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John Guidetti – In Search of the Elusive Road to Success

John Guidetti celebrating a goal for Sweden
Credit: Anders Wiklund/AP

John Guidetti signed for Manchester City at the tender age of 16 but, unlike so many other youngsters hoovered up across Europe by cash-rich Premier League clubs, this was not the case of a naive young man venturing abroad to experience a foreign culture for the first time. By this time, Guidetti had already sampled the rich tapestry of life away from his native Sweden.

Born in April 1992, a six-year-old Guidetti was signed onto the youth system at local Stockholm club IF Brommapojkarna, but just four years later, when his father’s teaching job took him to Kenya, Guidetti also moved to Africa. After nearly five years living in Nairobi and playing with local clubs there, often in the slum areas of the city, it was a much more worldly-wise teenager, mature beyond his years that returned to Sweden. It’s a learning experience that Guidetti readily acknowledges, relating that the “period was very important for my development, both on and off the pitch.”

After returning to Scandinavia, Guidetti re-joined IF Brommapojkarna, and his ability saw him called up for the Sweden U17 team. It also piqued the interest of fellow countryman Sven-Göran Eriksson. Then in charge at Manchester City, the former England manager persuaded the teenager to ship out to Lancashire on a development contract. It was perhaps an unfortunate turn of fate for Guidetti’s prospects at the club that Eriksson’s time in Manchester was up shortly afterwards. Officially, the young striker would be assigned to City for much longer, not leaving until transferred to Celta Vigo in 2015, but in all those years, a single League Cup outing in sky blue colours would be the sum total of his contribution to the first team.

Initially, things took on a promising aspect. Thirteen goals in the same number of games for the U18 team at City suggested that the club had an asset of rare quality, and a hat-trick in his debut for the Reserves merely underscored the potential. From there, however, things stalled, and a return to IF Brommapojkarna was seen as a way to offer a passage into first team football, albeit at a more sedate level. The time in Sweden was successful, although short, covering a mere eight games, but on his return to Manchester Roberto Mancini included the striker in the party touring the USA for a series of pre-season Friendlies.

A reasonably favourable impression must have been garnered, as the manager then granted Guidetti his debut in September in the League Cup encounter with West Bromwich Albion. He didn’t find the net, but reportedly landed the ‘assist’ for City’s goal. First team opportunities remained scarce, however, and a short loan to Championship club Burnley followed in December. He scored on his debut, and Burnley were keen to extend the loan, but City called him back.

There then followed a strange scenario when Eredivisie club Twente announced a deal had been agreed to take Guidetti to the Netherlands. Despite a series of statements and counter arguments between the clubs, however, and although prospects of extended playing time with City looked slim enough to slip through the eye of a needle, Guidetti remained in Manchester and a full contract was signed in July 2011.

Having beaten off the advances of Twente, City then twisted the knife a little by sending Guidetti out on loan to Feyenoord for the coming season. It turned out to be the most prolific phase of his career to date. Twenty – but not for Twente – Eredivisie goals in just 23 games, including three hat-tricks in consecutive home games convinced the Rotterdam club of the merits to try and lock out a deal at the end of the loan, whilst in the east of the country, bordering Germany, an understandably seething resentment brewed in the town of Enschede as Twente considered what might have been.

In April however, a mysterious condition, later diagnosed as a viral infection affecting a nerve, caused the teenager to lose all feeling in his right leg. Now denied the services of their star striker, Feyenoord’s drive towards the league title stumbled, eventually foundering and, at the end of the term, Guidetti returned to Manchester City. The time in the Netherlands had clearly reinvigorated City’s interest in Guidetti however, and a new contract was signed in October 2012, making him – at least, nominally – a City player for a further three years. After a long and protracted recovery, he would make a brief return to fitness in the new year, but a knee injury requiring surgery rounded out a period of time best written off as the sort of character enhancing experience, a number of footballers are compelled to endure.

With fitness regained, and in pursuit of first-team rehabilitation, Guidetti was sent out on loan to Stoke City in January 2014 for the remainder of the season. A dispute with Stoke manager Mark Hughes however, blighted his time in the Potteries, and eight substitute appearances served neither club nor player’s best interests. The abortive pursuit of first team action then transferred to Scotland and another loan deal, covering the 2014-15 season, was agreed with Celtic.

Guidetti’s time in Glasgow was highly successful both domestically and on the international stage. As part of the Celtic team, Guidetti would secure the Scottish league title and lift the Scottish League Cup, scoring 15 goals in 35 games across all competitions for the club. Playing in Sweden’s U21 team, he would also win the European Championship in 2015, with Guidetti being the tournament’s third highest goalscorer.

It now seemed clear that if his career was to develop any sort of momentum, a move away from City would be required. City seemed to concur and, at the end of the season, the club announced that they would not be offering the Swede a new contract, making him a free agent. After lifting the European trophy, Guidetti described his perceived value to any new club saying that he would probably “cost less than a cheeseburger.” It was a comment he would later describe as a “joke” during an interview with Marca later, explaining that, “Sometimes people don’t know I’m joking. I was a free agent so signing me would cost nothing – less than a hamburger. It’s good to joke, not take life too seriously.”

In July 2015, Galician club Celta Vigo rolled up the ‘drive-thru’ counter and bought that particular “cheeseburger” signing Guidetti on a five-year deal. Celta are known as the Celestes, due to their sky blue shirts, and donning those familiar colours was not the only similarity between Guidetti’s time in Manchester and Vigo. Again, a promising start petered away into disappointment. A dozen strikes in slightly more than 40 games across all competitions in his first season on the Iberian Peninsula wasn’t a startling introduction to La Liga, but given the new country and culture, there was time for improvement. Sadly, it didn’t come. A broadly similar number of games returned only nine goals the following term and although he appeared in 13 European games for the club, league appearances dwindled. By January 2018, with just eight games played and a single goal to his credit, the five years on the contract was exposed as merely theoretical at best. A loan deal with Alavés to the end of the term followed, and despite a mere three goals from 19 games, a four-year deal was agreed in April.

Still only 26 years old, there’s time aplenty for Guidetti to hit the heights suggested by the early years of his career, and particularly his time with Feyenoord and Celtic. A footballer with a sense of purpose and a mature outlook, the striker is far from the salad days of his time in the professional game. A well-rounded character, he has a foundation in Africa which, as he described in March 2018, “helps kids play football and have opportunities. I’m trying to give something back to Africa.” Guidetti also has strong views on equality, declaring in an interview with Marca that, “There’s still a lot of progress to be made in all areas, but if we all do a bit, we’ll live in a better world. I’m 100 percent feminist. I believe in equality, and that we should all have the same rights whether we’re men, women, black, white, young, old. We deserve the same.”

The last couple of sentences of the quote may even serve as a summary of Guidetti’s career to date. “There’s still a lot of progress to be made in all areas,” is surely the case, and certainly a lot of players have had better fortune, both in terms of injuries and career opportunities, and perhaps he “deserves the same.” Will it happen for him? So many players have had a promising career path laid out for them and then for any number of reasons lost their way during the journey. The next few seasons may well decide whether John Guidetti discovers his road map to success, or wanders off into the wilderness.

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