An island in the north Atlantic is not only a land of creation of the Earth’s surface with countless volcanoes but a place where a small league is creating numerous talented football players.
The top tier of this creation process is the Úrvalsdeild karla, from 2009 known as the Pepsi-deildin or “The Pepsi League”, named after the main sponsor. It is run by the Football Association of Iceland (KSI) and the league is currently rated as the 40th European league by UEFA.
More clubs for higher quality of the league?
Úrvalsdeild currently comprises of 12 clubs, however the league never used to have more than 10 clubs since it was founded in 1912. For the first time in the competition’s history, the 2008 season saw 12 teams compete in the premier division, as a part of KSI’s attempt to strengthen Icelandic football. It was a quite different approach from the majority of leagues in smaller countries that took a different approach, reducing the number of the clubs in the 1st divisions. Only one team was relegated in the Úrvalsdeild 2007 season and three clubs were promoted from the 1. deild karla, a second division in the Icelandic football league system.
Úrvalsdeild karla – Pepsi-deildin
Number of teams: 12
Level on the pyramid: 1st division
Domestic cup: Bikarkeppni karla, Deildabikar
International cup: UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League
Current champion: Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur (KR)
Average annual salary: 30.000 €
Transfer window: 15 October – 15 May and 15th July – 1st August
Season duration: 4 May – 4 October
Average temperature, humidity and rainfall during the season: 8,9°C, 75%, 290 mm
Number of allowed foreign players (per team): 3 non-EU players in team on match-day
Number of foreign players in Úrvalsdeild: 34
Average stadium attendances: 1.205
Because of the harsh winters in Iceland, the league is played in the spring and summer, the 2014 season starting from the 5th May and ending on the 5th October. Each club faces every other club twice during the season, once at home and once away. At the end of each season, the bottom two clubs are automatically relegated to the second level of the Icelandic league system, the 1. deild karla (First Division), with the top two clubs of the First Division automatically promoted to the Úrvalsdeild.
From two greatest champions to world fame
KR, the current champions, holds the most titles (26) and Valur is next with 20. Eiður Guðjohnsen having won titles in the Netherlands, Spain, and England as well as the Champions League was playing for both clubs in his early career. ÍA and Fram Reykjavík are the third and fourth most successful clubs with 18 titles each. All the mentioned clubs are coming from Reykjavík with the exception of ÍA, a club based in the town of Akranes, a port town only 20 km north of the capital.
Actually the majority of clubs are coming from the capital or from the Greater Reykjavík area which contains nearly two thirds of Iceland’s population with two exceptions where the travel to away games might take some time. Þór A. is a club from Akureyri, a town in northern Iceland and ÍBV comes from Vestmannaeyjar, a town and archipelago off the south coast of Iceland.
Icelandic culture is very open-minded and Iceland is an ideal place for football players to go and fall in love with the game. The vast majority of Icelanders speak English and this can make the transition of living abroad even easier for the players.
Fast players being slowed down by referees
The style of play is very unique in some aspects. There can be a lot of kicking and rushing with some very good and fast players. The referees are thought to be quite different as well and new players can feel that they are trying to slow the game down which can be frustrating for some. The formations of most teams are different as well and it’s a miracle if you will be playing or see the other team play in the standard 4 – 4 – 2 formation.
Between Úrvalsdeild teams or other Icelandic teams with Úrvalsdeild teams: 67,7%
From abroad to Úrvalsdeild: 14,1%
From Úrvalsdeild to abroad: 18,1%
To Úrvalsdeild (from countries):
Norway, Denmark: 17,5%
From Úrvalsdeild (to countries):
Quite a lot of foreign players come to Úrvalsdeild from Great Britain. David Moyes, a Scottish football manager of Manchester United, actually started his career at ÍBV playing half a season with the youth team in 1978, but perhaps the most notable foreign player signed his contract in the 2013 season.
Now retired David James signed a deal with ÍBV, which was managed by James’ former team-mate Hermann Hreiðarsson. Hreiðarsson said: “I called him up and I said, I’m a manager now, I need an assistant manager, plus a goalkeeper, you fit the bill and you’re coming over.”
David James was goalkeeping, gaining experience as an assistant manager and as a coach. Training is of-course full-time but other English players at ÍBV, like Ian Jeffs and Matt Garner supplement their earnings with part-time jobs. Jeffs coaches one of IBV’s youth teams and Garner works in a factory in the fisheries industry. Note that even the Icelandic people have never regarded Úrvalsdeild as being a professional football league, but instead as a step between amateur and professional.
Country population: 320,000
Average salary (€): 1,733€ net / 2,253€ gross
Tax rate: 22.9 %, 25.8 % and 31.8 % income tax
National currency (value in € and $): 1 Icelandic króna = 0.0063678 € = 0.00887 $
Food: fish, lamb, dairy products, almost no use of herbs and spices
Most popular sports: handball, football, track and field, basketball, winter sports
Transport (domestic flights): from Reykjavík to Akureyri (1h 10 minutes), from Reykjavík to Vestmannaeyjar (25 minutes)
After the financial crisis (from 2008 to 2011) the clubs are getting new foreign players and regularly paying domestic players (most of them are semi-pros). In the worst years however players had to take a pay cut, for example KR had to let all players take a 30 % pay cut before the 2011 season.
So how is it possible for a small nation to produce so many talented football players? In 2002 a total of only 5 artificial grass pitches existed, there was no football hall and there were only 7 mini pitches in the country. But Iceland evolved and in 2010 there were 17 artificial grass pitches, 7 football halls (plus one half size football hall) and 130 mini pitches. The number is growing every year so the eruption of Icelandic talent is no surprise but a product of a long-term planning and investments in youth academies and sporting facilities.
League talents for a global success
It is now clear that the national team of Iceland, that held a goalless draw against Croatia on the first game of the play-offs for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil, is not a short-term sensation like Estonia, who reached the play-offs for Euro 2012 and then disappeared. The domestic and foreign players are benefiting from the excellent conditions in the Úrvalsdeild and are developing faster. This fact is more than noticeable with the national team getting stronger as well. The successful qualifying to the major international competition is just around the corner.
Are you a footballer looking for transfer & career opportunities?