Rotherham United return to pre-season training today missing a player manager Steve Evans describes as one of his best ever signings.
Kari Arnason, one of the heroes of the Millers’ double promotion and last season’s Championship survival, yesterday left the club he has served so well for three years to join Swedish giants Malmo FF.
Rotherham have sold the Icelandic international for an undisclosed fee and he leaves with Evans’ best wishes.
“My first thoughts are to thank Kari Arnason for the loyalty, performances and, dare I say it, friendship he has given me over the last three years, since I convinced him to join the Millers from Aberdeen,” the Rotherham boss said.
“The big fella will always have a place in the hearts of the Millers faithful.”
The 32-year-old played at centre-half for Evans last season before making a hugely successful switch to midfield in the closing stages of the club’s second-tier campaign. His touch, intelligence and physical presence stood out in both positions.
Evans told me last season: “In terms of the best signings I’ve ever made, Kari has to be right up there.
“He has been magnificent for me. His manager, Craig Brown, when Kari came out of Aberdeen, told me he could play for the Red Lion or he could play for Arsenal. Depends what his head’s like! More weeks than not, he’s had the Arsenal head on.”
Arnason, who was born in Sweden while his Icelandic parents studied there, joins a Malmo side who are fourth in the Swedish top flight and have a Champions League qualifier coming up.
“It is a wrench to leave Rotherham, but Malmo are a massive club who can offer Champions League football,” he said.
“They got in touch with my agent about a month ago and Rotherham gave them permission to talk to me.
“The deal is for two and half years and that’s good for an old man in football terms. I had only a year left at Rotherham.
“It was definitely a big decision. I have special memories of my time with Rotherham. The Wembley win in the League One Play-off Final was definitely the highlight, and playing in the Championship was incredible. At the end of last season I had no thoughts of leaving.”
After joining from Aberdeen, Arnason made 130 appearances for Rotherham, scoring five goals. Last season he featured 45 times, scoring against Blackburn Rovers, Millwall - a crucial late headed winner - and Huddersfield Town.
“Playing in the Championship was something I’d always wanted to do,” he said. “To be honest, I was disappointed a Championship club didn’t come in for me when I left Aberdeen, because I’d done well there.
“But I could see the ambition of Rotherham and what they were capable of achieving under Steve Evans. He said he would take them into the Championship and he sold the idea to me.”
He described the Millers manager as “a special kind”.
The departure of Arnason means only midfielder Lee Frecklington remains at AESSEAL New York Stadium from the squad which won promotion from League Two in Evans’ first season in charge in 2012/13.
He is a key man for Iceland - for whom he is closing in on his target of 50 caps - and could feature in next year’s European Champions as his country lead a qualifying group including Holland and the Czech Republic.
Evans added: “The lad will always be welcome back here, and on behalf of everyone at Rotherham United FC I would like to wish Kari every success at Malmo FF and with Iceland who are in the latter stages of a campaign to be part of the European Championships.”
Perhaps it was always meant for ‘Arni’ to play in Sweden ... He drives a Volvo.
Meanwhile, Rotherham’s match at Fulham next season, which was scheduled for Monday December 28, has been put back to Tuesday December 29, kick-off 7.45pm.