Iceland’s development pathway has been the focus of debate following the tiny nation’s showing at Euro 2016. But underpinning all the investment is an intangible thread, which recently came under attack from one of the world’s best players: their mindset. In light of the comments made by Cristiano Ronaldo and others about the Icelandic mindset, Jon Hoggard looks to unpick how the national team’s mentality has been formed by the country and shaped by recent investment.

In qualifying for Euro 2016, Iceland became the smallest nation to ever to make it to a major tournament. Their success – as qualification and progression to the quarter-finals can only be seen as such considering the size of the country – has been long in the development, however, following a significant, expensive improvement in infrastructure and coaching.

Well, yes and no. With a small leap in the logic, we can re-evaluate Iceland’s “small mindset” in the words of Siggi Eyjolfsson, ex-technical director for the Icelandic FA: “working with what you’ve got”. This is the mindset formed in the icy, remote country of Iceland, which truly helps us understand the way football is developed and played there.

That Icelandic football has had large financial input into their infrastructure is not in question. Before the 2008 banking crisis, which had severe economic and politic consequences, the period of cheap loans allowed a large number of indoor pitches to be constructed, which changed football from being a short-term pleasure to a year-round obsession in this nation of only 330,000 people.

The coaching landscape has also been altered. In Iceland, if you want to be a football coach then you must have a coach education, even at grassroots level. Around 70% of all coaches have completed the UEFA B license, and 30% have completed the A license. Clubs in the top two domestic leagues get fined by the Icelandic FA if their coaches don’t keep up with the education requirements.

But one aspect of Iceland’s rise cannot be bought, or even taught – their mindset. Although almost impossible to define and difficult to pinpoint, it recently came under attack from one of the world’s best players. Following the 1–1 draw with Portugal in the first round stages, Cristiano Ronaldo criticized the Iceland team’s “small mindset” – a critique of the side’s defensively focused second-half performance. At the Player Development Project, we believe that “Who we are is how we play” – so with that in mind, what would anyone expect from a small nation but a “small mindset”? Is it that simple?

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