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RedMatchday Interview: Kari Arnason


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http://www.afc.co.uk/articles/20120116/redmatchday-interview_2212158_2578769

 

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Throughout Aberdeen's history, players have come to Pittodrie from foreign fields, players we knew little or nothing about beforehand, but players who get the crowds on the edge of their seats. Men who become fans' favourites, cult heroes, men like Henning Boel, Zoltan Varga, Markus Heikkinen. You can now add the name of Kari Arnason to that list.

 

Given the history of this football club, it's only fitting that a footballer who looks as good as any that's graced Pittodrie this century should have been born in Gothenburg, Kari Arnason entering the world in October 1982, in perfectly good time to catch the Don's finest hour in the Ullevi Stadium the following May when Real Madrid were humbled. Shame that he can't remember it, being only seven months old at the time.

 

"I was born there because my dad was over in Sweden studying to be a doctor when I was born, so I was there when Aberdeen won the Cup Winners Cup. It is a big city in the history of Scottish football. IFK Gothenburg beat Aberdeen in the European Cup in 1986 and won the UEFA Cup against Dundee United in 1987. It is quite impressive though that two Scottish clubs got to two European finals within a few years.

 

"I stayed in Sweden when I was young, apart from a short time in the USA, until I was five years old. Then I moved back to Iceland and grew up there. I did not return to Sweden until I played professional football when I was 22.

 

"I don't know how it compares to anything else, but growing up there is quite tough as from about the age of 12 you work. You go to school in the winter and then work in the summer. You are taught to work from a young age, you don't just enjoy yourself in the summer. You are working from eight until four and then I would go to football training around six o'clock. It is still quite good fun but very different to life here.

 

"In this country, youth football is so organised and kids get put into football at quite a young age. In Iceland you only do football as a part time thing. First, you go to school or you work, then after that you might become a footballer. But here, from very early, you work around football with the young boys doing jobs like cleaning boots. It is interesting to see, but maybe sometimes because the boys are involved from such an early age, all they think about is football and maybe some don't get any qualifications or skills to do anything else".

 

Kari's own development was much broader in scope than that, in terms of his education and his approach to life, a desire to see a little bit of the world inspired by the fact that his homeland is so tiny.

 

"Iceland is quite small, the whole country is about the size of Aberdeen, so I wanted to try something new when I finished high school when I was 20. I wanted to go abroad, so I went to America. It was playing football in the summer league back home and I got offered a scholarship at Gonzaga in Washington State. It was quite good for me because I kept in shape during the winter and then came back and played football during the summer and worked as well. But the time in the States was absolutely brilliant, the best time of my life. The football was not so great, but I had some great friends over there, people I am still friends with today".

 

On returning to Iceland, Kari had an encounter with a footballing legend who would change the course of his life, setting in train the events which eventually brought him to Pittodrie.

 

"It never entered my mind to try and become a professional footballer. It was Siggi Jónsson who played for Arsenal and Dundee United, he was an absolutely quality player, he told me I could do something with my football.

 

"Maybe I did not think I could do it because I was not a big supporter of any football team when I was younger. I just did what my brother did. He used to support Liverpool so I did the same but I never really felt a connection there. I did not care, I just pretended to care about them winning or losing! I was more a supporter of individual players, I liked certain player s and I disliked others.

 

"I like the players who don't have the natural physical attributes. For example if you remember Jan Mølby? He was this fat player who played for Liverpool but he was absolutely brilliant. Players like that appeal to me, not players like Ronaldo who can run the 100 metres in under 10 seconds. Players who have to have something extra or do something different because they are not strong, they are not quick, they are not tall.

 

"Anyway, after I got that advice from Siggi Jónsson, I went and played in Sweden for two and a half years at Djurgårdens IF and then I went to Denmark for the same length of time playing with AGF Aarhus and Esbjerg fB. I enjoyed my time in Denmark especially. Danish football is probably the strongest in Scandinavia. It is really technical and I think it is quite underrated having now experienced other football, but I think that is true of Scandinavian football in general. The technical aspect of Danish football was quite high and there was a lot of strategy. You would do shadow work in training all day, every day and you are always preparing for the next game. It is definitely different. It is nice to compare the different styles and you always take something from each place you have been at.

 

"From there, I have tried to become a student of the game. I do watch football and I do think about it a lot, and talk about football with my brother, but I guess I have always done that. I like talking about tactical aspects and how to play against teams. Obviously if you are not the quickest, you have to do certain things and you have to know how to play against certain people. I love to think about how to get ahead and utilise what assets I have got.

 

"I honestly believe you can go into every game and win it, you just have to do it in the right manner. You would not go and play Barcelona and say, "Right we are going to play 4-3-3". You have to tell each individual exactly what he is supposed to do. You have got to be organised. And then you can beat any team in the world I think".

 

Having had a couple of years in the Danish Superliga, Kari was itching to move on, for both footballing and financial reasons. "The Danish League is strange because if you are a foreigner you only pay 25% tax if your wages are above a certain limit. It does not matter what you do, if you are a top footballer or a top musician or whatever,it is basically an artist tax to try and get good workers to Denmark. I am not saying I am a top footballer but that is how the system works. After three years, your tax goes up to 60%, so when my three years were coming to an end I was looking for a way out".

 

A trial at Plymouth in the summer of 2009 looked to offer a promising escape route, but life is rarely that straightforward...

