The nordic nation have taken giant strides in the last few years and their success should motivate a country with far greater resources.
A few years ago, little could anyone have predict that a small country like Iceland would not only be participating in their first FIFA World Cup, but also going toe-to-toe with the world’s best in the group stages. With their latest impressive result against Argentina, Iceland proved themselves to be no pushovers and also how they can actually get positive results against so-called “bigger” opposition.
With a total population of just over 350,000, Iceland is a country which isn’t really even known by many people around the world. Nobody has really batted an eyelid towards their progress in recent years, but the way they’ve come up the ranks is an achievement to behold. Iceland might have a competitive domestic league for over a century, but not much progress was seen in their football until very recently.
The Nordics had sent in many requests to be a part of the World Cup or European Championships in the past, but nobody recognized them as a footballing nation due to their size and inability to show improvement. That was all before their “Golden Generation” came into their own, mostly due to the remarkable work done by manager Heimir Hallgrimsson. Hallgrimsson himself had a rather low-key career as a player, during which he played for local clubs in his country and also served as a dentist for his home village.
Iceland have seen remarkable development in the recent years
But, during his years of studying the game in his country, Hallgrimsson recognized what exactly was the key to unlocking the untapped potential of his country’s players. He didn’t really look for players with top-level European experience, but instead preferred those who can give it their all for their national team. He has been an unorthodox coach, who has instilled an incredible amount of self-belief and motivation in his squad.
When Hallgrimsson arrived as Iceland’s assistant manager in 2013, they were lingering outside the top 100 in the FIFA rankings, having slipped to their worst ever mark a year ago. But, alongside manager Lars Lagerback, Hallgrimsson overhauled the footballing system in the country and encouraged more players to learn from the experience of playing in other leagues.
While his current side has a few players who still play in the Urvalsdeild (Iceland’s top flight), many of their important players are playing in football leagues in the likes of Russia, England, Germany and even Denmark. Hallgrimsson’s philosophy could be a valuable lesson for a footballing nation like India, who need to encourage and allow more players to go outside the country to learn the traits of a developing footballing nation.
One more thing which could be learned is the importance of having an Indian manager in the helm of the national side and it’s because Hallgrimsson knew the ins and outs of his country’s football, that he could help them develop so quickly. Having an experienced Indian head overlooking every development in Indian football, could be the much-needed change the country needs to develop faster and further.
Despite not playing for the biggest European sides or even in the best football leagues, the Iceland players have mental strength that is unmatched. The players themselves might be topsy-turvy when playing for their clubs, but as a unit, they have proven to be unbreakable. The biggest club an Iceland player plays for is probably their star midfield Gylfi Sigurdsson, who recently had a decent season with Everton.
Despite not having the “big-time” experience or enjoying the luxuries that the players of other national teams do, Iceland have proven to be an extremely impressive, organized unit. The way they frustrate and contain their opposition is second to none and their determination at getting results and pleasing their fans is amazing. The Nordics might be heavily criticized for their “negative football”, but as a nation who played their first major competitive tournament two years ago, they don’t really have the luxury of playing the smoothest of football.
The Indian fans supported the Blue Tigers in a similar fashion to the Nordic fans at the Intercontinental Cup
They are tactically surprisingly strong and move together as a team and even a mistake by an individual is covered by the hard-work of another teammate. This willingness to work together and play for each other is something the Indian national team needs.
Another thing which has played a big part in Iceland’s incredible success are their amazing fans and despite being a small nation, one can always see a tremendous outing of support wherever their national team plays. The Iceland supporters became famous for their “Viking Clap,” but even apart from that, the amount of motivation and passion in their voices can encourage anyone to up their game to please the devoted following. We all saw the power of Indian football fans in the Intercontinental Cup, when, after Sunil Chhetri’s passionate plea, the fans came out in numbers to rally on their troops.
Iceland might not be even half the size of a country like India, but the Blue Tigers can learn a lot of lessons from the incredible journey of the Nordics nation. From their quick rise to success to intricate behind the scenes planning masterminded by Hallgrimsson, their “fairy-tale” run is anything but a fluke and something which we could witness the Indian team replicate, if they can plan and execute a similar path to success.