The fire and ice of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen

The fire and ice of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen

This feature is part of Duology

Lionel Messi, Didier Drogba, Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Hernán Crespo, Samuel Eto’o, Gianfranco Zola, Adriano, Gareth Bale; this is not simply some arbitrary list of phenomenal footballers but in fact a selection of ex-teammates of Eidur Guðjohnsen. Yet, remarkably, none of this list made it as the Icelandic’s favourite strike partner in a career spanning over 22 years. Instead, he chose Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

A famous relationship both on and off the pitch, the pair quickly became known as ‘Fire and Ice’ with Hasselbaink the yin to Guðjohnsen’s yang. “We had great chemistry,” Guðjohnsen recalled to The Guardian in 2004. “We respected each other, we complemented each other. I felt at my best when I was providing goals for him.”

As both players arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2000, the pair quickly merged into one of the most potent strike partnerships the Premier League has ever seen.

Some effective strike partnerships come as a surprise to many. Successful bonds seem unlikely between two players with comparable playing styles and similar areas of the pitch in which they like to inhabit. Carlos Tevez’s arrival at Old Trafford in 2007, alongside Wayne Rooney, was a key example of this is. Despite both players’ propensity to drop into deeper positions to link up the play, they enjoyed a fruitful, goal-filled relationship, culminating in a Champions League trophy.

The Fire and Ice combination of Hasselbaink and Guðjohnsen was not one of these cases. The partnership just made perfect sense, even before a ball at Chelsea was even kicked. Guðjohnsen’s icy cool style meant that he was a more natural provider of chances – light-footed with expansive vision. The fire of Hasselbaink was clear in his physical, uncompromising demeanour and a thunderous right-footed shot.

The Dutchman was the more prolific of the two, the more clinical goalscorer, and his partner was the unselfish, playmaking support striker. It almost made too much sense and it followed Tim Minchin’s view that “every answer that you find is the basis of a brand new cliché.”

Prior to their arrivals at Stamford Bridge, Hasselbaink and Guðjohnsen already shared links with the Blues. Hasselbaink was refused the option to move to Chelsea on his departure from Leeds in 1999, whereas Guðjohnsen had a family connection. The Icelandic forward had cherished a shirt of his new boss, Gianluca Vialli, from a young age. His father had played for Anderlecht in the Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1990, where Vialli scored two goals in extra-time to clinch a 2-0 victory for Sampdoria. The Italian had the good grace to swap his prized shirt with Guðjohnsen Snr, who later passed it down to his beloved son.

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Guðjohnsen arrived in west London from First Division Bolton for £4m, only weeks after Hasselbaink agreed a deal from Atlético Madrid worth an estimated four times that fee. The new arrivals joined Gianfranco Zola in the attacking ranks alongside a player in a not dissimilar mould to Guðjohnsen, Tore André Flo. This upheaval in attack meant that Chris Sutton was swiftly shipped out to Celtic.

Hasselbaink and Guðjohnsen struck up a cohesive relationship almost instantly as their respective starts seemed to align. The Dutchman was acutely aware of both their similarities and differences from their very first meeting. “We couldn’t look more different – a black Dutch guy from Suriname and a blond boy from Iceland – but we are quite similar.” His partner agreed: “Jimmy and I were different in how we played but very alike in how we thought about the game.”

The Dutchman settled into life a little quicker than his fellow new signing, scoring in the Charity Shield win over Manchester United and again in the season’s opener against West Ham. It was unsurprising given that Hasselbaink was the more naturally gifted goalscorer of the two but, as the season wore on, Guðjohnsen chipped in, often quite literally, with more and more goals.

Ex-Chelsea striker David Speedie, who himself shared a similar on-field partnership with Kerry Dixon, summed up the feeling at the Bridge: “Hasselbaink and Guðjohnsen have a similar partnership to us and they are a devastating pair, without a shadow of a doubt. They are both capable of scoring goals from anywhere. Jimmy has the fiercer shot but Guðjohnsen has the better all-round game.”

What was the most striking thing about the duo was their inert ability to find each other in space. Dummies, one-twos, lightning quick counter-attacks; the chemistry was clear from the outset. A particular highlight of their time together was a 3-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in December 2001.

On the night, the duo ran amok as Chelsea comfortably dismantled a United side desperately short of confidence. Such was the resounding nature of the defeat, Sir Alex Ferguson declared after the match that his side, even before Christmas, looked far inferior in terms of quality when compared to their rivals from London. The Scot may have been playing his trademark mind-games to get the desired reaction from his team but the fact it was hard to argue against indicated how far the Fire and Ice duo had helped to elevate Chelsea into genuine title challengers.

Shortly after the turn of the millennium, things were on the up in west London and Fire and Ice were right at the heart of it. Their most prosperous period came in the 2002.03 season as the pair combined for 25 goals, which saw Chelsea secure Champions League football. It was their peak season together but, as they celebrated a record finish in the Premier League era, a series of obstacles was about to derail them. 

First of all, Hasselbaink had been blighted by a hamstring injury from the previous summer after he underwent surgery to relieve a blockage in the arteries. Even more of a blockage to Fire and Ice, though, was the increasingly tense relationship they shared with their manager, Claudio Ranieri.

