- Siggi Eyjolfsson appointed China PR's fourth foreign coach
- Icelander aiming to take Steel Roses to France 2019
- *Tactician also tasked with building a team for Tokyo 2020 *
For some, coaching the world's most populous nation is a rare chance to be grasped. It is a job which particularly excites Siggi Eyjolfsson, one literally and figuratively thousands of miles from the tiny nation of Iceland which he calls home.
Now the former boss of the European island’s women's team holds the reins of the Steel Roses, replacing Frenchman Bruno Bini in November to become China PR's fourth foreign coach in history. It was an appointment which had an instant impact on him.
"I am very excited and, particularly, I am deeply honoured that the Chinese Football Association (CFA) offered me this job," the 44-year-old told* FIFA.com*. "It is the greatest honour you can have as a coach to manage a national team and this is my second time.”
Coming from a country with a population of just 340,000, the Reykjavik-native’s choice for the role turned a few heads. It is a fact which still leaves media and fans fascinated but Eyjolfsson believes that his appointment is a testament to the impressive footballing progress Iceland has made in recent years.
"Good coaches can come from anywhere, just like good players," he smiled. "Iceland is small in population but we are by no means tiny in terms of football development. Both our men's and women's national teams are among the top 20 in the FIFA World Ranking. I have 13 years' experience of working with the Football Association of Iceland and I coached the women's team for seven years. I am very proud to have offered my part of contribution in our success."
*Notable pedigree *Indeed, the achievements Iceland women's team made during Eyjolfsson's tenure between 2006-13 speak for themselves. He twice took his side to the UEFA Women's Championship, in 2009 and 2013, and went all the way to the final in the 2011 Algarve Cup only to be edged by USA. It is a record the coach remains proud of six years on.
"It was a milestone achievement," he reflected on their memorable Algarve campaign. "We managed to beat the likes of Sweden, Denmark and China to reach the final. We finished second place, ahead of Japan who were third. It was an achievement which helped our women's game earn more recognition and our team draw global attention."
Eyjolfsson had the chance of proving himself beyond his own shores when he was appointed as head coach of Chinese Women's Super League side Jiangsu Suning at the start of 2017. Under his guidance, Jiangsu, a side which narrowly avoided relegation the previous season, finished among the top-three in his first year in charge and, even more significantly, claimed the FA Cup.
*Great expectations *Eyjolfsson's first test in charge of China will come in this April's 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup, which also serves as qualifiers for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France. With a little over just three months to prepare the team, he said that they should work against the clock if they are to reach the global showpiece.
"You need to dream big and then work hard if you want to realise those dreams," he said. "Our rivals are strong. We lost to Australia in recent friendlies and both Japan and Korea DPR are higher than us in the FIFA World Ranking. The gap in quality that exists between the teams can't be ignored. We must improve to compete against them."
Despite the challenge faced by them, Eyjolfsson has high hopes for his team, having spent his first couple of months in charge. "This is a team with great potential. They train hard every day and they are eager to improve.
"We need to organise our squad with the best players. Then we can gradually work towards our goals, which are qualifying for the next Women's World Cup, moving our position up in the FIFA World Ranking and building a competitive team for the next Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020."