The Bluebirds influential midfielder Aron Gunnarsson is facing a race against time to prove his fitness, not only for the World Cup, but possibly to define the rest of his career.
Manager Neil Warnock revealed earlier in the season that Gunnarsson won’t be signing a new deal at the Cardiff City Stadium when his current one expires in the summer. After over 250 outings in both the Premier League and the Championship, he has decided it is the right time to progress his career.
He has spent ten years in the English game, with nine of those in the second tier. According to reports, he’s after a move abroad, possibly to a warmer climate with a winter break and fewer games. When he does go, it is with manager Neil Warnock’s blessing.
The idea was surely to impress in front of the world in this summer’s World Cup in Russia. A good performance for his country could earn him a plum move to one of Europe’s top leagues. Instead, he faces a battle just to get himself fit once again.
Gunnarsson in 2012 – By Jon Candy (CC BY-SA 2.0)
After suffering an injury in October, Gunnarsson spent a month on the sidelines before returning in the Bluebirds’ 2-0 win against Brentford. 74 minutes into his next match, he suffered a breakdown and has been out since. The news isn’t good at all: after a December operation, he was expected to be out for ‘four to six weeks’. Six weeks later, there’s still no Ice Man in the Cardiff midfield.
Without game time, he could well struggle to get match fit for the summer showcase. Having barely kicked a ball since qualification was secured, the signs are not good. However, there will be no questions over his selection; Gunnarsson is his country’s captain and talisman. In their crucial qualifier against Turkey, he played well over an hour, despite carrying the injury that has eventually required needles and knives.
Neil Warnock later commented on Gunnarsson playing both games, admitting he was disappointed the player didn’t receive slightly better treatment. Given that he’s only played three games since, perhaps Gunnarsson might feel the same.
Stade de Nice, scene of Iceland’s heroic win against England – By Mirasol (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The World Cup is the first to feature Iceland, making it even more important for Gunnarsson to appear. He starred as they knocked England out of the European Championships in 2016, but Iceland, despite that fine win over Roy Hodgson’s side less than two years ago, are as wide as 250/1 to win the tournament. On the flip side, England’s World Cup odds are falling as the tournament edges closer.
There are only a few months left for countries to assess their players and make their selection before it all kicks off in Russia. Icelandic football fans will be watching the situation at Cardiff with baited breath, but they surely won’t be as apprehensive about the next few months as Gunnarsson himself. If he fails to recover from injury, he could find himself in the summer without a club and crucially having missed the biggest football tournament of his countries entire history.