THE BIG INTERVIEW: Gylfi Sigurdsson
4th October 2015
When the curtain comes down on most players' careers, not many - if any - will be able to look back on an illustrious journey that has seen them help their country reach their first-ever major tournament finals, play in all four English divisions and have at least once been named their nation's Sportsperson of the Year. But Gylfi Sigurdsson will be one of those players.
When Swansea's midfield maestro netted the winning goal from the penalty spot against Holland in Eindhoven last month, he etched his name into Icelandic football history while sending one per cent of his country's population into raptures at the PSV Stadium.
Not only did Sigurdsson's strike bare significance in that it helped Iceland to become the first team to beat Holland both home and away in a European Championship qualification campaign, but it put the diminutive country within a point of qualifying for their first major tournament.
"One per cent of the population? It's just mad," laughs Sigurdsson when reminded that 3,000 of his countrymen made the journey to Eindhoven to watch their nation send shockwaves across Europe.
"For us to have 3,000 people supporting us in Holland was unbelievable. It doesn't seem a lot, but when I started playing for Iceland, we probably had one or two fans for away games, so to have 3,000 there was incredible.
"I know that a big group of the fans went to Copenhagen first for a couple of days and were pretty much just having a party up until the game. It must have been a good week for them!
"For us, it was a special night, and I don't think any of the players will forget it."
Another magical night soon followed though as Iceland secured qualification to next summer's European Championship Finals in France following a nil-nil draw with Kazakhstan.
With a population of approximately 320,000 people - roughly the size of the Welsh capital Cardiff, to put their achievement into context - the all-important point meant Iceland became the smallest country to qualify for a European Championship Finals.
"The celebrations were incredible," reminisces Sigurdsson. "I just got goosebumps then when you mentioned it.
"We finished the game with Kazakhstan, which was probably one of the most boring games I've played in, and went straight from the ground down to the city to a little square that was completely filled with people.
"We went on stage to enjoy the moment with the fans and celebrated with them.
"We then had dinner, and somehow the supporters found out where we were, so the whole street outside the restaurant was filled with people again. They were all singing, and it was a really good night."
The emphatic achievement made by Sigurdsson and his international team-mates marks the pinnacle of the Swansea City midfielder's career to date, which began when the now 26-year-old made the move to England from his homeland to sign for Reading at the tender age of 15.
"It's been an unbelievable journey," reflects Sigurdsson. "Growing up in Iceland, you don't think you'll ever get the chance to play in a major tournament finals.
"For us to qualify with Holland, Czech Republic and Turkey in our group, it's an outstanding achievement."
According to Sigurdsson's compatriot and former Chelsea and Barcelona forward Eidur Gudjohnsen, building for the future has moved Iceland into this position.
For years, football was played for just five to six months a year due to the harsh Icelandic winters, making it near impossible for youngsters to train and develop.
That changed when artificial pitches were introduced, which means youngsters can play outdoor football all year round.
Sigurdsson, meanwhile, believes the current crop of talented Icelandic players have benefitted from a different reason.
"The players that are currently in the team did get a couple of years on the artificial pitches, but I think it's the younger kids coming through now that are going to benefit from those facilities more so," says the former Hoffenheim star.
"I think the main advantage for this group is that we've been playing together since the age of around 16 or 17.
"There is a good core of seven or eight players that have been playing together since we were in the Under-17s, while we played in the Under-21 Finals as well.
"The experience of playing together for so long has been our main advantage."
Historic victories in the PSV Stadium, to go along with memorable triumphs at Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium with the Swans is a startling contrast to Sigurdsson's early days as a young professional.
While it is common knowledge in Swansea that Leon Britton and Garry Monk have played in all four English divisions throughout their careers, Sigurdsson's rise through the ranks is perhaps a lesser-known story.
"It's a good quiz question," quips Sigurdsson, discussing the fact that he too has played in all four English divisions.
During his time at Reading, he enjoyed loan spells with Shrewsbury Town and Crewe Alexandra before going on to play for today's opponents Tottenham Hotspur and the Swans in the Premier League.
"I remember when I was at Shrewsbury, we went to Accrington Stanley," he continues. "It was hammering down with rain and freezing cold, and you're thinking: 'this is hard work'.
"At that time, you don't know if you're going to make it properly as a footballer. Playing in League Two and League One makes you appreciate sitting in changing rooms like this and going to places like Old Trafford, Anfield and St. James' Park. It was a good little lesson for me."
He is sitting in the plush home dressing room at the Liberty Stadium, where the seats are leather and there are messages adorned on the walls, reinforcing Swansea's mantra of hard work and dedication.
It is that work ethic - not to mention talent - that has seen Sigurdsson become a star of Iceland and Swansea's history-making squads.
Since that bleak day at Accrington Stanley, the Reykjavik-born midfielder has graced the pitches of some of Europe's most famous stadia, from Milan's San Siro to Benfica's Estadio da Luz.
Football has afforded Sigurdsson the opportunity to travel, which is something he embraces, especially during his time off from inspiring club and country.
"One of my favourite things to do is travel and see different kinds of things whenever I get the opportunity," he eloquently explains.
"It's only during the last three or four years that I've travelled, after my girlfriend told me to go and see more of the world.
"I always wanted to go back to Iceland in my time off, but now I really enjoy going to places like South Africa, Dubai, Florida and North California.
"When you go to places like San Francisco for example, you want to see the landmarks - the bridge and things like that.
"I like to do the sort of things that the locals do to get a feel for the place, and I enjoy it."
A trip to France next summer is already on the Sigurdsson agenda, but before that, his full focus is on helping his club side enjoy a successful 2015-16 campaign.
Swansea's 'no. 23' believes the squad at Garry Monk's disposal is even stronger than last season's record-breaking team, and although they are yet to beat Tottenham in the Premier League, he is hopeful of putting that stat to bed.
"We've won the last three games against Manchester United, which isn't a bad stat," he rightfully points out.
"But you do get those sort of stats against certain teams, and ours happens to be the other way around with Spurs, so hopefully we can change that today."
Fortunately for the Swans, if Sigurdsson's recent history is anything to go by, records really are there to be broken.