With careers in top-level football notoriously short, time is precious. As such, for most players, the thought of dropping out of the game for a full year would be the stuff of nightmares.
Margret Lara Vidarsdottir was sidelined aged 27, having just made history with her country at the UEFA Women’s EURO. She was at the peak of her powers and established as Iceland’s captain and all-time record scorer. Although the striker had battled through a succession of knocks and strains in the preceding years, it was not another injury that kept Vidarsdottir out. Indeed, her absence was entirely voluntary, and the source of considerable joy.
"I was determined to have a child,” she explained to FIFA.com. “I also wanted to do it before I was too old and it became too tough to get back playing after giving birth.
“It was an important stage in my career but the timing, just after the 2013 EURO, was right for me. And when it comes down to it, I love being a mum. I'm a family girl and I definitely have no regrets about taking that time out.
"But I always knew I’d be back on the football pitch and, hopefully, back playing for my country. Fortunately, that’s the way it’s worked out and I love being able to combine the two. I like having a nice, calm life at home with my family and then going out on the field and being a little wild and crazy.”
Now that she has returned to form, reclaiming the Iceland captaincy and her place in the side, Vidarsdottir even finds herself viewing football in a different way. "It has actually been better for me since I came back,” she said. “I think it's made me calmer in my game. Being a mother has made me a better person for sure, but also a better player, I think.
"I would definitely say that I enjoy my football even more now, and that’s a big thing. I have a child at home now, so time is very important to me. If I’m sacrificing time away from my son, I want to spend it doing something I love. Fortunately, I've loved football since I was a little kid and that love is as strong as ever."
*Family affair *Vidarsdottir’s son will see first-hand the profits of that passion in July, when he watches his mother player in her third Women’s EURO. It will be a significant family occasion, in fact, with his aunt Elisa – Margret’s younger sister - also established in the Iceland team, and his grandparents and uncles all heading to the Netherlands to cheer them on.
He can also expect to see a team well capable of competing, and flourishing, at this elite level. Indeed, while Iceland’s men shocked the football world by reaching the quarter-finals at last year’s EURO, few would be surprised to see their women emulate – or better – that feat.
They have been to the last eight already, after all, and are ranked 18th in the world, having been ensconced in the top 20 for nine years running. According to Vidarsdottir, now in her 14th year with the team and scorer of the goal that earned them their first point at the EURO, Iceland are also better than ever.
“For me, this is the strongest team we've ever had,” she enthused. “We're well prepared, we have a very good coaching staff and, in every department, I think we keep on getting better and better.
“We have a lot of attributes as a team. For one, we're experienced, with a lot of players around 30 who've played in big tournaments and lots of international matches. We also have a special spirit in this team - it's amazing. That's been a big part of our success and it's something that can really help us in the EURO, just as it did with the men last summer.
"Personally, I feel my journey with the national team has been like an adventure. I scored in my first game back in 2003 (four minutes into her debut, aged just 16) and now, all these years later, I'm the captain looking back on some wonderful memories. It's been perfect really, and what would make it even more perfect is if we could go the EURO this summer and make history. We are definitely not setting any limits on what we can do."