Noisy. Raucous. De Kuip was in song again. The chant: “Super Guidetti, you make us happy, please score for Feyenoord” grew in volume as one fan after another lent their voices to it during the Rotterdam derby against bottom club Excelsior on Saturday.
As usual, it hadn’t taken long for their call to be answered. A well-worked corner teed up a shot, which he drove into a crowded penalty area. Once deflected, it changed direction and caught goalkeeper Jordy van Deelen completely flat-footed.
It was quite literally a gift of a goal. John Guidetti had found the net for the 20th time this season on the eve of his 20th birthday. “Maybe that’s a bit of a sign,” he smirked.
So too are the petitions launched by Feyenood fans to get Guidetti to stay beyond the existing terms of his loan from Manchester City. It’s not hard to see why he is so popular.
A quarter of an hour after coming on to make his debut against NAC Breda back in September, Feyenoord were awarded a penalty. Guidetti wasn’t the designated taker, but he picked the ball up anyway, placed it on the spot and put it away to make sure of a 3-1 win, raising a finger to his lips to shush the opposing supporters.
Maybe Guidetti should have deferred to the hierarchy. But he had shown personality by taking responsibility and that was to be admired. The following week he converted another spot kick at home to De Graafschap, then two more against Venlo. He never once shirked.
By late November some began to remark on how Guidetti had yet to find the net from open play, not that he seemed to mind of course. “If I get 25 penalties one season and score 25 goals I’m happy with that,” he shrugged.
A brace away to Vitesse put an end to that anomaly and so the floodgates opened. Hat-tricks in three consecutive home games, something that had only been achieved by Cees Groot in 1963, sparked Guidetti mania, as the prospect of Feyenoord qualifying for the Champions League began to grow.
The fact that one of his trebles came against Ajax, sealing a 4-2 victory that was also Feyenoord’s first in Die Klassieker for six years brought with it talismanic status.
Already close to scoring as many as Henrik Larsson did in his three-year stint at Feyenoord in the mid-90s, Guidetti is making his case to be considered arguably the best Swede ever to play for the club after Ove Kindvall, who of course got their extra-time winner in the 1970 European Cup final.
And yet more than goals, what has endeared Guidetti to the fans is his charisma.
His celebrations include strutting over to the fans with his arms crossed tightly, soaking up the adulation and then there’s the point-to-the-back-of-the-shirt-what’s-my-name routine.
All of which might be rather annoying and a little bit too Nicklas Bendtner-like for some people’s taste, except Guidetti can more than back up his talk. He gives and expects 110%. He’s feisty. And what’s more he gets Feyenoord. He speaks their language making light of their circumstances, joking how while “Ajax bought Miralem Sulejmani for €16m our guys are playing for cheeseburgers.”
He understands that supporters want to be entertained but, failing that, they need to see that their players care by sweating for the shirt. That is truer of Feyenoord than most other clubs. Hurting after last season’s 10th place finish and a humiliating 10-0 defeat to PSV Eindhoven, they were down and out, lacking that someone who wouldn’t roll over and take it, someone who can instead give it back and dish it out.
Guidetti is that guy. He fights for every ball and if anyone is knocked over in the process, well, they better “get back in the weights-room.” He incites his teammates, spurs them on and even when substituted has been known to stand beside coach Ronald Koeman shouting instructions from the technical area.
For all his leadership qualities, he does sometimes needs reminding who’s boss. Koeman wasn’t particularly impressed when he received a second yellow card for taking his shirt off in celebration at scoring another penalty against RKC Waalwijk in February, describing him as “selfish,” although it could be put down to youthful exuberance.
To his credit, Guidetti held up his hands and apologised profusely, just as he did when comments he made about Tobias Hysén caused a bit of a stir back in Sweden.
In the spirit of competition, he had questioned how the IFK Göteborg striker could possibly think he might actually be able to compete with him for a place in the squad for Euro 2012 given he still plays in a relatively inferior league like the Swedish Allsvenskan.
While tongue-in-cheek, it added to the impression that Guidetti would do well to remember the advertising slogan Nike have used on his billboard at Stureplan in Stockholm which read: Our successor to the throne is born. #Earn the Throne.”
From an ego perspective there’s a temptation to compare Guidetti with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They certainly have fascinatingly atypical backgrounds. They are melting pot footballers. Ibrahimovic was born in a tough part of Malmö to a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother. Guidetti was born in Stockholm but can trace parts of his heritage to Italy and Brazil.
It makes for two interesting and strong characters. Appearing alongside Guidetti after he made his full international debut for Sweden in a friendly with Croatia, Ibrahimovic gave the impression he has taken the young upstart under his wing. “You should have a young joker in the squad and he is our joker,” he said.
But Ibra, mindful of his own career, also offered Guidetti some advice. “Everything is just rolling along for him,” the Milan striker explained, “but he’s going to run into a wall at some point. It happened to me too. That’s when you need to show you can get back up again.”
Guidetti is better prepared for that eventuality than many of his contemporaries. Don’t mistake his confidence for arrogance. He is humble, owing to the fact he spent much of his childhood in Kenya while his father worked on a Swedish schools project.
“We lived in a wealthy area where nobody knew how to play,” he recalled. “So my dad and I would go looking for the best football in town.”
They came across it in Kibera, the capital’s biggest slum, and it was there on its dusty, grassless pitches that Guidetti learned to play football, throwing away his boots to go barefoot. His feet bled but toughened up. It explains a lot about his physical and technical ability.
“You see in Africa so many people have it so difficult,” he told Eredivisie Live. “It’s unbelievable and they still have a smile on their face. My father, I remember, used to give them bread and bananas and juice after training and they thought they were pro footballers because they got a banana and a drink after training – the other teams didn’t get that.”
It’s an experience that keeps Guidetti grounded. He has set up a foundation in his name to give “talented young people that share the passion for, and have special skills in football a bit more of a sporting chance to follow in his footsteps.”
In December, he went back to Kibera with 80kgs of equipment for his old team and hopes to build an artificial pitch and a school. Listening to him talk about it, the respect he has for his former coach Aosch, and how three members of that club, himself included, are now playing abroad, is nothing short of inspirational.
Such anecdotes make it easy to understand why he is where he is today. He has been through and seen a lot. “I have even played with elephants,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
No wonder he’s not intimidated by anything or anyone.