Two players who came through the same club academy a generation apart compare their experiences and discuss their fathers' influences on their careers.
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Right-back Sif Atladóttir is playing at her fourth UEFA Women's EURO, having been part of the Iceland squad that reached its first finals in 2009. Born in Germany, her father Atli Eðvaldsson is a former professional player who coached the Icelandic men's team between 1999 and 2003. She turns 37 during this summer's tournament and is approaching the 100-cap mark for her country.
Midfielder Karólína Lea Vilhjálmsdóttir is just 20 and playing at her first major finals. She joined German giants Bayern in 2021 and has picked up Women's Champions League experience.
Below, the pair discuss their early days coming through the same academy, their influential fathers and just how it feels to play for their country.
When did you start playing, and can you remember the facilities and conditions at your first club?
Atladóttir: It’s a fun fact that we came through the youth system at the same club - FH [Hafnarfjörður Women]! I started pretty late, at 15. I had tried football before, but when I started there were only girls, so I have never played with boys. When I started there at 15, the facilities were fine and we had nothing to really complain about, [except maybe] the time we were allotted on the pitches. To train at the main ground was not really an option and you felt that women’s football was not highly ranked in the country at that time. We were often put aside on training grounds or had to play our games elsewhere.
Vilhjálmsdóttir: I came there just a little while later, and it was better. I think I started playing with the senior team at 13, and then there was more of an effort put into the women’s team. I think we always got access to the main ground; we sometimes trained elsewhere when the men’s team needed to be there, but in all I think FH did everything pretty well. I started playing when I was five years old. I come from a big football family, so this was pretty much my only option. I trained sometimes with the boys, but I think it is pretty common in Iceland that girls and boys train separately on their own, so mostly just with other girls.
Was there someone in particular who inspired you?
Vilhjálmsdóttir: I think we will answer this the same way. I think it is both our dads. My dad, at least, is the coach that influenced me the most, and then I also have played for Steini [Iceland team coach Þorsteinn Halldórsson] for a long time and he has taught me a lot. I was really glad when he was appointed to the national team.
Atladóttir: My dad [Atli Eðvaldsson] was a big influence for me. He played football professionally, for a long time in Germany, so I wanted to do that as well. I always wanted to be like my older brother, and my dad was a good player and was starting his coaching career when I was starting to play. When I had been playing for a while and against our national team players, you started to look up to certain players there. I wasn’t a striker but Margrét [Lára Viðarsdóttir] was always a big role model for me.
Sif, how does Women's EURO 2022 compare with your previous experiences?
Atladóttir: It is much bigger. Everything is. In 2009, it was just fun to take part. It was a great experience. Even though we didn’t have many fans in the stands, those 30 to 40 Icelanders who did come cheered as if the stand were full - you heard them so well! But you really can’t compare it. Today we see our young girls on billboards everywhere in Iceland and we see our big profiles everywhere. There is a lot more coverage of women’s football and the exposure of the tournament itself is much bigger than before. You really feel the interest always growing and it is just magnificent to have experienced all four of Iceland’s EUROs. I’m really proud of our progress as a team and a country. It is fun to look back to our first tournament in 2009 - we got there without knowing what to expect. Then we arrive here now and the girls are visible everywhere. It says a lot about how London is decorated now, with the English stars playing on home turf. You would not have seen this five or ten years ago.
Karólína, is there any advice you would like to get from your experienced team-mate?
Vilhjálmsdóttir: I have been so lucky to have played closely with Sif. I can truly say that she has helped me a lot, for example with keeping focused. She is a great leader and manages me like we are playing foosball. I like playing against her in training as well! But as for advice, I think I would want to ask how it is best to keep calm and not have your head up in the clouds - to manage your stress, enjoy the moment and so on?
Atladóttir: That’s a big question. What I believe is a privilege playing with this generation of players is that they already have all the tools to do well. They know how important it is to stay in the moment, and like you say to enjoy the present. As we have said, it is just our team bubble that matters. There is outside stress, but as long as it is not in our circle, it doesn’t have to affect us as much. Because we know what is important. Then just enjoy what you do. If you like what you do, you enjoy it a lot more.
What about your own piece of advice for Karólína?
Atladóttir: Pass the ball to me! Pass it to me when there is a chance! No, no, I just think this is the most important one: to enjoy the moment. And when a mistake happens, just accept it. No matter what, you always have backup. So, don’t be afraid. Just remember to play your game, you are here because of it.
Vilhjálmsdóttir: Very good advice! I will take that with me to my pillow tonight.