When Gylfi Sigurdsson refused to accompany Swansea City on their pre-season tour of the United States last month it was seen as out of character, another example of player power and disloyalty. The truth, according to Everton’s new record signing, is somewhat more prosaic. He sees no cause for regret.
Ronald Koeman finally got his man and Swansea the £45m required to replenish Paul Clement’s squad when the Iceland international became the most expensive signing in Everton’s history on a five-year contract. One of the summer’s many arduous transfer sagas resolved in the player’s favour, again, only this time after Sigurdsson had angered Swansea by withdrawing from the pre-season tour on the morning of departure, having played at Barnet the night before, claiming he was not in the right frame of mind to travel. The 27-year-old suggests otherwise.
“I thought the clubs were close to agreeing something so there was maybe no point in flying out there just to fly back again the day after,” Sigurdsson explains. “But then that was kind of the story of the summer. They were getting close, and then nothing happened. Maybe in the next couple of days it was supposed to happen, and then nothing happened. It did drag on a long, long time but that’s just the way it is.
“Of course it was a difficult decision [not to go on the US tour]. I had a close relationship not just with the team but with the manager. I really respect him. But we all just thought it was that close to being done. I think both clubs, myself and the manager and the team decided for me to stay back.”
Missing the US trip cost Sigurdsson support among the Swansea fanbase who voted him their player of the year last season. And the creative force behind their relegation escape admits his protracted move from the Liberty Stadium left him drained.
He said: “I’m not going to lie, it was difficult mentally at times. There were some times and some days when I thought this eventually might not go through but thankfully the manager and the club were very patient and managed to finish it off.”
Koeman tried to sign Sigurdsson when manager of Southampton and wanted him at Everton last summer. It is another reflection of Koeman’s belief he has signed “one of the key players to bring to Everton” that he refused to consider alternative targets while Swansea attempted to hold out for £50m.
The Everton manager said: “They told me [at Southampton] it was impossible and I said, ’OK, I accept it’ but this time I thought, ’OK, maybe now it is possible’. From the beginning what I heard from the board and what I heard from Bill [Kenwright, the Everton chairman], who was so calm, was: ‘I will do the deal but we need to be patient’. And of course I understand it’s business. It’s a big transfer. You don’t do these kind of transfers in two days. Sometimes it takes longer than you like but I was quite comfortable that finally we would do this deal. He has been on my list for a long time.”
Sigurdsson has been in Everton’s sights for a long time too. In September 2001 the 11-year-old Sigurdsson was invited to train with the club and be a ballboy for a 5-0 win over West Ham United at Goodison Park. The player’s brother, Olafur, stole his thunder this week by tweeting a photograph of the youngster in an Everton jersey next to the statue of William Ralph “Dixie” Dean. That was how Sigurdsson had planned to announce his eventual arrival.
“The only thing I really remember is throwing the ball to Paolo Di Canio,” he recalls. “But it was a fantastic experience, especially for someone young who watches the Premier League back home in Iceland and then you luckily have the chance to be a ballboy at one of the games and be allowed to train with the team for a few days. That was fantastic. I had a look around the city then. I have another picture of me standing outside the radio tower. That’s the only other thing I remember. I’m going to have to go through my photo album to remember more.”
The Iceland international flourished at Swansea, both on loan and over the past three seasons when only Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen was involved in more Premier League goals from midfield. It was a different story when Sigurdsson was in the ranks at White Hart Lane, however, where he made 58 league appearances over two seasons but completed only nine of those games.
Were his opportunities limited or was he not ready for the step? “Maybe it was a combination of both,” he admits. “What was I? 20, 21, so I’m far from being the same player now that I was back then. But I really did enjoy my time at Tottenham. I’m not going to lie. It was fantastic experience. Of course I could have probably stayed on but I wanted the chance to go back to Swansea and play football again. I wanted to use my time as a professional, because your career is really short.”
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