GYLFI SIGURDSSON IS THE ICELANDIC VERSION OF TIGER WOODS according to top pundit Hjörvar Hafliðason. “Sigurðsson is in a way made by his father and older brother. They took him at the age of 13 and moved him to Breiðablik from FH Hafnarfjörður as the conditions to play football were better there. He was taken there to flourish.”
Fífan, an indoor hall with a full-sized artificial pitch, had recently been built and that was a key factor in Sigurðsson signing for Breiðablik at the age of just 13. Sigurðsson was always a player with potential during his younger years and his passing and shooting ability were evident very early on says Magnús Jónsson, Sigurðsson’s coach between the ages of 11 and 14.
“He had a high technical ability when I met him at 11 years of age, especially when it came to striking a football. Many of the other boys were equally good at ‘keepie uppie’ but his passing and shot technique were miles ahead,” says Jonsson.
Sigurðsson was, like countless other children at his age with a strong Icelandic mentality, keen on improving, training long hours, and his will to win was huge, whatever the situation, adds Jónsson.
“He always trained very well and wanted to win every competition in training, whether that was a penalty shootout or football golf. On top of that he always did extra things, he was always taking part in football schools and stayed behind after every training to do something extra,” says Jónsson.
Sigurðsson received his first professional contract when Reading bought him from Breiðablik at the start of the 2005-06 season. He was joined there a year later by former teammate Viktor Illugason. Alfreð Finnbogason, their teammate in Breiðablik’s youth teams, who today plays for Olympiacos, says that Illugason was at the time more highly thought of within Reading.
“Sigurðsson has had to work very hard to get to where he is today. At the time Illugason was regarded as the better of the two at Reading and they had higher hopes for him for the future. But with a great work rate and practice, Sigurðsson became Reading’s best player,” says Finnbogason.
Sigurðsson’s biggest strength in football has never been his speed or agility, but what he can do with his head and feet according to Hafliðason, something that he has honed through the years.
“He has always figured out what to do next before he gets the ball. He sees what is going to happen later on. Then we have his unnatural kicking ability, his crosses and set pieces,” says Hafliðason.
This is a great ability to have in modern day football adds Hafliðason as games are getting ever more tactical. “Often games are won due to 50-50 situations, corners or free-kicks. It’s invaluable for teams to have a player who can deliver a ball. I feel he is in the same class as Leighton Baines in this aspect,” says Hafliðason.
Finnbogason adds that Sigurðsson has strengths that are not all too common in midfielders. “His best qualities, in my opinion, are that he is a midfielder that can score 10 plus goals from midfield. He is great at coming into the box with the second wave, has great shooting ability and sees all of the attacker’s movement. It’s rather seldom you see a midfielder that is both great at scoring goals and assisting them.”
Sigurðsson continues to reap the rewards of his work honing his skills throughout the years. He has been an important member of an attack-minded Swansea side since joining from Tottenham in the summer of 2014. On top of that, he has been instrumental in Iceland’s mercurial rise in the international game. With the defensive stalwart Aron Gunnarsson from Cardiff beside him, Sigurðsson can put more effort into the attacking side of things. He is the centre of Iceland’s game, scoring six goals from midfield in qualifying for the European Championships next summer.
Jónsson, however, gives a unique perspective into his early years and how he did not start out as a midfielder. “When he was 12-13 years of age he changed positions. He was a striker but he wanted to have the ball more and that was the reason for the switch,” says Jónsson. That change was a key moment in his development according to Jónsson and it has certainly been a fruitful thing for Iceland.
“His will to win and ambition to succeed made him immediately start to perfect the things he needed to learn as a midfielder, and with that the final step had been taken,” says Jónsson.
Sigurðsson is a perfect example of a player that has made his own career according to his former coach. “He is first and foremost responsible for his great career. He has worked very hard, at least since I got to know him, towards becoming a brilliant footballer. That was clearly his will,” says Jónsson.
He is also one of the few Icelandic players that have made it this far having joined a big club at such a tender age, according to Hafliðason. “We have sent players to Liverpool, Arsenal, Bayern Munich and others, but they never played a game for the main squad. He is pretty much the only one to have gone that route,” says Hafliðason.
Sigurðsson has also been blessed with great support from his family, which has obviously helped him throughout his career. He left Iceland to join Reading when he was still only 15, but was firmly supported by them. “I see it clearly as an important thing that those who were close to him put a lot of effort into helping him. His older brother was especially good in working with him with football related things. I think his mother and sister have also been helping him with the mental side of things. That’s a big reason for how down to earth he is,” says Jónsson.
There are definitely many factors involved in the making of Sigurðsson as a footballer. His hard work and dedication to his craft are two of the biggest, and his impact on Icelandic football as the first major star to ply their trade abroad has lifted the nation and taking it to new levels.
A pioneer, he has opened the floodgates for players to move abroad early, receive the highest quality of coaching and emulate his success at the top.
By Jóhann Ólafur Sigurðsson. Follow @johanno12