Atli Edvaldsson, one of Iceland's most famous footballing sons both as a player and as a manager, is demanding a revival of old-fashioned Icelandic values.
Keep with tradition
The 51-year-old may be an admirer of the skills that modern football has to offer but, for the sake of the national game, he wants to see more of the grit that was always a local characteristic. Edvaldsson, a former international player and coach, said: "We have lost our strongest characteristics. Before, we had more players in the best teams in Europe. We have more skilful players now, even more than nations of a similar size, but we must not forget our strength which is power and pace."
The erstwhile midfielder is well-qualified to comment on the development of the sport in the island republic. In a playing career spanning three decades until he hung up his boots in the early 1990s, he represented clubs in Iceland (Valur Reykjavík, KR Reykjavík and HK Kópavogs), Germany (BV Borussia Dortmund, Fortuna Düsseldorf 1895 and KFC Uerdingen 05) and Turkey (Gençlerbirligi SK). As a coach, he then saw action with HK, ÍBV Vestmannyjæer, Fylkir, the national team, KR and – before his early retirement in 2006 – Thróttur Reykjavík.
So his words carry weight when he says that Icelandic players have never had it so good. "The good clubs in Iceland offer a great amount to the players. Boys over 20 can make a living and even go to university and do no work other than football. This has started happening in the last two or three years. Everybody's dream is to play professional football and one transfer to a big club can secure a player's future, which means they never have to have another job." And just as there are improved opportunities at home, so more players are getting the chance to ply their trade abroad as the pioneering Edvaldsson once did. "I have never seen such a large selection of good local players," he said. "About 70 get paid to play football abroad, aside from the ones doing scholarships and in academies around the world."
Hard campaign ahead
More quantity does not necessarily mean more quality at the highest level, though, and for the sake of the national side he would like to see greater emphasis back on the "power and pace" that have typified the Icelandic footballer. They will certainly be toughening them up in the forthcoming Urvalsdeild season, Edvaldsson predicts. With 12 sides – rather than ten as before – competing in the 2008 top flight, staying power more than pure skill could decide the destination of the title. Edvaldsson said: "There will be 22 league games, five in the cup if a team reaches the final, and possibly four more in UEFA competition, which makes 31 matches in our four-month season. Some European leagues play 34 games in an eleven-month season. This means a tight schedule. So the pressure in the league, cup and European matches will be very intense. The club that will win in Iceland – FH Hafnarfjördur, KR, Valúr or maybe another – will not necessarily be the best but the one that recovers best between games."
Yet does all the pre-season excitement make him nostalgic for football? Not exactly. "I have four children, three of them playing for the national team at youth levels and one hopefully joining them soon, so there is still plenty of action in my life – sometimes even more than when I was training top-flight teams," he said. "But now it is both work and a hobby."
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