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The inside story of Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir – Iceland’s shining star at Euro 2022

Jónsdóttir

At 21-years-old Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir is the great hope of Icelandic football and is ready to take Euro 2022 by storm.

As the whistle blew signalling kick-off in Keflavík’s cup game against Álftanes Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir sat on the bench frustrated.

Even at 14 years old she carried herself with the confidence of a player far more experienced. She knew what she would be capable of if she was unleashed onto the pitch.

With 59 minutes on the clock and the game locked at 1-1, her wish was granted. Within five minutes of being on the pitch, she fired Keflavik ahead.

Six minutes later she had completed a hat-trick. Ten minutes before the final whilst was blown she grabbed her fourth to round off an excellent half hour cameo from the bench.

“That was kind of a statement from her. She didn’t mind how young she was. Sveindís was just already really good at that time. From then on, she just kept getting better and better.” Keflavik’s coach Gunnar Magnús Jónsson tells FirstTimeFinish.

Late beginnings and accelerated call ups

With performances like that as such a tentative age you may be lead to believe that Jónsdóttir excelled at kicking a ball from the moment she left the womb, but that isn’t true.

Born in Keflavík, a small town of around 20,000 people some 50km southwest of Reykjavík, she didn’t start playing football until the age of nine when her friends brought her to a training session at the local club Keflavík.

A natural athlete she quickly adapted to become one of the most promising players in the club’s youth set-up.

Capable of playing anywhere on the field, Jónsdóttir found her home as a forward where her natural pace facilitated a bundle of goals.

Despite her relatively late start to playing football, it didn’t take long for Jónsdóttir to make her debut at the senior level. Just five years to be exact.

Her performances in Keflavík’s youth system caught the attention of senior head coach Gunnlaugur Karason. With her talents clear to everyone at the club and the senior squad depleted, Jónsdóttir’s promotion to the Keflavík senior team was accelerated.

In May of 2015, a 14-year-old Jónsdóttir was handed her senior debut as a substitute in a second division game against HK/Víkingur and would go on to play another three games for the senior team during the 2015 campaign.

A mistress with the ball at either foot

An element of Jónsdóttir’s game that set her apart from others from an early stage was her tendency to play with both feet. Suffering an injury to her right foot at a younger age forced her to play more with her left. This led to her being equally comfortable with either foot once her favoured right recovered.

Her two-footedness caught the attention of Ulfar Hinriksson, who would later go on to coach her for Iceland U17’s, during one of the annual youth team gatherings he was coaching at.

“She stood out from the begging. The first thing I took notice of was her ability to shoot with her left and right foot.

“Players at that age usually take too big a step whilst shooting to try and maximise the power in their shots so the trajectory of the ball is going up. Shooting in the correct way with both feet came naturally to Sveindís.”

A new manager and increased involvement

Keflavík ended the 2015 season rooted to the bottom of the table with just a single point to their name having failed to win a single game. With the club branded as the worst side in Iceland that year a change of head coach was required.

Gunnar Magnús Jónsson was the person tasked with turning things around at the club. A man with a long history with Keflavík having previously played for and coach the men’s team, Jónsson was more than aware of the bright young talent he had at his disposal.

“I can remember the first time I got to see Sveindís play. She was around 12 at the time and I saw her taking her long throw-in and I was amazed that a young girl was taking such a long throw.

“She didn’t even really practise; it was just a natural talent that she had. She was a really natural player, you could easily see that she was going to be a good player.

“Sveindís could have played any sport and been really good at it, we are just lucky she chose football.”

With the arrival of Jónsson, Jónsdóttir received an increased role in the senior team as she joined them during pre-season training.

Kirstrun Yr Holm, who has played for Keflavík since 2011 recalls how quickly Jónsdóttir adapted to regular senior squad involvement. “She was brilliant. At times it didn’t even look like she was trying, it was just effortless for her.

“It felt like she became one of the experienced players so quickly because she was at that level.”

Break out season

By the start of the 2016 season Jónsdóttir was a starter and 36 minutes into the opening game against Álftanes she scored her first league goal in a 2-1 win.

