John Guidetti 20 StrikerManchester City (2011/12 season spent on loan at Feyenoord)
Any young striker at Manchester City has four huge problems ahead of him if he’s going to break into the first team – Tevez, Agüero, Džeko and a shrinking violet by the name of Balotelli. Even if the cards fall his way and he finds himself in the hallowed eleven for a full ninety minutes, time to grow into the role and form partnerships will be in short supply. It requires a level of confidence beyond the norm and rock steady self-belief to take on the challenge, and many simply aren’t up to it technically or mentally in the longer term.
So with that said, it’s fair to say signing his new contract must have been an interesting decision for John Guidetti.
His inclusion in the club’s Champions League squad will have been heartening, but he’s there to all intents and purposes as fifth choice striker. Not only that but this is Manchester City, the club who will remain able to spend without real consequence to the long-term finances of the owners for as long as people need little things like oil and petrol. He’s fifth choice behind £130m worth of genuinely world-class striking talent and at a club who can afford to buy an elite level striker every transfer window if they so desire.
Quite a daunting prospect for some young players, but then some young players aren’t John Alberto Guidetti.
For starters there is an understanding from Manchester City that he represents a huge talent. This was further evidenced in their refusal to consider the advances of several clubs in the summer transfer window who were all willing to take Guidetti despite him being on the long-term injury list. City moved quickly to offer a contract to tie him down for the future, and then improved terms when the originals had been rejected. They finally got him to sign a new three-year contract in October when thanks to the injury he had only just resumed light training, and both parties seemed happy with their prospects for the future.
In talking about his new deal in an interview with Manchester City’s own television channel, Guidetti mentioned wanting to stay at the club as they had ‘the best of everything’. He repeatedly praised the club’s medical and coaching staff and how excited he was to learn from the striker’s ahead of him, but this is the sort of bluster we’re used to by now, a party-line spoon fed by a club’s PR man standing just out of shot. The key questions remain just as they did prior to his signature - why were City so keen to keep him and why would he stay with the odds stacked so high against success?
Well before we look at the footballer perhaps we should start with the man. Amongst the first words offered by those that know him are ‘intense’ and ‘confident’, Guidetti is a man at ease with himself and happy for others to see him as so. In interviews there’s none of the shuffling of feet or looking to the floor prevalent in some young footballer’s first media work, and having joined City in 2009 he is completely at home in their boom years rather than being overwhelmed by them.
On the pitch this confidence manifests itself in several ways. Another word used by some is ‘abrasive’ and a tipping of the scales to Bendtner-levels of belief in his own abilities is a step too far despite his promise. Writing in the ever-excellent World Soccer magazine Nick Bidwell puts a lot of this down to childhood street football against bigger and older kids in spells living in Nairobi due to his father’s work - a period of his life the player himself has said heavily shaped his development. Confidence is good but a balance must be struck. While it reveals a lot about why the contract was offered and then signed, ultimately both parties are still trading in potential – a dangerous commodity more prone to the boom/bust cycle than most.
So why the hype? By the age of 20 he has already had a very impressive loan spell back at his first club IF Brommapojkarna where he proved he could score goals at a first team level, a month with Burnley who were desperate to keep him beyond his four weeks there, scored goals at every level of Sweden’s youth-level international football including four in a game against Holland’s highly rated U19s, achieved a full cap having made his debut in February 2012 in a friendly against Croatia, and most notably whilst on loan with Feyenoord last season he scored 20 goals in just 23 appearances to truly put him on the top of European scouting lists.
His season in Holland was truly electrifying. Once the loan had been brokered it was hoped that Guidetti would gain some first team experience and put a few valuable miles on the clock. He settled into Eredivisie life immediately and the confidence became leadership, a player with a chance that he was always going to grasp with both hands.
What followed was extraordinary and consistently headline-grabbing - 20 goals in 23 matches, 8 assists, a first red card (the dreaded second yellow arriving for a celebrating a goal with his shirt off), a steep learning curve as his subsequent suspension cost him a place in a vital game against PSV, 3 hat-tricks in 3 consecutive home games, and cult status for life at Feyenoord secured by virtue of one of those hat-tricks coming in a win against Ajax.
His form in Holland had moved him to the top of every European giant’s ‘interesting’ list but a bizarre injury cut his playing time short in April with Feyenoord fighting for the title. Guidetti suffered food poisoning from some chicken eaten at a party, and then a subsequent virus that attacked his nerves and left him with no feeling in his right leg. Unable to play any further part in the season Feyenoord took second place, a remarkable achievement for a club who had finished tenth the year before.
Putting his season into context, many felt it was the virus that effectively curtailed Feyenoord’s title chances by taking Guidetti out of the team. He returned to City to recover and it’s been a slow process but there was never any question of them not offering the new contract. Taking into account Guidetti’s attitude and then the remarkable way in which he took his chance in Holland, realistically it might be said there was no question of him not signing it.
For Sweden many feel Guidetti is the long-term partner for the remainder of Zlatan Ibrahimović’s international adventures, and then eventual successor as great-striking-hope. He’s certainly capable of playing at a level that approaches Ibra (in confidence if nothing else) but he’ll need to force his way into City’s first team thoughts quickly if he wants to try and match his compatriot’s achievements. If Sweden make it to the 2014 World Cup (with Germany in their group you have to think it would be via a potentially tricky play-off) and Guidetti is playing regularly somewhere, he should be involved and may well make his international mark in Brazil.
We wonder about Guidetti’s future but that’s only on the grounds of opportunity and not talent. You have to admire the attitude that he can take on the toughest conditions for a young player in world football and win, but at some point the reality of having four of the best strikers in the game ahead of you and pockets deep enough to buy another four if they don’t work out must sink in.
Can he climb Everest without a rope? We honestly don’t know but he does have the raw materials and more of a chance than most. Could he become a top-line striker for a different club in one of Europe’s biggest leagues? Absolutely and that’s a destiny most players in his position would be happy to settle for, even if it takes a while to get there mentally.
“A few months down the line from 2011/12, we can really start to absorb what John Guidetti achieved on loan at Feyenoord, despite only turning 20 a few weeks before the season's end. It wasn't just the 20 goals in 23 matches but the way he led the team - technically and ideologically - out of the doldrums to finishing Eredivisie runners-up. A debilitating illness took the wind out of his sails, but the identity of Zlatan's successor for Sweden is no longer a secret.”– Andy Brassell (UEFA, The Independent, BBC)
C+ An abundance of talent, a dearth of opportunity - which one will have won out come the end of John Guidetti’s Manchester City story?