Iceland’s Most Famous Dentist Drills Down At World Cup

As a professional dentist, Heimir Hallgrimsson has taken an unlikely route to fame; this is because he also happens to coach the Icelandic National Soccer Team. And under his leadership, this year the tiny Nordic nation has finally become a contender at the World Cup. And as they say, better late than never.

Just two years ago, Iceland reached the quarter-finals of the European Championship by besting England. And just last summer, they upset Croatia, a long-time nemesis. That makes them the smallest country (pop: 334k) to ever qualify for the World Cup.

But five years ago, things weren’t looking nearly so rosy.

Heimir Hallgrimsson, dentist and Head Coach of the Icelandic National Soccer Team, checks a rear molar

As Assistant Coach under Lars Lagerback at the time, Hallgrimsson suspected that one of the problems with the team was the lack of any discernible fan culture. His solution was novel, to say the least: he invited local fans to meet him at a pub before an upcoming match. The coach shared the starting lineup with them and discussed their chances against their opponents. He even showed them the same motivational video he had produced for the team.

It took a while for it to catch on, and only about a dozen fans showed up the first time. But he kept it up, and now hundreds come out to the meetings; two years ago, Hallgrimsson was promoted to head coach.

The chance that Iceland might reach the quarter-finals this year was considered to be distant, but the coach’s unconventional tactics paid off. The team’s fan base has grown considerably, and he puts it down to his experience dealing with his dental patients.

“You know how it is in the dental chair,” Hallgrimsson said. “You have to approach each client in a different way — you have to adjust to his personality — and it’s the same with football players. You can shout at one but you have to be careful with how you approach another one.”

To see the inspiring New York Times feature, click here.