Heimir Hallgrímsson’s achievements show his will to win is second to none – The Irish Times
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Heimir Hallgrímsson’s achievements show his will to win is second to none – The Irish Times

Born and raised in Heimaey, on the Vestmanna Islands off the south coast of Iceland, Heimir Hallgrímsson was forced to flee his hometown with his family in 1973, at the age of just five, when a volcanic eruption forced 5,000 residents off the island and onto the mainland for six months or more.

Hallgrímsson’s family soon returned to Heimaey, where Hallgrímsson studied and played football for local team IBV. He played for the first team from 1986 to 1996, five of which were full seasons in the Premier League.

In 1993, however, he took a year off from his parent club when he became captain of Höttur from Egilsstadir, who won the fourth division championship. At the same time, aged just 26, he coached the club’s women’s team, which won promotion to the Premier League.

In 1999, Hallgrímsson took over as coach of the IBV women’s team and left in 2004 after winning their first major title, the Icelandic Cup.

In 2002, he briefly took over the IBV men’s team, but later coached it from 2006 to 2011. In 2008, he won the First Division title, and in 2010 and 2011, he finished third in the Premier League.

His adventure with the Icelandic national team began in December 2011, when he was hired as an assistant coach for the Icelandic men’s national team, becoming an assistant to the Swede Lars Lagerbäck. It was the beginning of Iceland’s greatest football adventure.

Iceland coaches Heimir Hallgrímsson (left) and Lars Lagerbäck watch a training session at the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice on June 26, 2016, ahead of their Euro 2016 match against England. Photo: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images

The duo reinvigorated Iceland, who started the 2014 World Cup qualifying group as the sixth and lowest-ranked team in the group, but surprisingly finished second and only lost their tickets to the World Cup in Brazil after two close play-off matches against mighty Croatia.

In 2014, Hallgrímsson took a step up and, together with Lagerbäck, coached the team for the next two years.

The rest is history. Iceland qualified for Euro 2016 in France and surprised everyone by reaching the quarter-finals after drawing with Portugal, the eventual winners, and Hungary, beating Austria and then sensationally eliminating England in the quarter-finals in Nice. They eventually lost to France in the quarter-finals.

Hallgrímsson took over as the team’s sole coach after Lagerbäck resigned following their success in France. If anyone thought they couldn’t do it better on their own, they were deluded.

Iceland surprised even more people by winning the qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup, ahead of the big nations Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. Their convincing win in this group is probably Iceland’s greatest achievement in international football. They won seven of their 10 matches, conceded only seven goals and beat Turkey 3-0 away.

Taking a nation of 370,000 people to the World Cup finals is an achievement almost beyond imagination.

Iceland drew 1-1 with Argentina in their opening match at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with goalkeeper Hannes Halldórsson saving a penalty from Lionel Messi. The team then lost to Nigeria and Croatia, and their first World Cup campaign came to an end.

Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrímsson (centre) and his players celebrate after their Euro 2016 match against England. Photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

Hallgrímsson left the national team after Russia, eager to coach a club team again. In December 2018, he took over as head coach of Qatari side Al-Arabi, ending his contract there in the summer of 2021.

In September 2022, he took over as Jamaica’s national team coach, with a contract until 2026. However, after good results, he resigned after the July Copa America, in which Jamaica lost all three matches.

Hallgrímsson is without a doubt Iceland’s most popular coach after his achievements with the national team. He is a charming and honest man, well-liked wherever he goes. He is very committed to his sport, not only at the highest level, but also very enthusiastic about local games and building players and teams.

His will to win is unmatched. He developed a certain work ethic in Iceland that suited the team, and he obviously learned a lot from Lagerbäck during his time with the team. His teams are well-coached, they do all the basics right, and he is clever at figuring out what kind of football suits the players he has.

Hallgrímsson is a well-known dentist who, in addition to training in different parts of the world, has always had his clinic on Heimaey. But questions about his second job are the only ones he doesn’t like to answer at press conferences.

Víðir Sigurðsson is the sports editor of the Icelandic daily Morgunblaðið