Bjarni Vidarsson: Joining Everton Was The Ultimate - But I Made Bad Decisions

Bjarni Vidarsson came to Everton aged 16 and was one of Iceland’s brightest football prospects.

He returned to his homeland in 2015 cursing the missteps and ill fortune which prevented him from fulfilling his potential. In an interview originally published in Everton’s matchday programme for the Carabao Cup meeting with Manchester United, Vidarsson reflects on 10 rollercoaster years and details his new life in Iceland.

Bjarni Vidarsson was 26 when he chose to “pack up the bags and go home”, drawing a line under a decade-long loop of striving and progressing and slipping.

The Vidarsson who returned to Iceland was “good with disappointments”, following a route march around Europe which began when he joined Everton and concluded with an abortive period in Denmark.

Vidarsson comes from rich footballing stock, so pressure was a constant companion.

Dad Vidar played 27 times for Iceland. Older brothers Arnar and David own 52 and nine caps respectively.

Bjarni played once for Iceland’s senior team, against Belarus in 2008.

Given the context, relief was the prevailing emotion.

“It would have been difficult not getting that cap,” he concedes. “I thought, ‘This is the first of many’. But it wasn’t to be.”

Vidarsson chides himself for poor decision making in a career which took him to four foreign lands.

Frequently, however, Vidarsson’s downfall was the product of being, in his words, “the wrong man at the wrong time”.

Because he didn’t crack it at Goodison Park, Vidarsson will remain frozen in time for a section of Evertonians, forever the 16-year-old signed by manager David Moyes in June 2004.


He is 32 now, the father of three daughters and a prominent football pundit at home.

Vidarsson is technical director at his first love, Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar [FH], and recently made a relative Hollywood managerial appointment in Eidur Gudjohnsen.

Gudjohnsen, the former Chelsea and Barcelona forward, is the best footballer to come out of Iceland, reckons Vidarsson.

But he was very good himself. Vidarsson was at the vanguard of his country’s acclaimed Golden Generation, captain of the first Iceland team to qualify for an Under-21 European Championship finals, in 2011.

“We were quite the stars here in Iceland, being on Coca Cola adverts and things like that,” says Vidarsson.

And there he is on the drink commercial, alongside the cherubic features of Gyfli Sigurdsson, one of the faces of a team inspiring optimism in a nation blinking into the light following the 2008 banking collapse which threatened to condemn Iceland to financial oblivion.

Vidarsson’s Iceland thumped Germany 4-1 and beat Scotland home and away in a play-off to reach the competition in Denmark.

The rump of that gatecrashing side shocked England at the senior 2016 European Championship.

At the time of their qualification for Iceland’s first World Cup two years later, Vidarsson was retiring, aged 29, after an injury left him temporarily “paralysed from the shoulder down to my fingers”.

“I dreamt of being captain of that Golden Generation as we grew together,” says Vidarsson.

“But different opinions and injuries and other things changed that course for me.

“It was difficult seeing some of our Under-21 side in the senior team, and playing regularly for their clubs, to be honest.


“Those players have talked about what I did for that team and generation. Aron Gunnarsson [Under-21 teammate and Iceland captain in the 2016 and 2018 tournaments] spoke about it in his autobiography.

“I try to look back with a positive mindset because I know I was a big part of helping change the football history of Iceland.”

Vidarsson was contacted by Everton the day after playing for his country’s Under-17s against England at Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium in March 2004.

He joined three months later, declining advances from Germans Bayern Munich and Anderlecht in Belgium, the country where Arnar was playing for Lokeren.

“Everton’s offer was the ultimate, it is a huge club worldwide, I was flattered and a happy young boy,” says Vidarsson.

“Moving abroad was strange initially, I was in a bubble in Iceland, everyone is tight and close to each other

“But I’d fly to Belgium as a kid to watch my brother play and think, ‘This is what it is about’.

“From day one I was going to take the chance.

“David Moyes showed genuine interest in signing me and Everton had the best plan for my career.

“Everton takes really good care of its young players and helped me grow as a person and a footballer.”

Vidarsson was a crafty midfielder whose strengths belonged in his accurate passing and well-timed forward runs.

His wispy frame was an issue, though. So, too, his capacity to operate at full throttle for 90 minutes.


“Everton’s idea was to create a physical, box-to-box midfielder,” says Vidarsson.

