Why football needs John Guidetti, the Mario Balotelli replacement the PL lost

In Depth

John Guidetti never managed to establish himself at Manchester City – and for that all Premier League fans should feel sorry.

During Mario Balotelli’s time in the Premier League, it was common to hear increasingly elaborate tales of the Italian’s good deeds and misadventures.

He had allegedly gone into a school to force a bully to make up with his victim. He had been pulled over by police with £5,000 in cash in his car and when questioned why told them: “Because I’m rich.” He had set off fireworks from the window of his house just hours after filming a fireworks safety video. Classic Mario.

Stories like those, true or not, meant plenty of people were sad to see Balotelli leave the Premier League – but few of them would have realised there was a player on Manchester City’s books well capable of filling that entertainment void.

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John Guidetti played just one senior game for City, starting up front alongside Jô in a League Cup defeat at West Bromwich Albion.

However the stars have aligned this year, and – after a number of loan spells of differing success – he looks set to start for Celta Vigo against Manchester’s other giants in the semi-finals of this season’s Europa League.

His first-leg goal set Celta on their way to an aggregate victory over Genk in the last eight, and now the Sweden international is just two games away from a return to his birthplace of Sotckholm for the final.

But it is another European final which brought the well-travelled 24-year-old a cult following.

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In the summer of 2015, Swedish journalist Andrev Walden recalled a story told to him by a friend who lives in the same Stockholm suburb that Guidetti calls home.

The friend’s eight-year-old spotted Guidetti walking home past a roadside football pitch and – taking after the super-confident striker – decided to ask him for a kickabout.

There was one small problem, though: Guidetti was on his way home to watch Barcelona take on Juventus in the Champions League final.

That would have been the end of the story for some, but Guidetti made the child a deal: if you’re still here after the game, I’ll play football with you.

As Walden explains: “The 8-year-old interprets this as a kind of promise (as kids do) and decides to absolutely not sleep during the Champions League final (as kids do). This worries my friend who thinks that this will end in disappointment.”

But Guidetti is a man of his word, and returned to the pitch – at close to midnight local time – to find the kid waiting for a late-night kickabout.

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READ: A love letter to Alessandro Diamanti, an unlikely West Ham cult hero

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Confidence is contagious, and it feels like Guidetti – a man blessed with the self-assurance that comes with being headhunted and signed by Sven-Göran Eriksson as a 16-year-old – saw something of himself in the youngster.

And, while things might not have worked out for Guidetti at Manchester City, he maintains a level of self-belief which is impressive even for a top-level footballer. If Nicklas Bendtner scored 11 out of 10 on a self-confidence test, Guidetti would have probably scored 20.

Nowhere was this better expressed than in the pitchside interview that followed Sweden’s semi-final demolition of Denmark in the European Under-21 Championship in 2015.

For the wrong player, it can be poisonous to believe one’s own hype, but it seemed to energise Guidetti.

Hearing team-mate Alexander Milošević join fans in chanting Guidetti’s name to the tune of the more famous Kolo/Yaya Touré song, he could have basked in the glory or clapped in approval.

Instead he joined in. Singing his own name. In front of a crowd of nearly 10,000 fans at Prague’s Generali Arena.

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To say that display was tuneful would be…well, it would be a lie. But his musical talents don’t stop at chanting his own name at full volume in front of thousands of fans in the Czech Republic. Some would say they don’t start there either, but that’s a different matter.

Some Celtic fans will remember Guidetti for the 15 goals he scored while on loan at Parkhead before his move to Spain.

Others, however, might point to his impromptu efforts at rapping alongside the beatboxing of then-team-mate Virgil van Dijk.

Not necessarily what you’d expect from a man whose professional career has taken him from Stockholm to Vigo via Manchester, Burnley, Stoke, Rotterdam and Glasgow. Had he even tried to do it before this moment?

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Knowing his propensity for going into everything full-blooded even with no experience, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to learn he had bluffed his way through life pretending he could pull it off, before trusting in his own ability when push came to shove.

If there’s any justice in the world, Celta will run out onto the pitch against Manchester United to a chorus of “John-John/John-John-John-John/John-John-John-John/John-John-John Guidetti”.

Or a Gudietti-Van Dijk duet. Or the ‘Johnny G (The Guidetti)’ song, which literally topped the charts in Sweden.

Mario Balotelli had Ruff Sqwad. Sven-Göran Eriksson had Bell & Spurling. Guidetti’s song, by Badpojken, has 32million Spotify plays and counting. And nothing says ‘Frustrated A-Lister’ quite like that.

John Guidetti isn’t the hero that European football deserves, but he’s the one it needs right now.

By Tom Victor

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