisation with everything from pre-season onwards was amazing," Gudjohnsen says. "From the first minute to the last minute in training, to when we start lunch to when we finish lunch, to when people rest, to when we start again. Everything was spot-on. The attention to detail is really important for the manager. It's one of the things that has impressed me the most."

As has team spirit. "Immense," Gudjohnsen claims. Partly it has drawn on disappointments, last season's in particular. "We know what it's like to get so close and not win," he says. "And we're obviously very happy to have such a great squad of players. That helps. But there are also great characters. Last year gave the players who have been here a while - John Terry, Frank Lampard, myself - a lot of experience. We have matured. We realise that we're lucky to be at a great club with fantastic ambitions, which demands trophies. We also realise that we have to demand success of ourselves and that's probably the biggest part of the winning mentality that has been brought into this team."

It is not only Mourinho who has nurtured that mentality. "It does feel slightly different," Gudjohnsen says "because we seem to be able to put ourselves under a lot of pressure as well - apart from anyone else. We set ourselves the high standards." And that makes it more powerful. Gudjohnsen has been at the forefront - along with Terry and Lampard. The three form a core that Mourinho immediately identified and embraced. It's no surprise that each has worn the captain's armband. "That's something I'm proud of," Gudjohnsen says. "I don't see myself as a future Chelsea captain but I think I'm third in line, maybe. I think when you talk about the three of us we have taken on a lot of that responsibility, to make sure we have the right atmosphere in the dressing-room. We really, really want to be there as a team and do everything as a team."

It's something that, in Mourinho's absence, they will draw on tonight.

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