It was the perfect launchpad for a season that would see her score 18 times in 14 in second division games, including a six-goal haul during her side’s 11-1 thrashing of Grótta. Her goals transformed Keflavík from the worst team in the country to a side with promotion ambitions.

A third-placed finish in the league secured them a spot in the playoffs where Jónsdóttir would continue make goalscoring look easy. She bagged three across their two quarter-final games as Keflavík brushed past Tindastóll.

She’d score again in the first leg of the semi-final, getting the only goal of the game as Keflavík put one foot in the final with a win over Haukar.

The second leg however ended in disappointment. Despite Jónsdóttir pulling them back on level terms after Haukar took a 2-0 lead a late Þóra Kristín Klemenzdóttir own goal quashed their promotion dream.

With the disappointment of missing promotion still stinging in the back of her mind, Jónsdóttir put on a clinic in the third-place play-off. She scored all four Keflavík goals as they beat ÍR 4-2, ending the season with 27 goals in 19 games.

A natural athlete

Jónsdóttir’s goalscoring exploits very almost never happened. Before she would go on to become Keflavík’s main goal threat she excelled as a goalkeeper. Her uncle, Thorsteinn Bjarnason was a goalkeeper for the club’s men’s team and played 28 times for the Icelandic national team.

“A goalkeeping coach at the club wanted her to play in goal because she was so good,” Jónsson recalls.

In later years he would even allow his talented attacker to play between the sticks for the U19 team when they needed a goalkeeper.

Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir playing in goal during a training session with Keflavík

To this day she holds the record for vertical jump (69.9cm) and standing long jump (2.78cm) across both boys and girls who have trained at the club’s school academy Fjölbrautaskóli Suðurnesja.

Swedish schooling

In October 2016 Jónsdóttir was invited to train with Damallsvenskan outfit Kristianstads for by their Icelandic head coach Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir.

She travelled to Sweden alongside fellow Icelandic internationals Guðný Árnadóttir and Alexandra Jóhannsdóttir and spent a week training with the club’s senior team.

Jónsson also made the trip to Sweden. “You could see that all three players fitted in really well at that level,” he tells FTF. “From then we could easily tell that all of them were going to be good players in the future.”

Sveindis Jane Jónsdóttir, Guðný Árnadóttir, Alexandra Jóhannsdóttir training with Kristianstads in 2016. All three are in the Iceland squad for Euro 2022

Promotion to the top division

At the end of the 2018 season, Keflavik won promotion to the Besta deild kvenna, the top division of Icelandic football, bringing an end to a 10-year absence from the top-flight. Jónsdóttir was once again central to their success hitting nine goals during the season.

The jump up in competition was huge, but she was ready.

It took just three minutes for her to score her first top-flight goal, but her side would go on to lose the game 2-1.

They were in an uphill battle against relegation from the start and whilst they did much better than their previous campaign in the top flight, which saw a return of zero points and a -104-goal difference, they still couldn’t beat the drop.

“I think it says quite a lot about her that we had one of the best players in the league and still get relegated”, Kirstrun Yr Holm told FTF.

“A lot of us had to learn how to play in that league, but she was ready for the jump.

“Teams realised that if they try to stop Sveindís they’d stop us, but even with that she always managed to score.”

Loan to Breiðablik

Following Keflavík’s relegation from the Besta deild kvenna and her talents far too special for the second division, Jónsdóttir was in need of a new club.

Predictably, there was no shortage of admirers according to Jónsson.

“There were 10 teams in the league and I had calls from nine clubs.

“At the time she didn’t have an agent so the club took care of her so that her phone wasn’t constantly ringing from all the clubs in the league.

“We allowed her to speak with just the top two clubs, Valur and Breiðablik.”

In Breiðablik, she joined a side that could offer her the chance to win her first piece of silverware.

But before she had even kicked a ball for the 17-time Icelandic champions the club afforded her the chance to train with PSG.

The French club had eliminated Breiðablik from the UWCL during the previous season but took interest in their young left back Áslaug Munda Gunnlaugsdóttir.