“I’d been used to doing my thing. It took time to position myself better and improve on picking up second balls.

“I spent plenty of time in the gym, changed my diet and drank a lot of protein drinks!

“I received a lot of advice in such a short time and knew everything I needed to be a better footballer.”

Moyes’ thin First-Team squad worked for Vidarsson on two counts.

The wet-behind-the-ears Scandinavian quickly got a chance with Everton’s reserves – “that was the hardest transition, because of the physicality”, he says of a time when gnarled old pros made reserve football a notoriously unforgiving breeding ground – and often trained with the seniors.

“You were nervous going to training every day, but it was fantastic,” says Vidarsson.

“I was learning from Mikel Arteta, Lee Carsley and Leon Osman.

“Mikel’s movement and touch were incredible.

“He had amazing quality and was the best player I trained with.”

Vidarsson “got hold of English quite quickly” and rapidly settled in Club accommodation shared with, among others, Victor Anichebe and John Ruddy – a process accelerated, he laughs, when stronger Wi-Fi connection enabled video calls home.


He listened when player care officer Mike Dickinson advised keeping an eye on the long-term and retains property on Merseyside, as well as owning a fashion store in Iceland with his wife.

If Dickinson qualifies as an obvious fount of wisdom, then the identity of one of Vidarsson’s playing mentors will raise a few eyebrows.

“Andy van der Meyde always gave me good advice, even though he was having a difficult time,” says Vidarsson.

“He did it with everyone. I think he felt responsible for me, being another foreign player.

“As a winger, he would explain what he wanted from midfielders, switching the ball quicker, things like that.

“His help was a big plus for me.

“It was a really positive environment, people were trying to help and guide you, not shouting at you.

“Andy Holden [reserve-team manager] and Alan Irvine [Moyes’ assistant] were very honest and that was important.

“You need to be told the truth and what you have to improve.”

Vidarsson twice made Moyes’ bench in his second season, for games at Newcastle United – the club he grew up supporting from afar after being enchanted by Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers – and Middlesbrough.

He did himself a favour the following 2006/07 term, scoring in a mid-season friendly at Bournemouth to earn a loan move to the League One club.


“It felt special to score for Everton, even though it was a friendly,” says Vidarsson.

“I saw on the faces of the guys I was playing with – Phil Neville and Leon Osman – that they were really happy for me.

“I’d spoken a lot with David and Alan about going on loan but they’d needed me for numbers in training.

“I still had a lot to work on: I wasn‘t strong enough, I needed the stamina to cover more distance and to improve my weak foot.

“First-team football with Bournemouth, having people on your back if you weren’t doing well, was healthy for my development.”

Vidarsson suspected he was making up the numbers again when included in Moyes’ squad for a UEFA Cup game at AZ Alkmaar five days before Christmas 2007.

He was “pleasantly surprised and honoured”, then, when summoned to replaced Steven Pienaar for the final 21 minutes.

James Vaughan’s winner ruined Alkmaar’s long unbeaten European home record.

But Vidarsson’s main recollections are of his internal dialogue – “I just thought, ‘Make sure you enjoy it’ – and a take-the-man-and-ball challenge which riled compatriot Gretar Steinsson, now Everton’s Head of Recruitment and Development.

“We are friends today,” laughs Vidarsson.

Soon after the “milestone” of his first senior game, following more than three years with the Club, Vidarsson took his first wrong turn.


He agreed with Moyes’ assertion that a second loan would be beneficial.

On the choice of destination, however, the two men were lands apart.

Moyes pointed Vidarsson towards a chance with Motherwell.

The player opted for FC Twente, in part because Arnar, who is 10 years Bjarni’s senior and currently Iceland Under-21 manager, was at the Dutch club.

Vidarsson damaged his anterior cruciate ligament two months after arriving but Twente activated a clause to make the deal permanent in summer 2008 nonetheless.

“The coach and board of Twente had a plan which looked good and sounded good,” says Vidarsson.

“But the things they promised did not work out.

“It was a mistake not staying in Britain because Dutch football is totally different – and a huge mistake leaving Everton.

“Somehow, in my mind, I thought going to Holland for my loan was the right thing. It wasn’t.”

Vidarsson was laid up when the manager who signed him, Fred Rutten, left for Schalke 04.

