Aberdeen agreed a deal to sign the Icelandic international on Saturday. Here is Jack Thomson’s take on the latest addition at Pittodrie.
The nostalgia signing. Notoriously a risky piece of business in the transfer market but rarely does that put off supporters desperate to be reunited with an old sweetheart. Whether it was the last minute 30-yard bullet of a winner at Tannadice, the confident midfield displays in a team bereft of quality, or the neat finish at Ibrox, Aberdeen supporters remember Kari Arnason.
The Icelandic international’s one-year contract will see him pull on the red shirt for the first time in five years. In 2012, he left Craig Brown’s rigid bottom-six side for Rotherham of League Two in England. He probably had many reasons but those cited by the club at the time were financial.
His time at Pittodrie didn’t actually end too well. In fact, Arnason struggled to recover the blistering form of his first six months in the second half of the 2011-12 campaign and delays in contract negotiations soured the end of his stay at the club.
In hindsight, it was clear the team relied too heavily upon the player for a number of his attributes: the ability to tackle or composure to pick out a pass, the sense of leadership or the fact he could play most positions more effectively than any of his peers. Then there was his winning mentality, his belief that the team was underperforming. Perhaps it wasn’t spoken of at the time but it has since been revealed that Arnason took umbrage with Aberdeen’s inferiority complex which surfaced when it came to the Old Firm.
In an interview with the Scottish Sun before Malmo deservedly beat Celtic 4-3 on aggregate in the Champions League playoff, he said: “I’ll tell you what frustrated me most about going to Parkhead with Aberdeen. For every other away game we would wear a tracksuit and t-shirt to the match. Whenever we went to Celtic or Rangers we had to wear a suit and tie.
“Stuff like that annoyed me. I said to them at the time ‘What are we doing this for?’ We sometimes tended to play quite well when we did it, even though I never won at Celtic. But it was just a little thing that bothered me.
“It wasn’t right. I know the reason and, of course, you have to show a bit of respect. But that’s showing them a bit too much. I certainly hope Malmo don’t show them that much respect.”
It’s the sort of stubborn desire that would see the Aberdeen faithful forgive him for leaving. In that season, the team eventually finished eighth. Bluntly speaking, while stable, they were going nowhere under Derek McInnes’ predecessor and Arnason was a different breed of footballer to then first-team players Ricky Foster, Chris Clark or Darren Mackie. The sport came much more naturally to him.
And that brings us to the type of player he is. Throughout his career in England, Scotland, Sweden and Cyprus, Arnason has operated as either a centre back or a central midfielder, even being called upon by Craig Brown at Aberdeen to fill in behind the striker, such was his game intelligence and ability to create threatening passages of play.
During his first spell at Pittodrie, he was deployed in the middle of the park because that was where he could get on the ball and impact proceedings, rallying his teammates and spraying the ball around the pitch. However, Arnason is predominantly a defender, the position in which he is considered most effective for his country. And more importantly, it’s where the current Aberdeen side needs him.
Scepticism at a player’s return to a club is natural but it’s worth noting that he is returning as somewhat of a different phenomenon. At 34, Arnason relies on his aerial prowess, calm on the ball and ability to read the game to be an effective centre-back and one that has featured at the highest level on the European stage.
The Icelandic national team pride themselves on their defensive organisation and the difficulty in which it takes for other teams to penetrate their line, something which England know all too well. Arnason has been a key component of a backline that has frustrated some of the most talented creative players in the world. That may sound like an exaggeration but they have shackled Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dele Alli among others.
He is a bruiser with a footballing brain and has the experience which will benefit a presently inconsistent Aberdeen backline. Mark Reynolds, once a fine Scottish defender, is now regularly indecisive, while his partner Anthony O’Connor is similarly hesitant, as seen in the team’s Europa League second qualifying round first leg against Siroko Brijeg.
What Arnason can bring to the current team is the same as what he offers to his country. The calm, experience and willingness to put his body on the line are characteristics which could solidify a defence that has the makings of something that just isn’t quite there yet.