Following the magnificent dream season of Leicester City, the soccer world did not expect another Cinderella story so soon.
During Euro 2016 in France, the world saw what the Iceland men’s national team could do and they were not just some fluke.
The country known for hot springs, Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Aurora Borealis, managed to become not just everyone’s favorite travel destination but new favorite team.
Much of the appeal was how they played and those epic handclaps they gave with their supporters following matches.
While everyone fell in love with their charm, their appeal was heightened after it was discovered that their manager wasn’t just the boss of a team but a professional dentist as well.
It is like the Chris Rock joke about his dentist neighbor.
Could you imagine Antonio Conte, who was then managing the Italian national side that summer, have a day job? Or France’s Didier Deschamps saying, “hey, everyone, after the Euro, I am going to back to my office as an accountant’.” For the record, the French icon is not an accountant.
The Soccer Star With A Side Job
Heimir Hallgrimsson, 49, is in fact a dentist.
I am not an anti-dentite, but it is rather amusing and shocking that a professional football manager has a day job and apparently has a popular practice.
Hallgrimsson grew up playing soccer in Iceland for clubs like IBV, KFS, and Hottur. He has had also managed the IBV women’s team for many years before being appointed to the men’s side in 2006.
While all of this was happening, his dental practice was open on the small island, Heimay, with a population of less than 5,000.
Filling the Fan Cavity
Hallgrimsson was appointed assistant manager of the team back in 2011, by then manager Lars Lagerback.
After he and Lagerback figured out a plan, they realized they needed fans. Iceland is a country where sports like curling, hockey, and handball are popular.
Soccer is still on the rise and the managers realized they needed to drum up some enthusiasm.
“There was no real support or enthusiasm for the team when Lars and I first came in,” he told FIFA in April 2017. “So very early on, I went to the supporters’ club (the Tolfan group so visible and audible during Euro 2016). I told them that, before every home game, I would go to the pub that they have and give a report into what we were going to do. They would be the first to know the line-up, how we would play and I would show them the motivational video we had made for the players – at the same time the players were watching it.”
The plan worked and they slowly built a reputation over time. By 2013, Lagerback and Hallgrimsson were both in charge. Their faction of fans followed the team all the way to France for the Euro where they captivated the world with their energy, choreography, and passion.
“My feeling was always that if you come to all the games and you sing and you shout and you support the team, you deserve to get something a bit extra. This was just our way of showing those hardcore fans our respect and appreciation,” he told FIFA. “It meant they went to the games feeling part of things and knowing more than other spectators or people just watching the game from home. At first, there weren’t many there when I would go down to the pub but now there are hundreds, and I think it’s had a big part to play in changing the culture in the stadium. Now the support and atmosphere we have there is fantastic.”
Their vision led the team all the way to the Euro’s and once they qualified, no one expected them to make any noise, in fact, no one expected anything from them.
“There was a sense at times that we were made fun of in the past – we have a small population, the coach is a dentist, things like that – but I cannot see that happening any more,” he wrote in an editorial for The Guardian in 2016.
Everything changed for him, the team, and his country last summer.
“Icelanders are demanding – we will now be expected to qualify for every major tournament. There will not be too many changes on the pitch as we approach the World Cup qualifiers; we are lucky that most of these players are of a good age and few will step out of the squad in the next two or three years,” Hallgrimsson wrote in The Guardian in 2016.
His Own Practice
Iceland got bumped from the Euro in the quarterfinal in a 5-2 loss to France.
Following the success of Euro 2016, Lagerback left to manage the Norway men’s team, leaving Hallgrimsson in charge on his own.
Hallgrimsson clearly does things his way. He was a fulltime dentist with his own practice before heading to France last summer where the team became international heroes — and they weren’t even the winners!
“Even now that I’m sole coach and full-time, I still go back home now and again and do a little bit of dentistry,” he said. “That’s just me. Some coaches like to play golf in their spare time, others go fishing… I go to my dental office! It takes my mind off football for a while and I get the chance to see my patients and colleagues – people I miss.”
While the humble coach now has a massive task ahead of him to get his country to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, no one is underestimating the Northern European country anymore.
“Our football now has a clear identity. We have found a way to win football matches using our players’ specific qualities, and by getting everything out of them. If there have been a few questions about our style, I would answer by saying that if we attempted to play like Spain we would only ever be a bad replica of them,” he wrote in The Guardian. “When we could, we showed the quality of football we can play. We are comfortable with who we are, and the task is now to make it work for years into the future.”