Strike partnerships are a beautiful thing when they come along. The days of deadly duos are something lost to nostalgia in the modern game, with threatening tridents and often even quartets becoming more fashionable of late.
Barcelona currently possess one of the most clinical front threes to ever play in Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, and Neymar, otherwise known as MSN. Never admitting to being topped by their Clásico rivals, Real Madrid would claim their take on the BBC is the world’s most feared trio, with Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo operating either side of Karim Benzema.
When listing effective duos, in England at least, you have to go back to the 1990s and early 2000s for most that spring to mind – Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn, Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton – but the list really isn’t that long.
One particularly successful two-man front line to have torn Premier League defences apart was when fire met ice, and Chelsea brought Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen together.
It is an old, tired and maybe even for the most part untrue cliché that opposites attract; in the case of Hasselbaink and Gudjohnsen, though, nothing could describe their relationship better.
The Dutchman built his career on brute force and could go toe-to-toe with the most powerful players on the planet. As a six-year-old, Hasselbaink had his right leg broken when he was run over by a moped, and upon watching a highlight reel of his goals, you could be forgiven for questioning whether or not some of the moped’s engine remained in his leg as it healed.
As Jimmy bore down on goal, it would be reasonable for a goalkeeper to be as fearful of getting in the way of his shot as it went flying by into the goal. When he struck a shot, it stayed hit.
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Gudjohnsen, on the other hand, was a more graceful presence on the pitch – less physically imposing, but just as menacing to an opposing defence. He was a technical player, more of a number 10 than a complete striker, but one who almost seemed to have an in-built GPS locater on not just the goal, but his team-mates, too.
In 2000, when Chelsea completed their respective moves for both, few would have expected them to work together quite as well as they did.
Hasselbaink’s move to Stamford Bridge marked his return to English football after a short and ultimately unsuccessful spell in Spain with Atlético Madrid, having departed from Leeds United 12 months earlier. During his time in Yorkshire, Hasselbaink had proven his credentials to the English public, scoring 34 times in 71 games for The Peacocks.
Though adored by the Atléti supporters, Hasselbaink’s stay in the Spanish capital was short-lived as despite him scoring a more than respectable 24 goals in 34 La Liga appearances, Los Rojiblancos were relegated to the Segunda División along with Real Betis and Sevilla. Remarkably, his 24 league strikes – accounting for exactly half of the club’s goals that season – almost earned him the Pichichi award, only to lose out to Racing Santander’s Salva.
Atlético were going through a turbulent time at the turn of the century. Players’ wages were paid sporadically, if at all, with some left waiting for months. The club’s president, Jesús Gil, was sent to prison, all while remaining in charge.
When Chelsea spent £15 million to bring the striker to West London, they could make a safe prediction that, despite the sizeable sum, they were bringing in a guaranteed source of goals. The Icelander, bought to accompany Hasselbaink, was a much calmer and cooler presence on the pitch; furthermore, at less than £5 million, his transfer was less likely to burn a hole in Ken Bates’ pocket.
Gudjohnsen also had experience in England’s top flight, as he made the move south to London from Bolton Wanderers. Not an out-and-out striker, his technical strengths were thought to be ideal as complementary to Hasselbaink’s predatory instincts and sniper-like shooting. The Dutchman not only approved of the addition but agreed wholeheartedly that Gudjohnsen’s talents brought out the best in him.
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“Eidur could do things that I couldn’t do, and I could do things that he could not do,” Hasselbaink told Graham Hunter in a recent interview. “Eidur is a player on the ball. Turning out, passing; always finding a pass. He was always reading the game. He needed a player, like me, to make space for him. He was always two steps ahead.
“I needed an Eidur. I was not a technical player. I needed someone like that, I knew how to make runs and find a little bit of space. I needed to face the goal.”
When the two played together, Hasselbaink regularly got to stare straight at goal. It was evident that they had a complete understanding of one another, a bond that appeared deeper than just a footballing relationship.
The pair were close friends off the pitch as well. During their time together in London, they would regularly go out at night, to casinos, clubs, and to quote Hasselbaink: “I was single in those days. And what do you do when you’re single?”
Gudjohnsen later admitted to suffering from a gambling addiction, and in 2003 he revealed he had lost £400,000. Rumours circulated about their splurging, and some even suggested Hasselbaink had lost £1 million but, speaking to FourFourTwo in 2013, the Dutchman that their habits were not as wild as reported: “It didn’t get that out of hand,” Hasselbaink said. “We used to go out together, yeah, but it was still controlled. There was no craziness.”
Before joining the Blues, the former Bolton forward was never considered to be prolific and had netted just six times in 24 appearances for The Trotters. When playing alongside Hasselbaink, the Icelandic international showed a prowess of his own in front of goal.
Although his first season was largely spent making substitute appearances, Gudjohnsen still managed to score 13 times for Chelsea. It was in his second season at the Bridge, however, that things began to click for the duo.
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The 2001-02 season began for Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea with a lot of talk around the side. Ranieri was keen to usher in a younger batch of players. The signing of a 22-year-old Frank Lampard as a direct, and even controversial, replacement for the departing and ageing Gus Poyet was a perfect example of the change.
Much like the previous campaign, Gudjohnsen began the new season on the bench while Hasselbaink was partnered by Gianfranco Zola. The Dutch striker hit the ground running, as you might expect, but Gudjohnsen had to be patient. In the fifth round of fixtures, as Chelsea led 2-1 away to Tottenham Hotspur, the young forward was brought on to replace Zola with just two minutes to play. The game’s final moments would prove eventful, though there was no fairytale dawn for Fire and Ice. Chelsea ran out 3-2 victors.
When Middlesbrough visited Stamford Bridge on 23 September, the two finally got their chance to line up together from kick-off, and Chelsea reaped the rewards early on. In the third minute, Gudjohnsen, from deep, played a sublime ball forward, which found Hasselbaink embarking on a typically defence-splitting run. With ease, he prodded the ball past the oncoming Mark Crossley before tapping into an open goal, and the partnership, if born against Spurs, was baptised against Boro.
Hasselbaink finished the 2001-02 season with 23 league goals, one off leading goalscorer Thierry Henry, while Gudjohnsen was the league’s eighth-most prolific forward with a respectable tally of 14.
In the same interview with Graham Hunter, Hasselbaink revealed what many suspected as being true: that Gudjohnsen was his preferred accomplice: “He was my favourite strike partner, yes,” the Dutchman said. “Eidur and I were really good friends on the pitch and really good friends off the pitch. I think the most important thing was that we wanted to play together and we wanted each other to do well.”
Since their combination, Chelsea have not always found it easy when recruiting goalscorers. The likes of Mateja Kežman, Adrian Mutu, and Claudio Pizzaro all struggled. Even Andriy Shevchenko, Hernán Crespo and Fernando Torres, despite their reputations, never quite worked at the Bridge.
Fire and Ice have proven to be a tough act to follow not only at Chelsea but in the Premier League, and very few have combined like them since. Henry and Dennis Bergkamp stand out from Arsenal’s Invincibles season, while Suárez and Daniel Sturridge had a spell for Liverpool in more recent years, and Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney prove to be handfuls today.
In a time that has seen tactics shift away from variations of a 4-4-2, it could be few years yet before we see another like them in England.
By Conor Clancy. Follow @concalcio