On Thursday, Faroese club KÍ Klaksvík take on Sheriff Tiraspol in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League play-off, just the latest instalment in an adventure that has enthralled European football.
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To understand the story behind KÍ’s historic achievements, you need to go back to 2015 and the appointment of Mikkjal Thomassen as head coach. After decades spent in the shadow of rival clubs HB and B36, KÍ was finally able to compete for top honours. In both 2016 and 2017 the club nearly clinched their first title in 17 years but missed out narrowly to Víkingur on both occasions.
Since then, they have not looked back, winning the league title three times in the span of five years, and look set to repeat the feat this year. That domestic success has been replaced by impressive results on the European stage. In 2020, KÍ became the first Faroese team ever to reach the UEFA Europa League play-offs after beating Dinamo Tbilisi 6-1.
How have they done it?
The driving force behind this dramatic upturn in fortunes is the new level of professionalism introduced by Thomassen, reinforced by heavy investment into local football by both the club and the municipality of Klaksvík. KÍ’s confidence in their young players has borne fruit, with increasing numbers being called up to national teams across all age categories.
The club’s culture of excellence is so well established that it absorbed the departure of Mikkjal Thomassen to Frederikstad in Norway with minimum disruption. Norwegian ex-international and highly experienced coach Magne Hoseth arrived in his place, and appears to be taking the team to even greater levels of achievement. He has succeeded in blending experienced Faroese national players such as Réne Shaki Joensen, Heini Vatnsdal and Odmar Færø and most recently Hallur Hansson with academy talents like club captain Jákup Andreasen, Jóannes Kalsø Danielsen, Børge Petersen and John Johannesen, with more promising young players waiting in the wings. The challenge for Hoseth will now be to manage the domestic schedule with the demands of playing top-level international opposition during the remainder of the year.
Driving the game forward on a national level
On a broader scale, general standards within the Faroese league have been raised by the arrival of foreign players of an increasingly high calibre. For now, a balance has been found by KÍ and their fellow clubs between this influx and the development of home-grown talent. In fact, the improved competitiveness of the domestic championship has resulted in more and more Faroese players being noticed and given the opportunity to play abroad, especially in Scandinavia. The challenge for KÍ’s rival clubs is how to close the sporting and financial gap that is emerging, and how to find smart ways to compete, such as focusing on youth development.
According to the Faroe Islands Football Association (FSF), KÍ’s success reflects a wider upsurge in football’s popularity and quality at all levels. Technical Director Pætur Clementsen explains: "Faroese football is thriving and we have hit a record 7200 registered players this year. This is more than 13 percent of the entire population. At the Faroese FA we organise competitions for all age groups from Under-7s to over-60s, and we have invested in developing the technical department over recent years. The coach education system is well organised, and the technical department works closely with the clubs on development projects tailor made to fit the needs of each club."
Eli Hentze, Assistant Coach of the national team, hopes that KÍ’s European adventure will provide inspiration for others to follow: "It is interesting to see how successful KÍ have been in recent years, and even more so this year. They will be an exciting team to follow in the European group stages. That success at European club level will be of importance to the Faroese league and national team in the long term."
Perhaps in the future another team will emulate what KÍ has done, and another magical run in Europe can begin. For now, everyone in the Faroe Islands will be gripped by the latest episode in KÍ’s fairytale.