Joey Guðjónsson

Former Player Remembers: Joey Guðjónsson

Earlier this season, Club Historian John Hutchinson spoke to Joey Guðjónsson, who played for Leicester City between 2004 and 2006.
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An Icelandic international midfielder, Joey played top flight football in Iceland, Holland, Spain and England. His former managers included Juande Ramos and Louis van Gaal.

Highlights of his two seasons at Leicester City, meanwhile, included scoring a spectacular goal from within his own half and winning both the players’ and fans’ Player of the Year awards.

Nowadays, on the other hand, he is currently manager of his hometown team, ÍA Akranes, which plays in the Icelandic Premier League. 

Joey was born in the Icelandic port town of Akranes, about 12 miles north of the capital Reykyavik. He grew up playing for ÍA, but when he was 17, he went on loan to KA Akureyri on the north coast of Iceland and featured for them in the Icelandic Premier Division in 1997. He returned to ÍA the following season and then left Iceland to pursue his career abroad.

He explained: “When I was 18, I moved to Racing Genk in Belgium where I signed my first professional contract. I just went on trial. They were happy with what they saw and offered me, straightaway, a five-year contract. My eldest brother Þórðar (Thordur) was playing for Genk at the time. He had played for VfL Bochum in Germany.

I was determined to go the same way as my brothers so I put all my effort into training really hard and I had the support of my elder brothers too. It helped me a lot.

Joey Guðjónsson

“I was absolutely over the moon when Genk decided to sign me. A few months later, my other brother Bjarni also signed for Genk. He was one year older than me. The year before I left Iceland, he had spent a year at Newcastle United. All three brothers were now at the same club!

“I was determined to go the same way as my brothers so I put all my effort into training really hard and I had the support of my elder brothers too. It helped me a lot. Taking your first steps in the professional game can sometimes be quite difficult for younger players, especially when they move abroad.”

For the 1999/2000 season, Joey went to Holland on loan to MVV Maastricht, newly promoted to the top-flight Eredivisie. He stayed there for a year before signing for another Dutch club, RKC Waalwijk, for whom he made 35 appearances in 2000/2001.

“I moved to Holland with my future wife,” Joey recalled. “When I signed for Waalwijk, they were managed by Martin Jol who later managed Tottenham Hotspur. I was there for a season and I got my first real taste of regular first team football.”

At the end of the season Joey then took a big step when he moved to Spain.

“Things happen quickly,” Joey continued. “Two years after leaving Genk, I was all of a sudden being signed by Real Betis, who had just been promoted to La Liga. It was a brilliant move for myself and a great experience. The manager was Juande Ramos, who later also managed Tottenham as well, and Real Madrid.”

While he was at Betis, Joey went on loan to Premier League Aston Villa in January 2003: “There was a change of manager at Betis and I wasn’t getting game time so I decided it was time to move on. The opportunity came up for me to go on loan to Villa for half a season, which was brilliant.

“The game in the Premier League is completely different from Spain. It was so much quicker and more physical. It was always my dream to play in the Premier League, which I’d watched on television as a kid like all Icelandic people, and I got the opportunity to do that at Villa.”

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Joey Guðjónsson
Joey Guðjónsson

Guðjónsson played for Wolves before his spell at King Power Stadium.

The following season, Joey had more Premier League experience when he went on loan to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who had just been promoted to the top flight, along with Leicester City and Portsmouth.

“I wasn’t able to find a permanent deal at Villa,” Joey continued. “But I had the option to go on loan again. I really wanted to prove myself in the Premier League and was happy to get the chance at Wolves. I loved being in Spain, but England is where I wanted to play because of the passionate fans, the love of the game and the attention that the games get.”   

Both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City were relegated in 2004, and but Filbert Way was Joey’s next destination. 

Micky Adams knew that I was coming back to England,” Joey added. “There was talk of other clubs being interested but as soon as I met Micky at the training ground, I knew straightaway that Leicester was the club I wanted to sign for.

“They had just been relegated, but the Club showed ambition to get straight back to the Premier League. Unfortunately this didn’t happen in my time at the Club, which was a shame, but I knew that Leicester had the potential to go up and stay up. The fans at Leicester are brilliant. Their support through the years has been absolutely magnificent.

“Micky left the Club soon after I arrived. It can be quite difficult when the manager who signs you leaves, but I was determined to show the new manager, Craig Levein, that I was worth a place in the first team and I just kept doing my best. The only way you can go forward with a manager is to show him that you are willing to work hard and do the best you can for him and the team.”

In his first season at Leicester, the Club finished a disappointing 15th in the Championship. The following season (2005/06) was also a disappointing one for the Club.

I had a brilliant time at Leicester because of all the staff surrounding the Club, all the players I played with and all of the support I received.

