Long considered to be one of the minnows of European and world football, the Faroe Islands have taken a few people by surprise in recent years with a more positive style of play and a tougher mentality.
Behind the change is Brian Kerr, the former boss of the Republic of Ireland, who is no stranger to developing international sides after nurturing the likes of Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and John O’Shea through the youth levels in preparation for long and successful senior careers.
Appointed to the position in April 2009, Kerr has led the Faroes to their first FIFA World Cup™ qualifying win in eight years when they defeated Lithuania 2-1 and is now targeting more positive results in the qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2012.
Along with Estonia, the Faroes get the ball rolling for qualification for Poland/Ukraine this evening, with the Irishman setting clear goals for his young squad. FIFA.com caught up with him for an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: Brian, like many other international managers in Europe now, your thoughts have turned to qualification for EURO 2012 – and what’s your impression of the teams you’ve been pitted against?
Brian Kerr: The group we’re in is the only one to include three teams that were at the World Cup. Plus, Northern Ireland were rated higher than Slovenia in the qualifying draw so we were really unlucky to get Slovenia as a Pot 4 side and we have Estonia, who are a steadily improving side too. Their results have been very good in the last six months. They’ve beaten Finland, drawn with Croatia, beat Belgium, draw with Turkey and beat Armenia. It’s a tough group by any standard and a huge challenge but one that we’re preparing well for and one for the young players that we have drafted in now are all looking forward to it.
You actually kick off qualification for EURO 2012 today with a game against Estonia in Tallinn. It must be nice to be in the spotlight.
It’s certainly nice that we kick off the whole tournament with the very first game. I think it’s a sensible approach for both countries because Estonia obviously have difficulties with their own season in terms of scheduling home games. Next year we’re playing each other in June which again, many other European countries don’t want to use for a competitive fixture. To be honest, I would have preferred to have a home game this time around, as it means that we’ve got a very difficult start, after this game we have to go to Serbia, and successively to Italy and Slovenia, so we have the three World Cup teams in a row. But I think we’re fairly well prepared for this game now and we’re hoping for a good result.
How do you go about preparing to meet the likes of Italy and Serbia? What do you say to your team?
It’s not so long since the Faroes played Italy, I think it may have been four years ago. So the team do have experience against them, which makes a difference. Also, my first game was against Serbia back in April 2009. In fact, we had two close games with them for the qualifiers for South Africa. Obviously we watched them closely in the World Cup too.
Italy are a changing group now with a new coach and probably many new players. We had someone at that match last night and we’ll have their opening game with Estonia watched as well. But whenever we play the likes of Italy or Serbia, it’s all about maximising our opportunities, making the best of the abilities we have and looking for weaknesses in even these strong teams. For me, I suppose it’s also about giving the players a sense of belief that we can do something and come up with an extraordinary result. If it has been occasional in the past I would like to try and make it more regular, that’s the target I set myself.
When you took over Brian I think the Faroe Islands were 166th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and you’ve brought them up almost 50 places to 117th, is the top 100 a target for you?
Yes, but I think we had one big result last year over Lithuania which made a massive difference to us; we haven’t had too many games since then. We got four points last time round which was quite a good points total and also our goal difference overall wasn’t so bad. Apart from the game in Guingamp, the team throughout qualification were fairly competitive and I think the target we’ve set ourselves is; can we get as many points as we got last time round and maybe some more, so that we’re in a higher seeding pot for the next draw. That’s my ambition.
In terms of the bigger picture, I think one of the things we needed to do is get more of our players playing outside of the Faroe Islands for the experience and for a higher level of football, as this would help them hugely for international football. We’ve had a few flickers of light on that one, the fact that Johan Simun Edmundsson has signed for Newcastle, Gunnar Nielsen was the first player from the Faroe Islands to play in the Premier League last season and now he’s gone on loan to Tranmere Rovers as their No1 goalkeeper and we have Atli Gregerson who has signed for Ross County in Scotland and Christian Holst who has been playing at Silkeborg in Denmark for the last few seasons. But we need more to do the same. The good thing at present is that there is a lot of interest in many of the current U-21 group, so it all bodes well for the future.