Lessons we can learn from Icelandic football

Iceland's players celebrate with their fans after their 2-1 win against Austria in Saint-Denis, France, on June 22.
Iceland's players celebrate with their fans after their 2-1 win against Austria in Saint-Denis, France, on June 22. PHOTO: EPA

Iceland booked its last-16 place in Euro 2016 with a 2-1 win over Austria. Nobody expected a country with a population of only about 330,000 to make it this far in the competition ("New Euro Vision a hit-and-miss"; yesterday).

Singapore has a population about 16 times that of Iceland, and yet, we are 149th in the Fifa men's football global rankings, while Iceland is 34th.

What can we learn from its success?

First, we need to improve our basic sports infrastructure. Icelandic conditions for football were once dire. The only way around the problem of cold weather and permafrost affecting the fields was to construct indoor football fields.

While Singapore does not need such measures, the lack of standardisation and upkeep of school fields for non-league bookings is a problem.

We need to first solve the issues of uneven playing surfaces and the availability of such facilities before we can even expect children to take an interest in football.

Second, there are no professional leagues in Iceland. Some players hold jobs on the side, some are amateurs who work in an office and some are university students.

All take part and play football with people they know and grew up with.

The creation of a semi-professional league in Singapore can help foster community spirit.

If such players are allowed to challenge the big boys in the S-League in a competition, who knows what footballing gems could be unearthed?

Third, with a small population size, identifying talent alone is not enough.

To fulfil our potential, we need the right coaching brains and helping hands to steer the development of a generation of footballers in the right direction.

Iceland's approach was to improve the level of their coaches at their youth set-up.

I applaud the vision of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and technical director Michel Sablon in setting up the FAS Coach Education School, as it is a step in the right direction ("New school hopes to develop quality coaches"; May 31).

I hope to witness, in my lifetime, the return of the Kallang Roar and the next generation's Fandi Ahmad or Dollah Kassim.

Darrell Low Wen Wei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Lessons we can learn from Icelandic football'. Print Edition | Subscribe