Heimir Hallgrimsson tasked with repeating Icelandic feats with Ireland

The 57-year-old is the FAI’s leftfield choice to replace Stephen Kenny

Hallgrimsson has previously managed Iceland and Jamaica
Hallgrimsson has previously managed Iceland and Jamaica (Brian Lawless/PA)

ALL along the Republic of Ireland’s new head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson – the FAI’s “number one target from earlier in the year” - was stowed away in the Copa America with Jamaica’s national team.

Was Gus Poyet just a decoy? And Lee Carsley? And Slaven Bilic? Was interim boss John O’Shea ever truly in the running?

Regardless, the FAI’s football director Marc Canham must have breathed a huge sigh of relief that the interminable search is over.

Nine days after the Reggae Boyz were knocked out of Copa America – three straight group defeats to Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela – Hallgrimsson, a dentist by trade, was unveiled as successor to Stephen Kenny, 231 days after the Dubliner’s contract with the FAI wasn’t renewed.

And so, the Google searches began.

Who is Heimir Hallgrimsson? He’s Icelandic. He’s 57 and was one of the architects behind Iceland’s giant-killing act of England at Euro 2016. He speaks perfect English.

Co-manager with Lars Lagerback at those Euro finals, Hallgrimsson said on the eve of their second-round clash in Nice eight years ago: “I’m not afraid of England.”

Heimir Hallgrimsson has been named as the new Republic of Ireland head coach
Heimir Hallgrimsson has been named as the new Republic of Ireland head coach (Brian Lawless/PA)

Iceland, a physically imposing and well-drilled outfit in that tournament, duly knocked England out of Euro 2016 before falling to the French in the quarter-finals.

Ireland’s hope is that their new, much-travelled head coach carries the same bullish attitude into his role with Ireland, as the Anglo-Celt showdown in the Uefa Nations League at the Aviva Stadium on September 7 will be his debut on these shores.

Interim boss for the last two international windows, John O’Shea made no secret of wanting the job on a permanent basis – and while he didn’t ultimately land the job, it’s inconceivable that he won’t form part of the new head coach’s backroom team going forward, especially given his intimate knowledge of Ireland’s playing resources.

Hallgrimsson, who will meet the Irish media on Thursday, played with several local Icelandic clubs between 1986 and 2007. He became involved in coaching as early as 1993 and took charge of women’s teams in his native Iceland, including his local team and provincial club ÍBV.

But it was after guiding ÍBV’s men’s team to two third-placed finishes in 2010 and 2011 that he was invited to work alongside Lagerback with the national team before the pair became managerial equals.

Not only did Iceland beat England in 2016, Hallgrimsson – who took sole charge of his country after the tournament – masterminded a 1-1 draw with Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the group stages of the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

However, they lost subsequent games to Nigeria and Croatia and failed to qualify for the knock-out stages.

After the 2018 World Cup, Hallgrimsson moved to Qatar where he coached Al-Arabi for a two-and-a-half year stint.

When he took over Jamaica’s national team in September 2022, it was envisaged he would see them through the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

And they got their qualifying campaign off to a good start with a pair of wins over Dominican Republic and Dominica last month.

They also qualified for the 2024 Copa America – currently taking place in USA – via their strong performance in the CONCACAF’s Nations League.

However, their three subsequent group losses in the tournament – conceding seven and scoring just one goal – led to Hallgrimsson’s departure from Jamaica a week ago.

Ecuador defeated them 3-1 in their opener – a side who brought Argentina to a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals and came desperately close to knocking the favourites out.

In an interview after his Jamaica exit was confirmed last week, Hallgrimsson said: “I think the growth can continue. We don’t have to restart from zero... and I hope it’ll be a smooth transition and it is all done in a friendly, Christian manner. We leave as friends so there is no grudge [with the Jamaican Football Federation].”

Tactically, Hallgrimsson likes a high pressing game and has a preference for a 4-2-3-1 system.

As with his native Iceland, his role with Ireland will be creating a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. And qualifying for a major tournament.

At least it’s familiar terrain to the dentist.