By Edward Stratmann.
It was never going to be easy for Celta Vigo to replace the towering Joaquin Larrivey, who jetted off to the riches of the UAE Pro League to play for Baniyas. For any incumbent, matching the Argentine hitman's 11 La Liga goals last season was always going to be a tall order. But in John Guidetti, the Galician outfit appear to have found the perfect replacement.
While Celta's enigmatic manager, Eduardo Berizzo, a Marcelo Bielsa disciple, has preferred to use the Swedish international off the bench this season, 16 times he's come on as a substitute, 2016 has seen him already hand Guidetti three starts. And the man who scored his debut goal for the club against Barcelona in Celta's astonishing 4-1 win back in August, when coming off the bench, certainly hasn't let his manager down.
Guidetti's repaid Berizzo's faith in the best possible way, for in those three starts the former Manchester City prospect has scored a remarkable five goals to take his season tally to seven in all competitions.
There is a slight caveat here, however, with three of those goals coming against Cadiz, a Segunda Division B side. But nonetheless, he still had the necessary quality to find the net, which ensured Berizzo had the confidence to give him a start for Celta's La Liga game with Levante.
From the outset, his magnificent movement and positioning laid the foundation for what was a brilliant performance from the 23-year-old. His exemplary finishing ability unquestionably helped too.
In fact, his propensity to precisely time his forward runs was vital in all three of La Celeste's goals that arrived while he was on the pitch.
Prior to his 35th minute opener, he'd constantly threatened the Levante backline with his speed and cleverly timed runs. But when this opportunity arrived, Guidetti was ready. With Jonny Otto, Fabian Orellana and Iago Aspas combining nicely down the right, once Guidetti saw the latter steaming into the box, scanning for an option, the Swede displayed his wonderful striking instincts and positioning. Just as Aspas delivered the ball, Guidetti had gotten into an excellent position to be a viable recipient, courtesy of a well timed burst into the box. Then, he sneakily nudged Levante centre-back, David Navarro, off balance to give himself room to latch onto Aspas' cutback and finish cooly.
For his second, on 40 minutes, his outstanding run, which he angled perfectly into the space in between Levante's two centre-backs, Navarro and Zouhair Feddal, ensured Daniel Wass had a terrific option to utilise upfield. The talented Dane duly obliged his run with a sublime lofted through ball right into Guidetti's path. Levante's keeper, Diego Marino, quickly rushed out to close off the angle and make the chance extremely difficult to take however. Guidetti let the ball bounce once before rapidly realising his best chance to score was to lob Marino. And he did just that, finding the back of the net with a delicate side footed finish that sailed over the hapless Marino. A moment of sheer magic indeed, and not just because of its Scandinavian symbolism.
Although Guidetti didn't supply an assist or score Celta's third, his subtle decoy run that created the space for Aspas to run right through the Frogs' defence proved vital.
These three examples accurately demonstrated his strength in this often unheralded aspect of the game and how effective it can be when used so intelligently. Meanwhile, Guidetti's hold up and link play, when married with his physicality and vigorous defensive pressure all ensured the mobile big man had a profound impact on the contest.
His night ended on 62 minutes, with Celta leading 3-0, when Berizzo substituted him for Sene. A generous ovation from the Balaidos faithful and a warm embrace from his manager served as suitable appreciation for his terrific performance.
Somehow, from such a commanding position, the home side almost contrived to lose the match, but thankfully they held on to win 4-3. It was almost as if once Guidetti departed, Celta stopped. A local Galician journalist summed up the situation aptly, writing: "When the coach Eduardo Berizzo replaced Guidetti with Sene it was like a button was pressed. Without him everything was extinguished."
After his best match in a Celta shirt, the burly number 11 couldn't hide his joy. "Hard work pays off. Thanks for all the love and support, the fans were amazing yesterday," he proclaimed.
Guidetti will probably value his current success more than most, as three years ago his football career was almost taken from him, when he was struck down with a rare stomach virus.
Following a tremendous season at Feyenoord, on loan from Manchester City, where he netted 20 times in 23 appearances, his girlfriend organised a surprise 20th birthday party for him. Unfortunately, Guidetti got a completely unexpected surprise of a different nature though. After eating some chicken during the festivities, he fell ill, forcing him to go home early.
10 days of horror ensued for the striker, who bore the brunt of a brutal stomach bug. Testing uncovered he'd been struck down with a rare virus that attacks the nervous system.
"I had a great season in Holland, my career was looking bright to say the least. Then this injury came," he recalls.
"It was a virus. I think they say 1 in 10 million people get it. I'm not sure what it was but it was unfortunate to get it at such a time. To play with my national team in Ukraine (at Euro 2012) would have been amazing.
'But it wasn't meant to be, so we'll go for France (Euro 2016) instead.'
A firm believer that everything happens for a reason, he came through what he describes "as the darkest time ever" and even inscribed himself with tattoos to remember the ordeal.
Guidetti's attitude towards fighting the illness is remarkably refreshing and humbling.
"It's made me stronger. Maybe when I'm old and wise I'm going to sit there and think it was a great thing that happened to me. You see many of these young players whose careers go from nothing to wow in a matter of seconds, it's easy to fly away and think you're better than you are," he told the Daily Mail.
"If you give up then I don't think you deserve to be a footballer because it's the greatest thing in the world. I'm not going to give up now."
Since this harrowing incident Guidetti spent loan stints at Stoke City and Celtic, winning the Scottish Premiership and FA Cup with the latter, but overall both spells weren't entirely satisfactory.
With his Manchester City deal running out in the summer, he had one last fish to fry before deciding where his future lay: The U-21 European Championships. He impressed hugely in the tournament, leading his side with determination and swagger, as Sweden went all the way, beating a wildly talented Portuguese side in the final on penalties. His two goals were enough for him to take home the bronze boot, but more than that, his fine displays put him in the shop window for the many potential suitors that followed. Perfect timing indeed, as his contract expired the day after the final.
Southampton, Sunderland and Hoffenheim all reportedly registered an interest, but it was Celta's personal touch that swayed him to join them instead. Just as they did with Daniel Wass, Celta took the time to invite him over to give him a tour of the club, and the city, to give him an idea of what the ins and outs of his potential new surroundings were.
It worked wonderfully, with Guidetti officially joining the club on July 11, 2015.
After five goals in nine days from the imposing frontman, he couldn't have wished for a better way to ring in the new year. Fittingly, his wish of playing for Sweden at Euro 2016 looks like becoming a reality too, where he and the sensational Zlatan Ibrahimovic will make certain Sweden are a real handful for any team to handle.
After everything he's been through, no one can begrudge the hard working Stockholm born striker all the success that comes his way. He undoubtedly has a firm grasp of the benefit of hard work and why giving up is never an option if you want to achieve your goals.
Many modern footballers could certainly learn a thing or two from the grateful, well traveled Guidetti, who fully appreciates just how lucky he is to be living out his dream as a professional footballer.
Read more from Edward Stratmann Here.
Living the Dream The Career of John Guidetti
By Edward Stratmann.