All at Arsenal will bid a fond farewell to Olafur-Ingi Skulason at the end of the season, but the youngster is set for a bright future in the game.

It's a mark of the quality of the competition at the Club that the Gunners have to release a youngster who has already picked up two international caps for a highly rated Iceland national team.

It is the quality of his character as well as the standard of his football that will hold the 22 year-old in good stead and that was typified by his reaction to the news that his contract was not to be renewed: "I have had four great years here. I am extremely happy with my progress and feel that I have made steps forward in every single season and for that I am thankful," declares 'Olly', continuing: "When I first arrived I had to admit that I wasn't the best when it came to technique.

"The reason for that was that in Iceland, partly because of the poor pitches, a quality passing game comes behind the main attributes which are physical strength, fitness and determination. However, with the quality of the coaching, training and facilities at Arsenal I saw an improvement in my technical game very quickly. I noticed it most when I went back on loan for a spell with my old club Fylkir AC and that was a big encouragement for me to keep improving."

Olly has developed into the ideal defensive midfielder and looks odds-on to make a successful career in the game: "I am fairly optimistic about the future. There is interest from clubs in England, Holland and Italy and I should be going to train with one or two clubs shortly.

"I have played in a number of positions at Arsenal. I started as a right-back, but then moved right across the midfield and played as a centre-back for much of this season. I do feel though that my best position is in the centre of midfield," he argues.  "I have a good engine and feel able to fight for every ball for a full 90 minutes. With Iceland I've tended to play immediately in front of the back four as a shield for them.

"The game with my national side is very different to the one I have to play with Arsenal. Here we usually have the ball and are looking to create and score goals all the time. With Iceland we tend to be hunting the ball down and then try to keep it and to stop the other team from playing. In such a situation my role is very important. We have had some relative success recently and the 0-0 draw with Italy was a good result."

A measure of the young man is his selection of an idol. Eidur Gudjohnsen is the most prominent Icelandic player at the moment, but while Olly clearly respects his talent, it is to Charlton's Hermann Hreidarsson that he looks for inspiration. "I respect him as a person and footballer and it is from Hermann that I look to learn from," reports Olafur.

"He began his career in the Premiership with Crystal Palace. People still talk about the marking job he did on Dennis Bergkamp at Highbury at a time when no-one could get close to Dennis. From then though he had to drop a division or two and spent some time at Brentford with Ron Noades before bouncing back to be such an important part of the Charlton team.

"That has taught me that there can be a career for me after Arsenal. It's just up to me to continue making the giant leaps that I have made over the last four years, stay positive and keep on doing my best."

The young Icelander has had his share of bad luck too, but that has never dented his positive attitude: "I was so pleased to have featured in the Carling Cup game against Wolves last season. Unfortunately, at the beginning of this season I picked up an injury which meant it was too painful for me to play in the competition this year.

"I had an unusual bone marrow complaint in the pubic bone. It's something like deep bone bruising and was quite painful. I tried to play through it, but ultimately the only solution was to rest the injury. That meant that I missed about six months of the season and a move last January to a team in Holland. All the terms were agreed between the clubs but I failed the medical because of this problem. Thankfully it has cleared up completely now."

Arsenal are a massive club in Iceland and Olafur has helped ensure continued popularity. "I think it began early in the 1940s with Albert Gudmundsson who later went on to play for AC Milan and then became Iceland's Foreign Minister. Siggi Jonnson and the Gislasson brothers kept up the interest in the '90s. The newspapers and television back home showed a lot of interest when I made my first team debut too. I believe that there is an Icelandic player involved with Arsenal every five or so years that keeps the spotlight on the Club. I certainly have been proud to have been here and I have cherished every moment."

Everyone at Arsenal wishes Olafur the best of luck for the future in the expectation that he will continue to do himself and this Club credit as a footballer and real gentleman.

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6 May 2005