Club Focus – Stoke – Where in the world is Eidur Gudjohnsen?

With the midway point of the season rapidly approaching, the Premier League has thrown up surprisingly few clues as to how the big questions will resolve themselves come May. As many as five teams can consider themselves potential champions, while few clear relegation candidates have emerged. At Stoke City, it is equally hard to predict what the future holds for Eidur Gudjohnsen. Signed in August to great fanfare, the celebrated Icelander arrived in the Potteries unfit and overweight, and despite reportedly undergoing a rigorous training regime since, he is still yet to start a first team Potters game, limited so far to just a handful of substitute cameos.

Events have surely not panned out as the Icelander envisaged. He has declared on several occasions that he expects to be starting games once fit, yet at present a starting berth seems further away than ever.

Considerable parallels can be drawn between the capture of Gudjohnsen and the signing of Tuncay 12 months previously. A high profile ‘flair player’ whose role in the Stoke set up was not immediately apparent, both arrivals suggested an intention on the part of Tony Pulis to make his team’s style of play more expansive and less one-dimensional. Indeed, this season has seen efforts made to adjust the system, with the guile of Marc Wilson utilised in midfield and Tuncay deployed in his preferred position in the hole. However, it cannot be ignored that Stoke’s upturn in form has coincided with a reversion to the direct, physical, high-tempo style for which they are renowned. Consequently, as is the case with Tuncay, it is not clear where Gudjohnsen fits in.

He does not have the pace to frighten defenders like Ricardo Fuller, and while he does possess great strength, it is hard to imagine him as the target man in Stoke’s 4-4-1-1, which still largely relies on the withdrawn striker winning aerial flick-ons for his strike partner. Although Chelsea, Barcelona and Monaco have all used the Icelander in central midfield, Pulis likes to use two holding midfielders in the Stoke engine room, a position to which the more attack-minded Gudjohnsen is unaccustomed.

So why did Pulis sign Gudjohnsen? Perhaps there us a genuine intention to evolve Stoke’s playing style that will be addressed in the new year. It has also been suggested that Pulis cannot resist the chance to sign a “name”, irrespective of how suitable they are to his rigid system, and the ill-fated signings of Tuncay and Patrick Berger seem to support this. Certainly it seems that Stoke’s scouts were not aware of Gudjohnsen’s physical condition, and his path to fitness cannot have been helped by his lack of playing time, or the club’s decision to withdraw from the Premier Reserve League this season, denying fringe players the regular action that such a competition provides.

Although the 32-year-old’s wages are being heavily subsidized by Monaco, Stoke nevertheless shelled out £2 million to sign Gudjohnsen on a 12 month contract. With just six of those months remaining however, and the player apparently fifth choice behind Fuller, Kenwyne Jones, Jon Walters and Tuncay, his signing is looking all the more curious. Time is running out for Eidur Gudjohnsen.

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