 

"It was always my ambition to go and play in England. I thought my style of play would suit the English league. When I was younger I was horrible and would go flying into tackles. I have calmed down a bit as I have got older! When I was trying to move from Sweden I went on trial to Charlton. They were in the Premier League then but it was the year they went down to the Championship. The club was struggling massively and the manager was released when I was there so I just ended up going home and nothing happened. I got offers from other clubs in England to go and train with them but I had an offer in hand from the Danish club so I moved there. The English offers were just to go on trial, but it is probably the only thing I regret in my career, that I did not do more to go to England sooner than I did".

 

The financial disasters that have exploded at Plymouth are well documented as is the fact that Kari was sacked in the summer by Argyle, simply because he wasn't prepared to wait for his wages any longer having not been paid for eight months, It was one of those experiences that people sometimes refer to as "character building".

 

"I did enjoy it at first. But we should have done better because we had a good team there. We had players who had played in the Premiership yet they could not get a game and they were loaned out to League One teams. It was a strange scenario but I loved it as I enjoy playing two games a week. I enjoyed the whole British banter. I just thought it was brilliant.

 

"But the club was very poorly run. They were paying players who were not good enough way too much money. They can only blame themselves but what happens in a situation like that is the wrong people always suffer. It is the fans and the players who suffer. It is not their fault they are being overpaid, we all want to get as much money as we can, whatever job we do. It is a decent club with potentially a good support there but the club itself was just run into the ground and it came down on us, we did not get paid for eight months. We are still struggling to get everything we are owed.

 

"I don't know how clubs get away with it as I thought the League should be looking over the books and saying if something is wrong, as there are rules stating that you can't pay over a certain percentage of your income for wages to players. Some clubs are paying 90% of their income to players in the hope they sell a player at the end or middle of the season to get some money in. At the end of the day if you go through two or three seasons without selling a single player you are going to struggle big time. When you have a shambles like that there are always funny things happening. The only thing you could do was to try and make the best of it".

 

Kari and his former Argyle colleague Rory Fallon used to get rid of their frustrations with the club by playing music together, something they've brought with them to Pittodrie.

 

"Rory is pushing me every day to play with him! But we try and play as much as we can. It is brilliant, we are in recording our first song at the moment and will hopefully release it soon. My own tastes are basically Indie, rock stuff like that. The Smiths, Radiohead, Kasabian and some older stuff like Madness, Talking Heads, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Stranglers, Depeche Mode but Rory is a harder rocker that I am so I think we are something in between that".

 

Maybe not heroes in the studio, the pair are certainly that on the park, with Arnason playing the best football of his career at present, with a possible international recall on the horizon too.

 

"I guess I am coming towards my prime. I hope so, I hope I have not reached in yet! I honestly thought I played really well down in England, but I think it is just British football suiting my style of play better. I think I have played better in England and Scotland than I did in Scandinavia, so I would like to play for my country again, but we have a strong team just now.

 

"The U21 side went to the finals in the summer after they beat Scotland in the play-offs. It was a very good effort to get there. Most of the boys were actually older than 21 when the tournament finished, due to the rule you just have to be under 21 when the tournament starts, so majority of the boys are 23 now. They had some very good players like Gylfi Sigurðsson and Aron Gunnarsson who have been playing in the Championship for years. So they had a very experienced side.

 

"There is a core of experienced players coming through but the main factor for the team improving is the management. It has been quite poor over the years but they now have Lars Lagerbäck in place who used to manage Sweden. They did the right thing by advertising the position and asking who wanted the job. They were surprised when lots of experienced managers were interested. They used to give it to Icelandic people who had never played the game but had done ok in the Icelandic league. It is not the same. You cannot let a semi professional manager do it because you have players like Eiður Guðjohnsen who have played for Barcelona. They are not going to respect someone who has nothing to offer. For the national team coach you have to have someone a little bit better than someone who has done well in Iceland".

 

Icelandic caps are an issue for another day however. For the moment, it's all eyes on Aberdeen and the need to get some more points on the board as Kari agrees.

 

"I think we have been really unlucky the past couple of weeks with injury and the fact the squad is quite thin. We have lost players like Peter who has enormous pace which helps us. It is going to be a battle but we have to hope we do not get any more key players injured. Hopefully we might be able to fill the missing slots with some new faces. Obviously, we are hoping for top six and I still think it is reachable. Also the cup draw is ok so with a bit of luck we could progress quite far in that competition.

 

"We should have more points by now I think. The games where we play really well we don't seem to get results from, it is frustrating. We absolutely battered Hearts and only got a point when we deserved more. There have been other times though when we have not played so well but have ground out results. I would rather take that than not getting anything. From here, it is just a matter of us getting our heads down and getting a little bit of confidence and we can definitely be up there in the top six".

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We're just pimping this guy out now without a hope of getting a cut of his ill-gotten gains.

 

A few good performances and goal of the season, but he's a small part of the (so far VERY brief) improvement in form.

 

I personally think having a keeper who speaks the same language as the defence is the biggest reason for the improvement, Fyvie's gaining fitness and Vernon having some help up front are also bigger factors imo.

 

I'm not saying I don't want him in the team, I just would worry that building him up to be some sort of demi-god will end up making his seemingly inevitable departure more disruptive than it would otherwise be.

 

edit- BUT i certainly agree with anyone who says the situation is symptomatic of the lack of basic ambition in the AFC board. Good player, fan favourite, contract expiring...aye lets twiddle our fucking thumbs and wait for the next loan/short-term signing next year. Awesome.  :hammer:

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