Iceland’s return to the tournament stage at this month’s UEFA Women’s EURO brings plenty to evoke familiarity, from the field to the fan park. While onlookers and opponents alike may feel well versed by now in what to expect, Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir is one sparkling ingredient with the potential to send heads spinning, this summer and beyond.
The belated beginning to UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 has finally arrived. Its predecessor, the Dutch-hosted EURO 2017, now feels far off in a bygone era, with the year-long delay adversely affecting some, while arguably benefitting others. In a 2021 version, Sveindís Jónsdóttir would surely have figured prominently for Iceland, but the young attacking talent’s stock has soared ever further at club level since then, only solidifying her standing in the national-team picture.
Turning 21 last month, she bounces into this tournament off the back of double-winning delight at VfL Wolfsburg, featuring too in the Champions League knockout phase following her mid-season return from a successful loan at Sweden’s Kristianstad. The German champions recently extended her contract to 2025, and that belief invested in her is something she feels is mirrored whenever she reports for international duty.
“We’re all really close, I talk to almost every one of them every week. They have complete trust in me and they support me 100 per cent.
“I think it’s good that we trust each other, and I think it’s just nice to be a part of this team and be playing so much. I always want to give 100 per cent and do my best.”
For the most part, 2020 is understandably hard to remember with rose-tinted glasses, though it will go down as pivotal in her career. With top-flight Breiðablik back home, she was a league champion and Golden Boot winner (tied with teammate Agla María Albertsdóttir but Sveindís’ 14 goals came in fewer minutes).
Also named the league’s Player of the Year, that September brought her first senior international cap, with a debut double against Latvia in a EURO qualifying win. As December was drawing to a close, the then-19-year-old was announced as joining Wolfsburg on an initial three-and-a-half-year contract.
Her progress has been so rapid in the last couple of years that it actually came at a cost, by virtue of her now-overseas location.
“Khalid was in Iceland just recently, I had a ticket; he was supposed to be there two years ago, but…COVID. So, I was just at home (in Germany), so sad that I couldn’t be at the Khalid concert!”
Bis 2⃣0⃣2⃣5⃣! Sveindis Jonsdottir hat ihren Vertrag bei den Wölfinnen vorzeitig verlängert! 🎉
Sveindis, wir freuen uns so sehr, dass dich bei uns so wohlfühlst! 😍💚
— VfL Wolfsburg Frauen (@VfL_Frauen) May 10, 2022
She will, however, be among those centre stage when Iceland’s travelling party come to rock the house in Manchester and Rotherham shortly. Imitated by many around the world in recent years, the ‘Víkinga klappið’ (no translation necessary) will be back.
Behind the scenes, meanwhile, vastly-experienced left-sided player Hallbera Guðný Gísladóttir, AKA ‘DJ Razzberry’, is in the squad for a third successive EUROs. Nevertheless, it is the team’s Bayern Munich defender who now appears to have risen through the ranks, all the way to playlist power, as Sveindís explains.
“I think it’s Glódís Viggósdóttir (who is team DJ), but we also put the music we like on. She has her phone and we just choose the music we want to listen to.”
Icelandic band Stuðmenn’s ‘Betri tíð’ (‘Better times’) was among the team favourites around the time of their last tournament, along with Kalli Bjarni ‘Við lifum aðeins einu sinni’ (‘We only live once’). Alongside her personal Stateside standouts, an Icelandic former footballer is another to get the senses snapping for Sveindís.
“Beyoncé and Khalid, they are my favourites. I almost just listen to them only, but I also just go on Spotify and check on today’s top hits; I can listen to everything there and I memorise the songs really quickly.
“I like to sing along to everything; just put music on and I’m ready to sing! I also have Icelandic favourites: Jón Jónsson (a former defender and two-time Icelandic champion) is my all-time favourite from Iceland.
“I actually haven’t gone to any concerts, except for Jón Jónsson.”
There will be a slight remix to Sveindís when she kicks off next season, having switched her number 32 at Wolfsburg to 23. Altogether more disorientating for defenders, though, is the blend of dynamism and elegance she plays with.
With a touch of skill and invention to go with her ‘easy strider’ style, she is in many ways the ‘modern’ wide player. In Iceland, she was often in the channels taking on players, but also the one in the middle at times to add the finishing touch. One goal for Kristianstad saw her in the central striking position, chasing down three Örebro defenders and the goalkeeper to capitalise on a mix-up.
When it comes to positioning her mentally, meanwhile, keeping her emotions on an even keel works best for her before kick-off.
“I like to be relaxed. I like to listen to music and braid my hair at the same time; just relax, music, from Jón Jónsson or Khalid, something like that.”
The pandemic has rearranged many a plan around the world, including that aforementioned Khalid concert, but it unfortunately couldn’t save her from the pressure cooker that is a team initiation. Her Kristianstad spell got her primed for future challenges in more ways than one.
“I had to sing, and then I had to do a video where I was pretending to be part of Love Island, so I had to send in an audition and show it to the whole team and the trainers! It was hard, but funny also!
