Monday, July 22, 2024

Ireland manager Hallgrimsson is on the the Mount Rushmore of Icelandic football

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HEIMIR HELLGRÍMSSON’S Jamaica reign ended after a poor showing at a tournament for which he could not call on his best player.

There was disquiet over the manager not being based in the country as well as his aggressive use of the ancestry rule to the exclusion of home-grown talent.

All of which you might say make him eminently qualified to be the new Ireland manager because many of his predecessors could relate to at least some of the above.

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Heimir Hallgrímsson was appointed Ireland manager on Wednesday afternoon
Iceland joint head coaches Heimir Hallgrimsson and Lars Lagerback guided them to victory over England in 2016

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Iceland joint head coaches Heimir Hallgrimsson and Lars Lagerback guided them to victory over England in 2016
Heimir Hallgrimsson left as head coach of Jamaica last week after their Copa America exit

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Heimir Hallgrimsson left as head coach of Jamaica last week after their Copa America exit

His appointment by the FAI came as much a shock in Iceland as Ireland, with his compatriots expecting Ecuador to be his next destination.

But, in this game of Dublin or Quito, it was the closer-to-home option which came up trumps as the epic 231-day saga to appoint Stephen Kenny’s successor was ended.

Five hours or so after the final whistle blew on Kenny’s last game in charge against New Zealand in November, Jamaica defeated Canada 3-2 in Toronto.

It meant that the Caribbean island reached both the CONCACAF Nations League semi-finals and Copa America.

So, from then on, Hellgrímsson and any would-be suitors knew that he was due to be tied up both in March and June.

Not to mention that he also had a further two years to run on his contract with the Jamaican FA.

In confirming him as Kenny’s successor, the FAI said Hellgrímsson was identified as their no 1 candidate ‘earlier this year’ with his experience ‘aligning perfectly with the Association’s search criteria’.

The timeframe was vague, perhaps deliberately so considering Director of Football Marc Canham said on March 3 that a manager would be installed the following month with ‘existing contractual obligations’ preventing them from making an announcement any earlier.

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There is work to be done to present a credible chronology for the process when the FAI officially unveils him at 2pm on Thursday at the Aviva Stadium.

That comes just the 58 days before he has to lead his team out there against England with not a single friendly game in advance to prepare with John O’Shea presiding over the four this year.

But the focus on how he ended up in charge will soon shift to how he fares now that he is in the role.

With that in mind, he might seek to manage expectations, although perhaps not quite in the same way as he did when he was a club manager.

Heimi – as he is known – would sometimes drop into supporters’ bars before matches.

Confident enough that no confidences would be broken, the idea was to provide an insight into the team’s tactics for the day.

His goal was that, armed with this information in advance, fans might show a little more patience or understanding as the action unfolded.

That was something which he felt was important particularly when he had a player who could be negatively affected by grumbling from the stands.

His people skills may have been honed through his work as a dentist, knowing the need to bring people with you through a painful process.

ISLAND BOY

Hallgrímsson is from Vestmannaeyjar.

They are a collection of islands off the south of Iceland and spent most of his career with IBV though his local club only emerged as a force in the domestic game after he had moved on.

There were two spells each in charge of IBV’s men and women’s teams, experiencing relegation and promotion with the former and guiding the latter to cup success and two runners-up spots.

Third-place finishes with the men in 2010 and 2011 set up two Europa League ties against St Pat’s.

He had left to become Iceland’s assistant manager by the time of the second but, in the first, Pete Mahon’s side bounced back from a 1-0 loss in the away leg to win 2-0 at Richmond Park.

By the time he was back in Dublin in 2017, when Iceland ended Ireland’s 15-game unbeaten run with a 1-0 friendly victory, his reputation and profile had increased exponentially.

Working under Lars Lagerback, they reached the play-offs to reach the 2014 World Cup, losing 2-0 on aggregate to Croatia.

He was promoted to co-manager with the Swede for the Euro 2016 campaign which delivered a historic qualification.

A win over Austria following draws with eventual winners Portugal and Hungary saw them negotiate the group stages unbeaten.

England were defeated 2-1 in the last 16 before a 5-2 loss to hosts France in the quarter-finals.

Roy Hodgson’s side were beaten with just 37 percent of the ball, an insight into how his style is likely to differ from Kenny’s possession-based game.

Cork man John Andrews – who has coached in Iceland for most of the past 12 years and is currently in charge of the women’s team at Shamrock Rovers’ Champions League opponents Vikingur – said: “Whether they will play like Spain, England or France, I’m not too sure.

“They’ll be very organised, hard to beat and have a plan in place with a distinct identity.

“He just wants to win. You can be progressive as you like but senior football is about results and if you’re not getting them you won’t be in a job for very long.

“He’s a likeable and approachable chap – I’ve met him on the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar a few times – but he won’t be afraid to make hard decisions.

“People here are glad that he’s closer to home. He’s on the Mount Rushmore of Icelandic football. And I think if the Irish supporters give him a chance, he’ll do well.

“He will leave no stone unturned.

“I spoke to our Director of Football Karí Arnason who played under him and he said there is nothing the Irish players won’t know because he is meticulous.

“That nothing ever happened in a game that was a surprise to them.”

Hallgrímsson took sole charge after Euro 2016 as Iceland became the country with the smallest population to reach a World Cup finals, stepping aside after they failed to reach the knockout stages in Russia.

There followed a lucrative two-and-a-half years with Al-Arabi in Qatar with a 12-month break before taking over Jamaica in September 2022.

JAMAICA EXIT

He initially uprooted there but moved back home in January amid simmering tensions with his employers.

Local reports claimed he wanted a bonus for leading Jamaica to the Copa America.

It was not provided for in his contract but, then, the inclusion of CONCACAF countries in the South American Championship had not been decided upon at the time of its signing.

He attempted to mend bridges with Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey after he fell out with the football federation but they responded by suspending the player.

He was also said to be unhappy with their support for his efforts to recruits to widen the talent pool by securing more players through the ancestry rule with Mason Greenwood his most controversial target.

As recently as month, he spoke of his desire to bring Jamaica to play in front of its diaspora in North America at the 2026 World Cup.

But, sure, if anyone can appreciate that things change it is his new bosses who have charged him with bringing Ireland there instead.

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