REYKJAVIK: With his status as the star player of his country’s golden generation and his prowess from a dead ball, it is no surprise that Gylfi Sigurdsson has been labeled the Icelandic David Beckham.
The 26-year-old attacking midfielder with a fierce right foot shot admits that he loved watching England stars Beckham and Frank Lampard when he was growing up. Now he is starring in the Premier League himself with Swansea City.
Nicknamed the Ice Man, Sigurdsson will get to enjoy the limelight of a major international tournament in the French heat after helping propel Iceland to Euro 2016.
The North Atlantic island nation of 330,000 people has never previously been to a major tournament. It is set to become the smallest country by population ever to feature at a European Championship.
Sigurdsson was the outstanding performer in a remarkable qualifying campaign, scoring six goals as Iceland progressed with two games to spare at the expense of the once mighty Netherlands.
Sigurdsson scored both goals as Iceland beat the Dutch 2-0 in Reykjavik and netted the winner from the penalty spot in a 1-0 triumph in Amsterdam.
He also scored four times in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, when “Strákarnir okkar” [Our Boys] only missed out on a place in Brazil in a play-off defeat to Croatia.
“We just missed out in the play-offs and had to set ourselves another goal for the Euros, which was again to qualify.
“Of course, after seeing our draw, with the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Turkey all in the same group with us, some of us considered it an impossible target,” Sigurdsson told FIFA.com.
“But then to be able to finish the job off with two games to go is an unbelievable achievement and the feeling that goes with it, to be on our way to the finals, is fantastic.”
Sigurdsson has overtaken former Chelsea and Barcelona star Eidur Gudjohnsen—still going at 37—as his country’s top footballer after emerging in the team that reached the under-21 European Championship for the first time in 2011.
He started with Breidablik before being lured to England by Reading as a raw 15-year-old. His parents moved with him and his father ran his Icelandic fishing business over the phone from Berkshire.
Signed by German side Hoffenheim in 2010, he came back to English football with Swansea City on loan in 2012 before signing for Tottenham Hotspur.
However, he returned to Swansea in 2014 and in his first game scored the winner as the Welsh club beat Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford.
He scored 11 goals in the season just finished as he flourishes in the league he once loved watching on television.
Some of his best efforts have come from dead balls, a skill he learnt from studying one of the best in the business.
“Growing up as I kid I used to watch the Premier League and used to see David Beckham taking those kinds of free-kicks, so from a young age I was probably quite lucky to have him on the TV every week,” he told FIFA.com.”
Also like Beckham, Sigurdsson forms one half of a celebrity couple, stepping out with a former Miss Iceland, Alexandra Ivarsdottir.
And when he is not playing football he can often be spotted displaying his skills as a four-handicap golfer, not far off the level of his brother, who is a professional in Iceland.
But they do not match his football talent, and Iceland will look to the Ice Man when they kick off their Euro campaign against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on June 14.