“I think I have to do it here after the cup game. Yeah…kind of nervous!
“I don’t really know what it is that the new players have to do, but it’s going to be something – hopefully not too brutal!”
Much more at home doing what she does best, Sveindís is Iceland’s current Female Footballer of the Year, having been the first recipient other than new Juventus midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir since 2014. Her Champions League involvement for Wolfsburg earlier this year was to feature in each of the Green-Whites’ four knockout matches, which included the world-record-attended (91,648) Camp Nou semi-final with Barcelona (and a new Wolfsburg record of 22,057 for the return leg).
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Against Arsenal in the previous round, it was her play down the left, driving towards the byline and delivering a dangerous cross that caused Leah Williamson’s own goal, having also assisted Jill Roord for their first in the 2-0 win. However, are the Gunners actually her team, in the men’s game at least?
“Yeah, I watch a lot of men’s football as well, and the Premier League, I support Arsenal there – in the men’s team, not the women’s! Arsenal has been my favourite team since I started playing football.”
Red and white, though, didn’t quite dominate the décor for her growing up, as she recalls when asked about the first music she had or bought.
“The first artist I think of from when I was younger is Justin Bieber, he was my favourite. On my bed, it was all Justin Bieber, the pillow case, and I had a doll of him that sang the song ‘Baby.’”
Beyoncé would be her pick now, if she was to see anyone from all-time perform, but what if she took on the job herself? Comedian Ari Eldjárn jokes about the Eurovision Song Contest’s heightened importance to Iceland as effectively being their foreign policy.
Before Sveindís gets sent to shoulder that responsibility, we need to warm her up, so what about a cover song, alongside any teammate(s) from her career so far?
“If it’s supposed to be good, then I think I would choose Rebecka Blomqvist from Wolfsburg; I think she’s a good singer. If it’s supposed to be like a fun song or a party song, Lynn Wilms or Jill Roord would be fun to sing with, or Shanice van de Sanden.
“Ooft, it’s a hard question – can’t choose one!”
After sealing the DFB-Pokal (German Cup), Wolfsburg recently shared footage of the players exiting the team bus to disrupt a traffic jam, aided by a speaker, some ‘expressive’ dance moves (Lena Oberdorf…), and with captain Alexandra Popp hoisting the trophy aloft in the road. In a more typical setting, music has also long been part of the She-Wolves’ matchday inner sanctum.
As shared on here down the years, the likes of Noelle Maritz, Lena Goeßling, Selina Wagner and Laura Vetterlein have played a part in that respect, but with each of those having since moved on, which of Sveindís’ teammates is now leading the way?
“It’s Feli (Felicitas Rauch); she’s really good.”
Wolfsburg sporting director and ex-head coach Ralf Kellermann spoke of Sveindís’ recent progress as ‘truly amazing’, as she officially agreed her contract extension. Last season was also Tommy Stroot’s first at the club, with the Dutch coach similarly extending his deal to 2025 recently.
What has the former FC Twente boss specifically looked to work on so far in Sveindís’ game?
“When I came, there were a lot of things that I needed to improve. Just some basic stuff: my passes, better touches, and not too many touches as well, because the football here is really fast and you never have time on the ball.
“I think those things were the ones I needed to most improve. My shooting also; I love to shoot on goal, but I can’t do that all the time!
“So, I just need to have better decisions on the ball.”
— VfL Wolfsburg Frauen (@VfL_Frauen) May 8, 2022
Prior to her Champions League involvement with Wolfsburg, Sveindís got a taste of the competition in the qualifying phase with Kristianstad, against Brøndby and Bordeaux. The 3rd-place Damallsvenskan finish she helped them achieve means the club will have another chance to pursue group-phase qualification for the upcoming season, with Ajax providing the first hurdle next month.
Her time at KDFF is a spell she cherishes, as her first long-term experience away from Iceland.
“I think in Kristianstad, it was really nice. My coaches were Icelandic, so they helped me a lot and could talk to me in Icelandic, so I understood everything 100 per cent.
“Swedish is also similar to Icelandic, so it was not that long before I understood everything my teammates were saying. I made new friends really quickly.
“It was really important for me to get these playing minutes, and coming to Sweden from Iceland is a bit easier than going from Iceland straight to the German league. It was an amazing experience.”
She would return at the end of Wolfsburg’s season to visit, with Kristianstad’s campaign still in progress. Among the strongest bonds she had at the club was with defender Sif Atladóttir, who returned to Iceland this year with Selfoss after a decade with KDFF.
One of the national team’s most experienced names, she is now beginning her fourth EUROs, having had her second child in September 2020. For Sveindís, she could barely have hoped for a better influence around her at this stage of her career.
“She’s just like an older sister to me, I can talk to her about anything. I talk to her every day almost and I’m really lucky to have her.
“Even when she’s playing behind me in the national team, she’s a right-back and I’m right-wing, so she’s just like playing PlayStation when she’s behind me, she just can’t stop talking! That’s something I really need; I need someone to tell me what to do, ‘go right, left, go pressure the player.’
