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31/01/2016

The Icelandic mastermind behind Germany’s success

FEATURE: The door to the EHF EURO 2016 Final in Krakow was opened when Dagur Sigurdsson was selected as head coach of Germany

Photo: Stephane Pillaud

They were on the bottom, they were on the floor, they had missed the qualification for the EHF EURO 2014 and the 2015 World Championship – and they needed a new coach after they were awarded a lucky wild card for Qatar 2015.

So the Germans searched for the right man to follow on from Martin Heuberger. A strong group within German handball insisted that only a German coach could guide the team to new heights, but it was those in favour of Dagur Sigurdsson who were successful.

Sigurdsson was appointed in the summer of 2014, and had his debut on the Germany bench in September that year, when he had already led the Austria team to their best ever EHF EURO result on home ground in 2010.

When Sigurdsson nominated his first squad, he surprised the experts: Young, hungry players, without big names, but success in the younger age categories.

Sigurdsson followed the same line for Qatar, where his team sensationally finished seventh and booked the ticket for the Olympic Qualification Tournament. At that point everybody agreed the Icelandic was the right choice for the German team.

It was mainly Bob Hanning, Vice-President of the German Handball Federation, who pushed Sigurdsson in the new role, as he knew him quite well:

“In 2000 we met for the first time. I was supposed to coach him in a single match, but the match was cancelled, and Dagur went to start his new challenge as a player and coach in Japan.”

When Hanning was searching for a new coach in his position as manager of German club Füchse Berlin in 2009, he remembered this Icelandic guy. “We knew exactly which coach we wanted to have: someone who is willing to work with young players with a winning mentality and the knowledge and skills of being a playmaker.”

Hanning flew to Reykjavik, and already knew this was the man on the way from the airport to Sigurdsson’s house.

215-cap international Sigurdsson led Füchse to their first titles – in 2014 they won the German Cup, and in his last international match with the club they won the 2015 EHF Cup.

“Now I have my first final as national team coach. Sounds great, doesn’t it?” Sigurdsson said on the day prior to the final, in a completely relaxed mood.

He is always characterised as a calm person, almost without emotions. Therefore, it was almost predictable when he talked about his preparations for the final: “Nothing special, I try to go to bed as early as possible.” Dreaming about a gold medal? “I never dream!”

But Hanning knows the other side of the cool-as-ice Icelandic: “Dagur can be like a volcano, a bunch of energy, someone who can shout out loud if things are not running as they are supposed to do. But in general he is calm, patient and a master of tactics and communication.”

The German players appreciate the behaviour and character of their coach.

“Dagur is a world class coach. When we lost so many players due to injuries before and during the EURO, he always found tactical alternatives, always had the right options in his head. He knows exactly what to do, he is tactical master, and even when the going gets tough, he remains patient, a calm guy,” says Germany right back Fabian Wiede, who has been coached by Sigurdsson at Füchse since he was 17.

Left wing Rune Dahmke, who has only known Sigurdsson since November, when he was nominated for the national team for the first time, likes mainly the trust the coach has in his players:

“This trust is extreme. He trusts in us, but we also trust in all his ideas, which sometimes might be a little bit strange, but they are all successful.

“And Dagur always finds the right words. He is not a coach who wants to drink coffee with you for hours and talk about the daily life – he is always focused and structured.”

This structure is part of Sigurdsson’s life off the handball court. Since his 20th birthday he has founded more than 20 companies. At the moment he is the owner or co-owner of five businesses, including a hostel and a pizzeria in Reykjavik, and a company that sells car parts.

In addition, he likes to play guitar, and taught his brother to play guitar so well that his band Mono Town now tops the Icelandic charts.

Sigurdsson is a man with many faces – but on Sunday he wants to show only a winner’s face.

written by Bjorn Pazen / cg