Joey Guðjónsson

A highlight was the FA Cup defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup, but Levein departed at the end of January, following a run of six successive league defeats.

His assistant Rob Kelly became manager. Results improved dramatically and it was during a run of 21 points from 10 games that Joey scored an unforgettable winning goal against Hull City, shooting from within his own half. On a personal level, he made 48 league and cup appearances that season and finished joint top scorer with Iain Hume. 

Recalling the strike against Hull City Joey said: “For a long period of time, I’d practiced shooting at goal. It was always in the back of my mind whenever I got the ball to shoot at goal, but the halfway line is probably not the range you should be shooting from! I looked once at the goal and at the goalkeeper who wasn’t that far off his line. I saw an opportunity and just went for it. It wasn’t a proper thought process. It was just instinct. I really went for it and it came off brilliantly. It was a brilliant goal!” 

Thinking back to that 2005/06 season, Joey continued: “There were some difficulties that season, including financial. There was pressure to get promoted. I always had a very good relationship with Rob. I really blossomed that year. I played the best football of my career when I was playing for him. I really enjoyed my time after he took over.

“At the Club’s end of season awards, I ended up getting both the players’ and the fans’ Player of the Season awards as well as the Goal of the Season award. These were really precious to me. It was good that the players and the fans appreciated what I was about. I’m not the most glamorous player but I liked to get stuck in and work had for the team.

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Guðjónsson's Halfway-Line Strike vs. Hull City

Joey Guðjónsson scored from the halfway line in a 3-2 victory for Leicester City over Hull City on 4 March, 2006.

“I had a brilliant time at Leicester because of all the staff surrounding the Club, all the players I played with and all of the support I received.”

While playing for Leicester City, meanwhile, Joey also won six of his 34 Iceland caps: “I played for the Under-19s and the Under-21s.

“I was really proud when I got called up to the full Iceland squad. Playing for your country is really important. I’d dreamt of that moment ever since watching Iceland as a kid.

“However, I retired from international football too soon. After I’d left Leicester, when I was playing for Burnley a few years later, I noticed that when I came back from international duty, I often found out I’d lost my place in the team, so I eventually decided to retire from international football. Looking back, that was a massive mistake, which I will regret for as long as I live.”

Joey then explained why, during his successful second season at Leicester, he signed a pre-contract agreement in January 2006, to join AZ Alkmaar in the summer. 

I was interested in going back to Leicester. That would have been my first choice. I spoke to Rob [Kelly] a few times, but they couldn’t offer me a contract or afford the transfer fee.

Joey Guðjónsson

“There was a lot of financial uncertainty at Leicester," he explained.  "I wasn’t sure how things were going to work out, and contract-wise, nothing really happened. This uncertainty led me to go to AZ Alkmaar, a very ambitious club in Holland.  It was an opportunity to play in the Champions League. Another massive factor in me signing was that Louis van Gaal was the manager.

“With all his experience and knowledge, he was brilliant to work with. It didn’t work out for me the way we wanted it to, but that’s just part of football. I returned to England after a few months but in the time I worked with him, I learnt a lot of things about the game.

“I was interested in going back to Leicester. That would have been my first choice. I spoke to Rob a few times, but they couldn’t offer me a contract or afford the transfer fee. I signed for Burnley instead, and then I got a call from Rob trying to persuade me to come but it was too late. I’d already signed for Burnley.

He continued: “At Burnley, it didn’t go the way we had planned at first, but when Owen Coyle took over there was a massive change at the club. We got promoted to the Premier League in 2009 when we beat Sheffield United in the play-off final at Wembley. It was a brilliant day at Wembley. It was my birthday and a really proud moment in my career.” 

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Joey Guðjónsson
Joey Guðjónsson

Guðjónsson went on to play for Burnley after Leicester were unable to offer him a deal.

Joey’s final club in English football was League 1 side Huddersfield Town and he remembers it fondly: “I enjoyed my time there. A lot of good people worked there and the support was good. It was disappointing, though, because at the end my first season we lost a play-off final at Old Trafford.”

In April 2012, Joey returned to Iceland: “I signed for my hometown Club, ÍA Akranes, and played there before I moved to a couple of clubs near Reykjavik (Fram and Fylkir). In 2016, I became manager of HK Kópavogur a Championship club in Iceland. I did a good job in my year there and ÍA offered me their manager’s job.

“They’d just been relegated from the top division and it was my job, and ambition, to get them back there which I did in my first season. We’ve been there ever since. We’ve a rich history of winning the league.

“We have a lot of young talented players. We are trying to build a squad capable of challenging for trophies. There’s massive pressure on myself because I’m a local boy, but I enjoy that. I need to develop as a coach. I’m a young manager and need to get experience. I’m just starting my pro license with the Icelandic FA. I need to keep educating myself. I need to keep learning and developing.”

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