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Vision in sport sets Qatar apart, says Hallgrimsson

Former Iceland coach says hard work, discipline and focus crucial in a player’s development.
Heimir Hallgrimsson Speaks At The Aspire Academy’s Global Summit In Doha On Wednesday
Heimir Hallgrimsson speaks at the Aspire Academy’s Global Summit in Doha on Wednesday.IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

Iceland and Qatar may have similarities when it comes to sporting environment, but the vision and finance of the Gulf nation sets it apart, according to Heimir Hallgrimsson, the former Iceland coach.

Hallgrimsson, who now coaches Qatar Stars League team Al Arabi, has seen the sporting journey of both the countries from close quarters. While parallels can be found in points like small population and extreme weather conditions, Qatar scores in the way it has been working towards its goals, Hallgrimsson said, speaking at the Aspire Academy’s Global Summit on Football Performance and Science.

Iceland has a population of just 334,000 while Hallgrimsson’s island (Vestmannaeyjar) has only 4000 people.

“It’s a small island on the south coast of Iceland and it’s all about sports there,” said Hallgrimsson. “We’ve good facilities, we’ve an indoor arena, four natural grass pitches, three handball arenas, basketball courts, indoor swimming pools – it’s a lot for 4000 people,” he said.
“There’re similarities with Qatar – we also don’t have a big players’ pool and the weather is extreme – one place is cold, the other is hot but both countries have thrived on a generation of players.

“We found a good generation of players and formed a good team, where there’s continuity and consistency. Here also, there’s continuity, the same players, same coach, same philosophy. The challenge is to build on it.

“The difference is in the finance of Qatar, and also in the vision. When we said we wanted to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, nobody believed us,” said Hallgrimsson, who was the joint-coach of the Iceland team at the 2016 UEFA European Championship and the chief coach at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

“In Qatar, the vision is already in place. Here we know that the goal is 2022. It’s much easier to work when you’ve a vision in place. To succeed, there has to be a vision,” he said.

While it is not difficult to find footballers in Iceland, the lack of a professional league is an issue, Hallgrimsson pointed out.

“It isn’t hard to get players, because everyone plays one sport or the other. But we only have a semi-professional league, so people will branch out to different careers as they grow up. Serious players move out to professional leagues abroad,” said Hallgrimsson, who himself is a qualified dentist.

The 52-year-old said being a dentist had its advantages when it comes to dealing with players.

“When patients visit the dentist, you get some who’re petrified and others who go with the flow and your approach to each of them differs.

Similarly, some players need an arm around the shoulders while others just get rolling. It’s important to know the players and their personality to get the best out of them,” he said.

Hallgrimsson’s team, Al Arabi, are unbeaten in the QSL in five games and are second on the table. The coach revealed he had devised a pragmatic approach to make a mark in a league where the best players belong to a handful of clubs.

“Al Sadd, Al Duhail and Al Rayyan have the best players and provide the bulk of the national team. If we play the same style as the top teams, they will only win. So, we’ve studied, analysed and formed our own identity. We’ve worked hard on defence and are among the clubs with least goals conceded. We also know that 30 per cent of the goals in QSL come in the last 15 minutes. So we’ve also put emphasis on our fitness,” he said.

Hallgrimsson also explained the qualities he looked for in a young player.

“He has to be hard-working, focused and disciplined. If you’ve these qualities, you’ll definitely progress, get better in the game.”