- Aron Gunnarsson has captained Iceland for the previous eight years
- He now performs his membership soccer in Qatar with Al Arabi
- Midfielder talks tattoos, marvel objectives and World Cup hopes with FIFA.com
Bearded, tattooed and brimming with ardour, Aron Gunnarsson is extensively seen as the embodiment of Iceland’s nationwide group. He was named captain at 23, and a well-known again tattoo – primarily based on the nation’s coat of arms – displays his satisfaction in holding that place.
When Iceland beat England to achieve the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter-finals, it was Gunnarsson who led the first participant-fan rendition of the now-legendary ‘Viking Clap’. But from the second Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson started moulding a group that will write soccer historical past, that they had recognized this all-motion midfielder as the rock on which they’d construct.
“He’s a shining example of what we would like to stand for,” Hallgrimsson stated in 2018. “What he stands for as a player… he’s our living identity. He’s a shining example off the pitch of how players should behave and how they should support each other; on the pitch he’s vital for organising the team. He knows the position of every player, and he’s demanding. And on top of that, he’s just a very good football player.”
Given this glowing tribute, it ought to be no shock that considered one of the first calls Hallgrimsson made, after leaving Iceland to take cost of Qatari aspect Al Arabi, was to his former skipper. Gunnarsson, stressed and prepared for a change, took up the provide that adopted. And it was from his new house in Qatar that the 31-12 months-previous spoke to FIFA.com, discussing Iceland’s heartbreaking EURO qualifying failure, their FIFA World Cup™ hopes and life in the nation that can host the 2022 finals.
FIFA.com: Aron, be trustworthy: are you lacking the climate of a British or Icelandic winter?
Aron Gunnarsson: Somewhat bit truly! [laughs] Being Icelandic, I don’t thoughts a little bit of chilly! But it’s very good right here proper now – about 20 levels – so good climate actually, and so a lot better than after I arrived again in August. That’s the hottest time of the 12 months, and I used to be gobsmacked. The warmth was insufferable at occasions. We’d prepare in the night however even then the humidity was simply loopy.
You’ve constructed your profession on being the sort of midfielder who covers each blade of grass. Did you must turn out to be extra economical along with your actions, particularly in these early days?
Yeah, there’s no method of getting round that. We all get our GPS stats and it’s clear the quantity of operating drops in the second half of video games right here. I’d additionally cramp up in direction of the finish of matches in these early days much more than I usually would. So I wanted to adapt. But now the climate’s nice – good for soccer – and I can play my common sport once more.
Scoring objectives from your individual half isn’t your common sport although. Tell us about that one.
[Laughs] That’s undoubtedly true. But I’d seen the keeper off his line a couple of occasions earlier than and thought, ‘Next time I get the ball, I’m going to whack it’. Fortunately I hit it good and straight. Normally I’m like I’m in golf, hooking or slicing my photographs! [laughs]
You’d been out to Qatar in 2018 as a part of your rehab following a critical knee damage. Was that when the seeds had been sown about enjoying there sooner or later?
Absolutely. I got here out right here with my household, and at that stage it was contact and go whether or not I’d make the World Cup. There’s a clinic right here with magnificent amenities and all the proper docs and physios, they usually helped get me again in time. I stated to my spouse at that stage, ‘I wouldn’t thoughts residing right here, you already know’. The subsequent 12 months, Heimir took the job with Al Arabi and, quickly after that, he picked up the cellphone to me. I used to be in the final 12 months of my contract with Cardiff and I knew immediately it was one thing I wished to do. I felt like I wanted a change after 11 years in the UK, so Heimir actually didn’t must do a lot to promote the thought to me.
I used to be studying that you just’ve been impressed with, and pleasantly shocked by, the customary of soccer in Qatar.