“She’s really good on the field, great leader, she knows what she’s doing. She has also helped me off the field so much.
“It’s really good to talk to her and she will always help me and give me some good advice in life.”
The biggest question, though, is which of these long-throw specialists can currently launch it with most gusto?
“I think right now, I can, but she has had two kids, so I think that’s why!”
It might not top the list for the glossiest attributes in Sveindís’ play but it is a considerable weapon for a team to have, and it may just reap rewards at the perfect time in these EUROs. She thinks back to its discovery.
“Yeah, I don’t really remember 100 per cent, but I remember when I was playing kids’ football, and there were seven players on the team, and I took the throw-in and threw it on the goalkeeper and scored; it went off her and into the goal. I think that was a moment where we started to always do that in my old team.
“We weren’t that good, so we lost many games, but every time we could do a long throw-in, we would try to score from it!”
Prior to her outstanding 2020 with Breiðablik, she had won promotion to the top division with Keflavík ÍF, her hometown club. The setting of Iceland’s biggest airport, the town is also where this international talent was once busy finding out what she did not want to do for a career!
“It’s close to the sea, it’s a fishing town, so with my friends from football, my two best friends, we went working with fish, cleaning the fish and in the factory. So, now I don’t eat fish after that!
“I’m not going to tell you any details to ruin that for you! I also worked in a school, with fifth-graders.
“I started playing football when I was nine, I think, so I didn’t train anything before that, I was pretty lazy as a kid! I had to do something, so I chose football, and I’m really happy that I did.”
As well as pride in her small-town roots, Sveindís also has Ghanaian heritage, owing to her mother’s side of the family. She came to Iceland in 2000, the year before Sveindís was born.
“I have family from Ghana and my mom talks to them, my mom goes to Ghana. I think she’s only been five times after she went to Iceland, so she doesn’t really go that often, but she still talks to her family from there.
“I understand everything she says in the language she talks, from Ghana; it’s called Twi and Fante. I understand what she says but I don’t speak it.”
At Wolfsburg, English is the language she tends to communicate in at present, with her German still very much in its infancy. Most of the joking around with her, she says, comes from Jill Roord, currently part of the Netherlands squad for the EUROs, and Dutch winger Shanice van de Sanden, who recently left the club.
A whole host of her teammates are in the tournament, primarily for Germany, some of whom will join for next season. It is now Iceland’s turn to come to the party.
In their all-too-brief adventure in 2017, Fanndís Friðriksdóttir was arguably their attacker to show the most noticeable flashes of game-changing ability, though a serious knee injury means the fleet-footed forward is missing from their squad this time around. Sveindís is certainly a player who could put defenders in trouble in that same way.
Now coached by Þorsteinn Halldórsson, she shares what she believes people will see in their approach this month.
“We want to keep this ‘Icelandic’ thing in our football. He’s almost a new coach for us, but many of us already know him a lot; he was my coach in the last Icelandic team I played in, so he’s almost bringing the same thing that we had in that team.
“We want to keep the ball, we want to play it on the ground, and also be physical as well. We just want to play good football and do our best, that’s the message he gives to us, that it’s just in our hands.
“Of course, he brings some tactics that we have to do, but he also lets us have our freedom.”
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The Icelandic support in the Netherlands in 2017 sticks in the memory, and Sveindís will be personally backed by a number of her loved ones in Manchester and Rotherham, as they take on Belgium, Italy and France. For club and country, she has a team-first ethic that anyone can see, but how much do specific personal goals also figure in her thinking – even as heady as one day being considered among the world’s very best?
“I like to write my goals down and look at them every once in a while. I just checked off my list to be a German champion, then I also have some personal goals.
“I want to play as many games as I can and as many minutes as I can, so I need to perform in training, eat well, sleep well. Of course, I want to be one of the best players in the world.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on me right now, I’m still young, as everyone says, so there’s much space to improve. I just want to go to every training and feel like I can improve in many stages in my football.”
Away from the world-record crowds, winning league titles and cups, the last thing you can expect from her is to be burning the candle at both ends.
“I like to knit, so I do that sometimes at home, to relax. Otherwise, I just watch football, or listen to some fun Icelandic podcasts.
“Yeah, I think that’s it – I don’t really do much, except football!”
She can also save her energy in this final scene, with only brain power required to put it together. At such an early point in her career, she does not yet have legions of teammates to look back on, but plenty have already left an imprint on her.
In the regular final question, the interviewee is asked for four suggestions of players they have been on the same team as in their career, who would guarantee enjoyment if they went alongside them in a fantasy small-sided line-up. A managerial career may be far off in the future, but at 21, here is Sveindís’ first confirmed team selection.
“I would choose my two best friends – they’re twins, they would have to be in the team – Íris Una Þórðardóttir and Katla María Þórðardóttir; they play for Selfoss. I would have to take…it’s a good question, I have to think a little.
“Cecilía Rán (Rúnarsdóttir); she’s going to be our goalkeeper. Then I need to have Shanice van de Sanden.
“This is the funnest team ever, I think!”
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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