ICELAND 🇮🇸 Hannes Thór Halldórsson was on the brink of quitting football at the age of 20. He had never received any professional goalkeeper training, had enjoyed the high school parties a little too much and had, besides, realised his potential as a film director. In the summer of 2004 he was rejected by a local third division team and things did not look at all good for a player who is now the first and only Icelandic goalkeeper to play in a major tournament – and one who kept clean sheets in World Cup qualifiers against teams such as Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey.
Halldórsson was raised in Breidholt, a suburban area in Reykjavik. He trained with a small club called Leiknir but, as was usual for his generation in Iceland, there was no focus on teaching a goalkeeper what to do. He is one of three regular national team starters born in 1984, and players of that vintage did not have the indoor halls and educated youth coaches that have been roundly credited with inspiring Iceland’s success in recent years. He would simply go by himself each day, kick a ball into a wall next to the training ground and try to catch it.
Halldórsson did what he set out to do and was voted the best player in Iceland’s Premier Division in 2011 after winning the double with KR. The same autumn, with one national team goalkeeper suspended and another injured, he earned his first cap in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Cyprus. Halldórsson kept a clean sheet – the first of many in the Iceland jersey.
It did not put paid to one of football’s most fascinating parallel existences. Halldórsson started his career as a director in high school and made music videos for the girl band Nylon, free of charge, in order to get ahead. He has since directed many more (including Iceland’s Eurovision video in 2012), along with award-winning advertisements and television shows, even after becoming part of the national team.
One television series was called “Our professional players” and saw Halldórsson and his partners visiting various Icelandic footballers. One of them was Eidur Gudjohnsen, a player Halldórsson adored but who later became his room-mate during the national team’s trips. Halldórsson also planned to involve Emil Hallfredsson in the series but had to cut him out and felt rather nervous when they first met on international duty.
Halldórsson has played professionally since 2014 – his career taking in spells in Norway, the Netherlands and then, for the past two years, Denmark. He has achieved miraculous things with Iceland but the most “ridiculous” achievement may yet be on the cards in Russia this summer.