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Hannes Thór Halldórsson
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
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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.
By 2004 Halldórsson was looking for a new team and contacted the coach of the tiny lower-league club Numi. He was invited to a training session but things did not pan out as hoped. “I didn‘t show my best and they decided not to sign me,” Halldórsson says, and so he returned to Leiknir. There he received the opportunity to play the final match of the season but made a huge error, which cost his team promotion. This was, basically, rock bottom. “I was at a point where nobody knew me or that I could play football,” he says. “Only I believed I could do it and the only thing I could do was to take matters into my own hands.”
It was time to make a plan. He sat down with his father and said he wanted to aim for the country’s top flight. His father suggested he should look further: to become one of the few
Icelandic goalkeepers to play professionally and achieve “something ridiculous”. The idea was that he would, for example, one day play against his idol, Gianluigi Buffon. He came close enough, facing Hugo Lloris in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 after beating England. Ridiculous, indeed.
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.
He was quick to become first choice for his country and, since Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrímsson took charge at the end of 2011, there has been no serious contest around the No 1 spot. As
a motivating presence on and off the pitch he is vital, offering positive last words before the team head on to the pitch and providing security and stability between the posts. He had a decent Euro 2016 and conceded only five
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goals in the nine matches he played .
True to his other professional interest, Halldórsson has introduced a tradition whereby Icelandic players to watch a new film together two or
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three nights before each match. With his connections to the Icelandic film industry Halldórsson can sometimes give them a world premiere – such as when the team watched Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest before beating the Netherlands in Amsterdam in 2015.
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