Arnar Bill Gunnarsson(KSI): how to produce a golden generation
Iceland has a population of 340,000,a national foot ball team that reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA EURO 2016 tournament in France and has qualified for the World Cup finals 2018 in Russia. An interview of Arnar Bill Gunnarsson, head of football development at the KSI, the Iceland Football Federation.
Why has Icelandic football been so successful recently?
It is not an easy question to answer, but we can point to three main facts: the facilities, coach education and a great generation. Since the year 2000, football infrastructure in Iceland has taken giant leaps. Municipalities build and pay for all facilities; the players pay the coaches’ salaries and the KSI is funded mostly from UEFA/FIFA support. Players can now train and compete in top class places all year round. High numbers of football halls, artificial pitches with undersoil heating and floodlights, mean the days of the frozen gravel pitches are over. We have 179 full-sized pitches in Iceland and 23,000 registered players, i.e. one full-sized pitch in the country for every 128 registered players! Mini pitches have also been built all over the country, mostly next to schools to give children a chance to play football, purely for fun, in safe conditions.
“Iceland has one full-sized pitch for every 128 registered players”
What about coaching?
The level of coach education is very high. The benefits of having top-class facilities can only be fully exploited if you have the knowledge to get the most out of them. This development owes a lot to the demands of the club licensing system, as clubs participating in the system face sanctions if they do not meet the requirements for coach education from the first team down to the very youngest children. Today, all clubs playing in the top two divisions, and even most clubs outside these two divisions, have qualified coaches with UEFA-A and/or UEFA-B levels working in all youth categories, from five years old and up. Coaches at Icelandic clubs are more or less all paid coaches, i.e. club staff members, in contrast to many other countries where people coaching the youngest children are volunteers. There is an element of professional rivalry: no club wants to be left behind when it comes to the education of their coaches. Also, parents feel safe knowing their children are being looked after by capable and well-educated coaches. Thus, football is the number one choice of sport for many parents, as well as their children.
How would you describe this generation?
Twenty years ago, or more, the main characteristics of the archetypical Icelandic player were physical strength and a“never say die” attitude. Those elements still remain very important, but with the facilities and high-level coaching from an early age, we can add technical skills and passing ability. In the past, we would rarely see one generation bringing through a high number of talented players, one like the generation now playing a key role for the national team. A large number of players in the current national team were around the age of 10 when it all started, 15 years ago.I also want toi nsist on the importance of equality: all clubs have the same amount of training sessions for both genders with equally qualified coaches. Everyone pays the same fee: €640 per year for 12-year-old boys or girls. There is no need to move to a bigger club, which keeps distances to training sessions short.