My great-grandad was Arsenal’s second foreign player – and I’d like to try Premier League one day

Albert Gudmundsson of Genoa raises his arms aloft during a Serie A match with Hellas Verona

He is the breakout star of Italian football this season, with clubs across Europe jostling ahead of the summer transfer window. What is less well-known about Albert Gudmundsson is a family history steeped in English football, specifically at Arsenal where his great-grandfather played in the 1940s.

Gudmundsson has enjoyed an eye-catching campaign back in Serie A with Genoa, having decided to stay with them in the second tier to help get them promoted. Only Lautaro Martínez and Dusan Vlahovic have scored more than him this season, with his 15 goals putting his club close to securing a healthy mid-table placing.

His journey to Italy came via the Netherlands, where he played for AZ Alkmaar under Arne Slot, but his path could easily have taken him to England after a time at Arsenal, who offered him a place in their academy, and Liverpool.

The decision to try Dutch football was a sporting one, as the heartstrings would have pulled him towards north London. His great-grandfather, also Albert, played inside-forward at Highbury as an amateur and was in their team in the first post-war seasons. He was the first Icelandic player in English football, then went into politics after hanging up his boots and ran for president.

“It’s my mother’s grandfather and she told me a lot of stories,” says Gudmundsson. “A book was written about his career and after he stopped playing, so I know a lot about him and his life. It also inspires me as I knew he reached a very high level and this is something I would like to reach as well.”

Albert Gudmundsson Snr
Albert Gudmundsson Snr played for Arsenal in the 1940s - PA/Alamy

Gudmundsson, 26, describes himself as being “born into being a football player”. It was not just his great-grandfather’s story of playing for Arsenal, Glasgow Rangers and AC Milan. His mother, Kristbjorg Ingadottir, was a box-to-box midfielder for Icelandic clubs, while his father Gudmundur Benediktsson was a player destined for the big European leagues before being struck by injury.

“So looking back it was the perfect combination,” said Gudmundsson. “In the summer in Iceland the sun basically never goes down so you spend the whole night playing football. I remember at 10 or 11 my mother had to get to the pitch and grab me to get home and sleep.

“It was not like they were pushing me into it, I fell in love with it. But they were taking care of my technique as well. Basically, my whole childhood was about football. I went outside to the garden to play with my father or mother, and on the TV there was always the Premier League or Italian football.”

Iceland has always been gripped by the Premier League and Gudmundsson grew up watching David Beckham, then he admired the smaller technicians in the middle of the park – Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas. There were connections to his parents there, as father was a United fan and his mother, understandably given the family history, followed Arsenal.

It was when he was 15 that Gudmundsson went to Arsenal for a number of periods training with the Academy and could have joined them. He still has a picture of him and Wojciech Szczesny, who was in the first team at the time, while his age group saw him play with the Willock brothers, Chris and Joe, Alex Iwobi and Gedion Zelalem.

Albert Gudmundsson with Wojciech Szczesny at Arsenal
Gudmundsson with Wojciech Szczesny while he was on trial at the London club

“I went there four or five times when I was about 15. It was over two years and the academies in England are crazy with such good facilities,” said Gundmundsson. “The director of the academy at the time was Liam Brady and he took a lot of care of me and my father and treated us really well.

“We went a couple of times to Liverpool but my father and I decided to take the first step to Holland. I don’t know if it was right or wrong, I don’t think there is one right answer, but we thought it would be best for my career at that time. It can be a long way to the first-team from the youth team in England.”

The decision to move to the Netherlands was vindicated when he broke into the AZ Alkmaar team after a spell at PSV. It was at AZ where he encountered Slot, Liverpool’s top target to replace Jurgen Klopp, who made a big impression on the young player.

“During my time in PSV we had a lot of big names who were assistant coaches for the whole youth,” Gudmundsson said. “Proper names like Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mark van Bommel, Boudewijn Zenden.

“When I was in the first team at AZ I had Arne Slot and believe he can be a very top-level coach. I didn’t always play under him but could see how he prepared tactically and mentally before games.”

Moving to Genoa came just before the January deadline in 2022. With his contract less than six months away from expiring, he had to make a quick decision. “I didn’t have much time to do any research about the coach or club so did a quick Google before my flight was leaving in an hour and said ‘f--- it’ lets jump at it,” he said.

Despite relegation, it has been a good decision. He was their top-scorer in Serie B and the form has continued this season.

Albert Gudmundsson in action for Genoa against Lazio
Gudmundsson stuck with Genoa after their relegation to Serie B and has been rewarded now back in Serie A - Getty Images/Simone Arveda

“I was always waiting for the moment and this season it has come out of me,” he said. “I’m very happy with what I’ve seen so far this season. I also had good stats last season in Serie B and it gave me some confidence for this season.

“I knew I always had the qualities – good finishing, good final pass, good set-pieces. Now I feel it is finally coming out. I’m not sure what made it come out, maybe just age, maturity and getting to know the league better.”

Clubs at the top of Serie A have been linked with him, as have Premier League clubs such as Tottenham, where his close friend Radu Dragusin moved to this season.

“I really want to test myself at the highest level possible,” he said. “I feel good here and still under contract here at Genoa and want to finish the season and see what happens but obviously as a player and lover of football, I’ve dreamt of playing at the highest level. Always, that is my ambition.”

Could that mean England? “Since I was a kid I always thought about playing in the Premier League, so obviously it is something I definitely want to try.”

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