A cool wind from the north has been blowing through the Eredivisie this season, the frosty chill having been felt most keenly by teams visiting AZ Alkmaar. Iceland duo Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Johann Gudmundsson have proved a hit with the 2008/09 champions and never more emphatically so than in late January, when Sigthorsson slotted five goals past VVV-Venlo in one game. Gudmundsson added AZ’s other strike in a 6-1 victory and it was fitting that the duo should share in the success, having grown up together before being reunited on Dutch soil last year.
"We’ve known each other since we were four,” Gudmundsson told FIFA.com. “We used to play together in the streets of Reykjavik and we went to the same infant school. We spend a lot of time together. He came here a year before me and the fact that he was here convinced me to sign for AZ.” The attacking midfielder made the correct decision according to his old friend, whose 13 efforts this term make him top scorer for the side currently fourth in the standings. “Johann could have gone to England, but I think I was able to convince him about this club,” explained Sigthorsson. “For me, coming here was the wisest choice.”
‘People thought my career was over’
Wisdom is a quality that has served Sigthorsson well himself, the striker having already encountered his fair share of frustration at the age of 21. After joining from HK Kopavogur at 17, he was sent into AZ’s reserves and had to wait two years before finally making his senior debut. “I came out of that stronger mentally,” he said. “I was still living with my parents before coming to Alkmaar and I had to learn how to get by on my own. Then I picked up an injury and a lot of people thought my career in football was over. So when I got my chance, I didn’t let it slip away.”
He certainly laid down a marker when Venlo came calling earlier this year, the youngster racking up a quintet of goals to write his name in the Eredivisie history books alongside Brazilian former Heerenveen forward Afonso Alves, the only other foreign player to have scored four or more times in the same game. “Kolbeinn is a superb finisher,” said Gudmundsson. “He’s powerful, quick and good in the air.”
We’ve known each other since we were four.
As so often with these brothers-in-arms, there was a story behind the story that day. “Before the match, the coach told me I have to score more,” explained Sigthorsson. “I wanted to prove to him that I could and really felt under pressure.” Not guaranteed a starting berth in the first half of the season, the No19 has understandably climbed the pecking order since that performance. “I feel coach Gertjan Verbeek has more faith in me now. I feel more important, I’m playing more and I’m becoming more consistent.”
Being able to turn to a lifelong friend has proved useful too. “Having him here with me helps me a lot,” said Sigthorsson, who performs a similar role for his compatriot. “Without Kolbeinn, it just wouldn’t be the same,” added Gudmundsson, whose own route to AZ proved rather more circuitous. The playmaker was just starting out with Breidablik when his family swapped Iceland for London, and he continued his development at Chelsea and Fulham before returning to Breidablik in 2008. The U-21 international was soon on his way again, however, and seemingly to Hamburg until the deal was called off at the last minute as he opted for AZ. “I don’t regret that choice one bit,” he said.
“It wasn’t easy at first because I wasn’t playing,” continued the 20-year-old. “But that all changed when Verbeek was made coach. He’s given us our chance since the start and I’m very grateful to him.” What Verbeek gets to savour in return, meanwhile, is a player who is “quick, dribbles well, has great vision and knows how to control the rhythm of a match”, according to Sigthorsson, who nonetheless claimed his friend “can be too aggressive sometimes.”
Having both turned out for their country at U-17, U-19, U-21 and now senior level, the pair are similarly enthusiastic about Iceland’s prospects, even if the Nordic nation currently lie bottom of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying group. “The team isn’t doing well at the moment, but the future is bright,” said Sigthórsson. “The U-21 generation are very good, but their integration into the senior team is taking time. They need to play more and I think that that’ll happen very soon. We’ll be a lot stronger in the next series of qualifiers [for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™].”
“The youngsters need to take their place in the side,” echoed Gudmundsson. “There will be changes because it’s time to make room for a new and very talented generation.” Not for the first time, the duo could almost have been reading from the same script.