“After the game their director, Bruno Cheyrou said ‘we want number 20’ but she had already missed too many days from school and played too many games so initially we had to say no,” Ulfar Hinriksson, who also works as Breiðablik’s Head of Elite Development, tells FTF.

“When we communicated with PSG again a little bit later they told us that they were still interested but we couldn’t send her along, so we decided that Sveindís should travel too.

“The coach, Olivier Echouafni, told them both that they were doing really well. They were both competing at the level of the PSG players at the age of 19.

“Sveindís has this natural aura about her that no matter what environment she’s put in she can stand alongside other players. She’s very rarely fazed. After that period of training, I told her that I didn’t think she wouldn’t be in Iceland much longer.”

Before that could happen she had a season to complete with Blikar. Now playing in a better team where the burden of attack was reduced, she was afforded more time and space to hurt the opposition.

14 goals and eight assists in 15 games before the season was cut short due to covid saw her win the golden boot and be named player of the season. Further indication that Hinriksson’s prediction would soon come true.

A senior call up

In September of 2020 received her first official call-up to the senior national team ahead of their European Championship qualifier against Iceland.

Whilst this was her first official call up it wasn’t the first time she had been involved in a senior camp. In 2016, at the age of 15, she was a part of a domestic-only training camp set up by Iceland boss Freyr Alexandersson to assess the quality of players based in Iceland.

Many in Iceland were surprised at how long it took for the country’s brightest prospect to receive her make her full international call-up, but a string of small niggles hindered her senior team involvement.

When she finally made her debut against Iceland on 17 September, she wasted no time in showing Jón Þór Hauksson what she was capable of by scoring twice in a comfortable 9-0 win.

Even after making her national team debut, Jónsdóttir didn’t forget the people who helped her get there. After one of her first caps she gave her kit to the daughter of her former Keflavik coach Jónsson.

“My daughter has been following me to training for years and Sveindís is her idol,” Jónsson said.

“When I went to watch her for the national team you could sense it in the stand that she was the player. She has such a likeable character, everybody enjoys spending time with her and watching her play football.”

To Germany via Sweden

After completing her season-long loan with Breiðablik, Jónsdóttir returned to Keflavík but she was soon on the move again. Her exploits in green sparked interest from several top European clubs.

It was Wolfsburg who won the race for the 19-year-old’s signature, beating Chelsea and Bayern Munich in the process.

Upon signing, she was swiftly loaned out to Kristianstad, where she would link back up with Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir, to aid her development.

The Damallsvenskan is viewed as the perfect bridge between the less competitive leagues across Europe and the elite divisions such as the Bundesliga.

An injury early in the season threatened to scupper the plan. She injured her knee whilst trying to win back the ball by catching her foot in the turf.

After being stretchered from the pitch her worries were put to rest when it was revealed her injury would only rule her out for six weeks. She quickly recovered and went on to enjoy a fruitful season in Southern Sweden scoring six times and providing three assists.

Returning to Wolfsburg having checked off the next step in her development plan, and with another season of goals under her belt, she was thrust into the first team for the second half of the Frauen-Bundesliga season.

She marked her league debut with a brace against Koln and has gone on to win the Frauen-Bundesliga and DFB Pokal in her first campaign. She’s also caught the eye on the European stage catch against Arsenal and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Euro 2022 and beyond

It’s no secret that Jónsdóttir is the player to watch for Iceland at this summer’s European Championship.

Iceland face tough opposition to get out of group D, have been drawn alongside France, Italy, and Belgium.

Þorsteinn Halldórsson has named the youngest squad at the tournament. The Wolfsburg winger could be the catalyst to lead this squad youthful Iceland squad to an unexpected progression from the group stage.

Her former teammate Kirstrun Yr Holm is confident that she can do that: I think it’s quite a good thing that Iceland are flying under the radar. With Sveindís, Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir and some of the other players they’ve got a chance.

“Sveindís has been doing great with the national team and she’s going to the Euros now at age 21. She hasn’t come close to reaching her maximum yet, she’s still room to get better.

“I don’t just think that she’s going to become the best player in the world, I know she can.”

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