Definitely. One of the issues I’d observed earlier than coming right here was that there have been lots of objectives in the league, and it made me suppose that the customary of defending and the tactical aspect of the sport wouldn’t be what I used to be used to in Europe. But I believe folks right here have recognised that concern themselves and there’s been an enormous change over the final couple of years, with extra competitors in the league and a greater customary of play – tactical play particularly. That’s crucial for the league, and for the Qatari gamers who’ll be concerned in the World Cup.
What can folks count on from a World Cup in Qatar?
It’s going to be particular. They’ve ready for all the things right here. All the stadiums are air-conditioned, though the change to have the event in December is totally proper in my view as a result of it wouldn’t be good for the supporters to return right here in summer time. As it’s, they’ll get a little bit of winter sunshine and have the ability to watch soccer in actually good circumstances. And all the things proper now could be geared in direction of making this a implausible World Cup as a result of the Qataris actually do wish to do one thing extraordinary and have everybody speaking positively about the nation.
You’ll clearly be determined to be concerned in that World Cup however it’s been a troublesome time for Iceland currently. Where do you suppose it went flawed for Erik Hamren?
Erik was very unfortunate with accidents. We had been with out lots of key gamers throughout his time in cost. We almost made it to the EURO all the same, dropping in the final minute in the play-offs. That was very powerful to take. But now we have new coaches in place (Arnar Vidarsson having been appointed, with Eidur Gudjohnsen as his assistant) and I believe there are actual prospects in our World Cup qualifying group. Germany are there they usually’ll be favourites, after all, however then it’s ourselves, Romania, North Macedonia, Armenia and Liechtenstein. So I’d be hopeful of us doing effectively, and the boys are undoubtedly extremely motivated to return to the World Cup. There are additionally fairly plenty of gamers who’re of their 30s now and know it will in all probability be our final probability.
How do you mirror on Russia 2018 now, a few years on?
I actually loved it at the time however I didn’t take pleasure in the construct-up. I believed I wasn’t going to make it for a very long time – proper up till the event actually – as a result of I not solely had the concern with my knee, however ankle ligament injury too. But stepping out on to that pitch, at a World Cup, was a particular feeling. Not being match-match and needing to chase Messi round for 90 minutes wasn’t the best comeback, I can inform you! But I used to be so relieved to be concerned and it was implausible to return up towards considered one of the best gamers ever.
Are the elements that underpinned Iceland’s success over the previous few years – that hunger and group spirit – still there to the same extent?
I get requested that query rather a lot: ‘Do we still have the hunger?’ And for me it’s a particular sure. Ok, we made historical past by qualifying for the EURO and the World Cup. But when you’ve skilled these issues it simply provides you a style for doing it time and again. It’s the finest feeling ever to be representing your nation in an enormous event and if experiencing that doesn’t provide you with the hunger to do it once more, you shouldn’t be enjoying soccer in any respect.
Tell us about that well-known again tattoo. What was the inspiration there?
Playing for Iceland means lots to me. I believe there’s one thing particular about representing a small nation; you are feeling such as you’re the little man who at all times has to combat tougher than the others. With the tattoo, it was after the EURO and I wished to do one thing particular and significant. It was carried out by an Icelandic man who came visiting to Cardiff 4 occasions, engaged on my again for 2 days every time he got here. Once it was for seven hours straight. When I launched the thought to him, he stated: ‘Are you sure? Because the colour [of the flag] will be right on your spine and you’re going to be in lots of ache.’ And I can inform you: he wasn’t mendacity! [laughs] But it was one thing I actually wished to do, and I have no regrets.
You’ve been Iceland captain because you had been 23. How did it really feel to be provided that duty at such a younger age?
Lars [Lagerback] was constructing a brand new group at the time and I believe he perhaps wished a younger man to steer the pack. It’s an enormous ask at that age however I assume he should have seen some management qualities in me. I made some errors at the begin, stated some foolish issues in interviews, however I believe I grew into the position. One factor I do know is that, after I retire, I’ll be so, so proud to say I’ve captained an Iceland group that made some actual historical past.