Restored Gudjohnsen says goodbye to the bad times

Icelander looks forward to exciting future after refusing to believe doctors that he would never play at the top
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Eidur Gudjohnsen knows what it is like to have one of those shirts brought back as a souvenir when family or friends have been on their foreign travels. Only his reads: My father played against Gianluca Vialli in a Uefa Cup final - and all I got was this lousy Sampdoria shirt. Not strictly accurate, but it is true to say that Arnor Gudjohnsen, father of Chelsea's £4m summer signing from Bolton did play for Anderlecht against Sampdoria in that 1990 final and did swap shirts with Vialli at the final whistle.

Eidur Gudjohnsen knows what it is like to have one of those shirts brought back as a souvenir when family or friends have been on their foreign travels. Only his reads: My father played against Gianluca Vialli in a Uefa Cup final - and all I got was this lousy Sampdoria shirt. Not strictly accurate, but it is true to say that Arnor Gudjohnsen, father of Chelsea's £4m summer signing from Bolton did play for Anderlecht against Sampdoria in that 1990 final and did swap shirts with Vialli at the final whistle.

That shirt remains a prized piece of memorabilia in the Gudjohnsen household back in Reykjavik. "I was only 11 and watched the game live on TV because my father was playing," recalls Gudjohnsen junior, whose excellent English - one of six languages he speaks - suggests the merest hint of Lancastrian after two years in the North-west. "But you couldn't help noticing Luca. He was one of the deadliest strikers in Europe." Ten years on, Vialli the manager has placed faith in the 21-year-old Icelander, alongwith his club record signing, the £15m Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, to reinforce Chelsea's goalscoring potential. Last season, the goals return from Gianfranco Zola, Chris Sutton and Tore Andre Flo was only 30 in all competitions, and the last scored 19 of them. On such statistics Premiership titles are not founded.

Meanwhile, Gudjohnsen was achieving 22 in all competitions, albeit alongside Dean Holdsworth or Bob Taylor and against Crewe and Grimsby. Now his partners will be Hasselbaink, Flo and Zola; among their rivals Manchester United and Liverpool. "When you look at the players that were already here, and the players Vialli has brought in we should definitely be challenging for the championship," he says. However, Gudjohnsen recognises the new challenge will be formidable, not merely in bridging the class differential, but winning the right to do so in the first place.

"They've all got tremendous talent," says Gudjohnsen of his fellow strikers. "Gianfranco is one of the most skilful players I've ever seen. Jimmy is all about power and finishing. A great goalscorer. Tore is too. But the way I look at it is that although it's an honour for me to be with those players, I'm not going to stand still and admire them. I'm here to play, not be a spectator."

Gudjohnsen expects Vialli to field the team in today's Charity Shield game at Wembley that will start the Premiership season against West Ham. And he is well aware of the notorious Vialli rotation system. "I've got to battle for my place," he says. "Obviously, Chelsea think I can do it, otherwise they wouldn't have signed me. But I'm the only one who can make sure I'm going to play, by seizing my chance when it comes along. You live and die by your goals. If you don't score, you quickly put yourself under pressure. I have a big appetite for goals. I am greedy, in the positive sense of the word. I want to score in every game."

Yet his voracious appetite is not the normal yearning of an ambitious young player. His desire is heightened by an incident as a 17-year-old that led the medical experts at his then club PSV Eindhoven virtually to write him off as a professional.

It had all begun so auspiciously when he was signed by PSV at the age of 16. In only his second season, Gudjohnsen graduated to the first team, where he encountered such performers as Luc Nilis, now with Aston Villa, and a fellow named Ronaldo, a half-decent Brazilian striker. "I have great memories playing and training alongside the best player in the world," says Gudjohnsen. "We played in the same side together twice. He is the most exciting player I've ever seen. I used to watch him a lot and would try to copy his movements off the ball. He was only two years older than me but he stood out even then. I'm just sorry about the way his career's gone now and I hope he comes back."

By then, Gudjohnsen had played his first game for Iceland - at the age of 17 - by coming on as substitute for his father. It is yet one more intriguing fact about the family. Another is that he and his girlfriend Ragnhileur already have a son Sveinn Aron, aged two, the latest in a long surviving line of Gudjohnsens. "My father is 39, my grandmother is 55, great grandmother is 74. There are five living generations." And we all thought it was down to those long dark winter nights. If they ever brought TV's Mastermind back, the footballing Gudjohnsens of Reykjavik, who probably trail only the singer Bjork, Magnus Magnusson and five-times Prime Minister Olafur Thors as the country's best known celebrities, ought to be a specialist subject.

To return to rather more grave matters, Gudjohnsen was playing for Iceland Under-18s against Ireland when he broke his ankle in a challenge. There were complications. He attempted to return too early, suffered a setback and required more surgery. "Eventually, one day, the specialist at PSV turned to me and said that I'd never play top-level football again. But I didn't hear him, if you understand. I knew that I could do it. I needed positive people around me. I waited for my contract at PSV to expire and went home to Iceland. It was the best thing I could have done, just go home and work hard on rebuilding my ankle."

Eventually, he was confident enough to have played for a month for a team named KR Reykjavik, from whom Bolton acquired him on a free transfer. "It turned out really well and last season, I played in every league game. I had to prove to myself and others that I'd recovered and I've succeeded in that."

His attributes are strength, excellent close control, with the ability to turn defenders, and the eye for a spectacular goal. If he lacks anything, it is a certain pace, but that is to judge him harshly. "For a 21-year-old I've been through more than most pros do in a whole career. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, but in the end it's all been a good experience. I really had to dig deep in my reserves of self-belief and have faith in those who really care when times were hard."

Gudjohnsen talks about discovering that Chelsea wanted to buy him with boyish enthusiasm. "As soon as I heard Chelsea were interested I couldn't think of anything else," he says. The first person he told was his father, who still plays for the Icelandic first division club Valur Reykjavik. "We speak every other day. We're very close," says Gudjohnsen junior who will play his fifth international in a friendly against Sweden on Wednesday. "My father tells me to believe in myself and the rest will follow. He's just so pleased I've overcome the injury and that my career is back on track."

Gudjohnsen senior is a folk hero back home, having represented Iceland for 19 years. One of his 14 international goals was against Ron Greenwood's England in 1982 and he was in the vanguard of Icelanders making their names abroad. Now there are several playing here, Bolton's Gudni Bergsson, Leicester's Arnar Gunnlaugsson, his twin brother Bjarki at Preston, Watford's Heidar Helguson and Wimbledon's Hermann Hreidarsson. It is a remarkable tribute to the youth set-up in Iceland, a nation of just 280,000. Now Gudjohnsen, with Vialli's guidance, has the chance to be the best of all. And it will be his shirt the other players will be seeking.

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