Sometimes pictures say more than words ever can. The scenes that greeted us when we arrived in Reykjavik, only a few hours after our quarter-final against France had finished, will stay with me forever. As we drove the 40 minutes from the airport to the city centre, huge numbers of people lined the streets and then, finishing up on Arnarholl, thousands more awaited us.
You could only feel intensely, overwhelmingly proud; the speeches we heard, from our president, prime minister and others, would have softened any heart and brought home the scale of what our boys did this summer. None of us could ever, for a single moment, have envisaged the reception we were given.
The players are now legends in the eyes of Iceland’s people. They will be remembered in the same way England venerates its World Cup winners from 1966; they have given the currency of our football a huge boost and it will extend beyond sport too, as a wonderful advertisement for a country that is now on the map like never before. Soon I will sit down with my staff and other members of the Icelandic FA to look, with the benefit of distance, at how we achieved what we did at Euro 2016 – what was good and what was not so good.
Maybe we will examine how we exited the tournament, with the France game getting away from us so early, and wonder whether the mental impact of beating England contributed. Perhaps the players got overexcited after that and, however hard they tried, could not quite focus from zero again – it happens, because everyone is human.
But the positives will dominate. Our success owed much to a gradual, tangible increase in belief. The first group game, against Portugal, was absolutely critical. They were better than us but we restricted them to just one goal and then, when Birkir Bjarnason equalised after half-time, we got ourselves back into it.
Psychologically that was a key factor in everything that followed; it was a point against the best team in the group and the players took heart. From then on I felt we played better and better in each game, the confidence growing even as the hurdles got taller, negotiating every challenge until that first half against France.
Playing the same starting XI in all five games – something I don’t believe had happened before at a European Championship – also made a difference. When you know how the team-mate next to you is playing, have worked alongside him and seen him grow during the tournament, it can work wonders – particularly when you are an underdog.
It is a credit to our medical staff, and also to a team of such remarkably strong characters, that they all made it so far and perhaps they suffered a little by the time we played France. We did not bring a big scientific entourage with us and rarely carried out extensive tests on the players, so there may have been a fatigue factor. Then again, they roused themselves to play superbly in the second half and that is another testament to their attitude.
I said before the England game that victory would change everyone’s lives, and my opinion has not changed after such a remarkable night. The most obvious consequence will be that many of the players join bigger clubs. We managed to keep a few possible deals beneath the radar during the tournament, and hopefully we will now see several of the guys’ profiles increase. More generally, people will take us with complete seriousness now. There was a sense at times that we were made fun of in the past – we have a small population, the coach is a dentist, things like that – but I cannot see that happening any more.
Our football now has a clear identity. We have found a way to win football matches using our players’ specific qualities, and by getting everything out of them. If there have been a few questions about our style, I would answer by saying that if we attempted to play like Spain we would only ever be a bad replica of them. When we could, we showed the quality of football we can play. We are comfortable with who we are, and the task is now to make it work for years into the future.
Icelanders are demanding – we will now be expected to qualify for every major tournament. There will not be too many changes on the pitch as we approach the World Cup qualifiers; we are lucky that most of these players are of a good age and few will step out of the squad in the next two or three years.