Original Series   |  Duology

Since retiring, both men have voiced their dislike for the Italian’s tough training methods and his tendency to rotate his strikers. “I think it tested my relationship with Mr Ranieri. I was not complaining to him but I was quite annoyed because I think that you can give me more belief than that. I didn’t feel I was getting it.”

Ranieri’s preference for swapping between Guðjohnsen, Hasselbaink and an ageing Gianfranco Zola, and later with the arrival of Hernán Crespo, earned him the nickname ‘Tinkerman’. It was the start of the end for Fire and Ice.

Hasselbaink was even linked with a move to Louis van Gaal’s Barcelona in January 2003 but the deal fell through. Ranieri was typically pragmatic about the speculation, “So far it is all talk, talk, talk. If they want him, they can come and give me the money.” And so it was somewhat poetic when it was his friend and famed strike partner Guðjohnsen who would be the one to make the voyage to Camp Nou in the summer of 2006, the same month that Hasselbaink swapped Middlesbrough for Charlton.

The pair’s close relationship extended far beyond the pitch. In particular, to the blackjack table. Like most young professional footballers in the Premier League, they had more money than they’d ever dreamed of and a whole lot of time on their hands to spend it.

At times, during the pair’s first couple of seasons at Chelsea, London’s vibrant nightlife proved too tempting to resist. The Dutchman later admitted: “What do you do when you’re single? You go out chasing women and all that sort of stuff.” Their time was not spent solely chasing women, though. “We like a good time and we started gambling because we were having trouble with our girlfriends. We didn’t want to go home so we went to the casino.”

The lure of the gambling den proved to be a turning point as both men’s fondness for a flutter was getting out of hand. Hasselbaink claimed that it was the victories which kept him interested: “Big wins are worse because you think it’s normal. You go back expecting the same – and you get trapped.”

Guðjohnsen admitted to losing £400,000 in casinos over a five-month period, while Hasselbaink was on the same track. ‘One night I lost £40,000,” he later remembered, “I knew then I had to sort out my personal life to walk away from the casino. Maybe my bank account also told me something because it was getting less and less!”

During Guðjohnsen and Hasselbaink’s final year at the Bridge, times were changing dramatically. The summer before the Dutchman’s departure, after an increasingly tense relationship with his manager, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich famously took to the throne at Chelsea. European competition was a crucial factor in the Russian’s decision to buy the club, so Blues fans have a lot to thank this duo for. It was this pair who laid the foundations for the most successful period in the history of Chelsea.

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A season which included second place in the league and a Champions League semi-final was not enough to save Ranieri his job in the regime of their new dictator and Hasselbaink would not be far behind his manager. Days after José Mourinho burst onto the Premier League radar, he was ushering Hasselbaink towards the exit door. The Dutchman lamented not been given an opportunity: “His mind was made up. I saw him once at the training ground and he didn’t talk to me. I would’ve loved to have spoken to him, to have told him what I could do for him.” Up in Teesside, Steve McClaren’s promise to pair him with Mark Viduka proved enough to convince the Dutchman of a move to Middlesbrough.

Hasselbaink’s reputation for being a difficult player to keep happy proved enough for the Chelsea boss to replace him with new signings Didier Drogba and Mateja Kežman, although Hasselbaink later claimed that the Portuguese regretted it. “Months after, I spoke to José and he said he should have kept me, even just for another year, but that’s just how it goes.”

Guðjohnsen, on the other hand, blossomed under the tutelage of the self-confessed ‘Special One.’ Chelsea claimed the Premier League title in each of the next two seasons, as the Blues profited from the Icelandic playing in a more withdrawn, supportive role. It was enough to earn him a move to Barcelona, for £8m, as a replacement for Henrik Larsson. Despite the array of attacking riches in Catalonia, no partner would ever share the same telepathic relationship he’d found in west London.

Since departing Chelsea, both men have claimed that the Fire and Ice partnership was the most enjoyable of their respective careers. The duo played with some of the finest forwards the game has ever seen. As a 17-year-old, Guðjohnsen famously played alongside Ronaldo at PSV Eindhoven, leaving the young Icelander in awe of what he was witnessing. He would also later go on to play in a Barcelona team which at various stages featured Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho. Hasselbaink was also not without some stunning partners throughout his career, at various times playing alongside Ruud van Nistelrooy, Robbie Fowler, Harry Kewell, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert.

To this day, Fire and Ice are fondly remembered as one of the most potent and in-tune strike partnerships of the modern Premier League era. Their understanding and togetherness, both on and off the pitch, allowed them to excel in their different specialisms. They also contributed to the building blocks which would earn Chelsea the Champions League trophy in 2012.

This duo contained more than just a ruthless goalscorer and an unselfish support striker, it was based on compatibility and understanding. At first sight, they look to embody something totally different. As both men have suggested, though, it wasn’t in their differences as to why they shone, it was in their similarities. Hasselbaink summed up the feeling neatly. “I think the most important thing was that we wanted to play together,” he said, “and we wanted each other to do well.” And do well they certainly did.

By Chris Henderson @tfb_contact

Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp

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