Steve McClaren – who would win the league with Twente in 2010 – came in.

“I thought, ‘I have made a mistake, here… but let’s focus on recovering from the injury’,” says Vidarsson.

“It took six months to get used to Holland. There is a different mentality from England, really serious.”

Vidarsson missed 14 months with his injury and didn’t play a game before moving to Belgian club Roselare in 2009.

But he has only positive words for former England manager McClaren.

“Steve was always very kind, he gave me good advice and was excellent on the training ground,” says Vidarsson.

“We had language lessons together – I did better than him!”

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Vidarsson found a “more relaxed” culture in Belgium – “You know the beer there?” he laughs – and a manager at Roselare in former Norwich City defender Dennis van Wijk “who believed in me”.

The Scandinavian “applied my knowledge of how to be a box-to-box player” to shine for a team which ultimately sunk from the top division via relegation play-offs.

Roselare, admits Vidarsson, were always intended as “a springboard to a bigger club”, a platform to rediscover the belief “this is something I can do”.

He plumped for fellow Belgians Mechelen next, convinced by a pitch from the club’s hierarchy and their new coach, Marc Brys.

In his first season – 2010/11 – Vidarsson started two games. His playing time totalled 335 minutes.

He’s considered and quietly spoken, Vidarsson, so was he the type to knock on Brys’ door for an explanation?

“After four games and it didn’t help because from then on he didn’t speak to me,” laughs Vidarsson.

“It was a strange thing. They bought me for quite a lot of money and the manager guaranteed I would be his main eight or six.”

Vidarsson’s second Mechelen campaign was a complete write off.

He went to those Under-21 championships in Denmark nursing a cartilage problem and his left knee wasn’t strong enough to withstand a robust tackle in Iceland’s second match, against Switzerland.

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Mechelen wanted the Icelandic FA’s insurance policy to cover Vidarsson’s wages for his period of absence.

A court case which began in 2011 lasted five years and concluded it was on Mechelen to settle the bill.

When Silkeborg in Denmark provided an opportunity for distance from the legal squabbling, Vidarsson and wife Dora Sif decided “it would be a good idea, to get my career going”.

Was it a good idea?

“For the first three months,” says Vidarsson.

“The coach who signed me (Keld Bordinggaard) was fired.

“His replacement (Viggo Jensen) didn’t use me.

“I stayed two-and-a-half years with some ups and downs

“By that time, I was good with disappointments… the failures. There had been a few – it was getting a bit depressing.

“At the end, packing up the bags and going home was a good decision.”

Vidarsson went back to Iceland in 2015 to play for FH – the club he left for Everton – and continue the sports management qualification he started during his time with Silkeborg.

He won two domestic titles, alongside brother David, but after dislocating his left shoulder in a 2018 pre-season match it was discovered Vidarsson had sustained damage to his brachial plexus, the network of nerves which send signals from the spinal cord to the shoulders, arms and hands.

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“People were thinking, ‘Why is he coming back to Iceland’?” says Vidarsson.       

“But I wanted to play for my club and it was special playing with my brother for two years and winning those titles.

“When I dislocated my shoulder, I thought, ‘The doctor will put it back in and everything will be okay’.

“I woke the next day and couldn’t feel my hand.

“For almost eight months, I was paralysed from the shoulder down to my fingers.

“I had a six-month daughter at home.

“It was a really scary time – and difficult to accept.

“After a couple of months, I managed to be a bit more positive and look at life with brighter eyes.

“I am recovering quite well but still have some troubles with my hand.”

Vidarsson enthuses about working alongside fellow pundit Gudjohnsen on Icelandic channel Siminn Sport’s coverage of Premier League football.

He is expecting “a lot of things” from Gudjohnsen the coach at FH, where Vidarsson confesses he’s nervous as a kitten watching games.

There is scant time in his busy days for reflection on a football career Vidarsson began wanting to be “an established Premier League player and to play for the national team”.

“I knew my potential, the qualities I had as a midfielder,” says Vidarsson.

“I have gone over it, ‘Why didn’t things work out better?’

“Football is a game of opinions and I made some bad decisions, knocking on the door of the coach, things like that.

“Also, just being the wrong man at the wrong time.

“I wanted to do better but I try to find the positive things, the good things I did with Everton.

“And when I look back on everything, I can be proud.”