Why did you take on the role as manager of the Iceland national football team?
We have a good cooperation in the Nordic countries and I knew a lot of people in Iceland from my time as Sweden manager. When I looked at the Icelandic players together with what I had experienced playing against Iceland I thought it was a really interesting challenge. The key motivator for me was to see what you can do with a team that hadn’t performed so well up until then. I brought in my experience and so perhaps we were more professional than before.
What are the key attributes to being successful?
The big difference is that you have to be really careful about how you prioritize; you only have the national team players for a short period of time [ahead of games]. If you’re a bit of an underdog and playing against a team with greater individual skills then you have to organize the team really, really well both off and on the pitch.
What drives you on?
I have no problem getting up in the morning! When you’re in top sports it’s the feeling of winning matches that motivates you. I’ve been in the business for almost 40 years and I really like seeing what you can do with a group of people, players, and staff. If you see things improving and see players doing things in the match that you had practiced a lot that’s the big satisfaction – together with winning of course!
How would you describe your management style?
I believe very much in participation. I like to work with very few rules. I say to the players that if you’re not doing everything 100 per cent professionally you won’t be in the national team. We try to work with a set of ‘living standards’: how we should live on and off the pitch, how we should play and so on. But it’s not democracy; in the end, it’s me who makes the decisions, although I do try to interact with the players as much as possible.
Tell us about that game in the Euro 2016 finals when Iceland beat England?
When you’re in finals like that, I always try to work to strengthen my own and the players’ mental strength. Maybe the England team was overestimated and there was big pressure on them. I played England six or seven times with Sweden and we never lost. You use triggers like that. The longer I have been in the business the more I realize you should never underestimate the mental part of a football game.
Do you ever contemplate failure?
I am a realist. I always say to my players you always have a realistic chance of winning and how big it is you never know. I never approach a game and think we’ll lose. I know if we play the best teams in the world we can lose but we always have a chance.
I am a rather secure person. I don’t mind what the media and others say but you are traveling a lot and it’s a kind of special social life away from friends and family. But I think I balance it rather well. I don’t look back and regret anything. I have been privileged and lucky in my life. I’ll never end up bitter!
Lars Lagerbäck managed the Swedish national football team between 1998 and 2009 and Iceland from 2011 until 2016 when he retired.
He is now a TV pundit in Sweden and an advisor to the Swedish national team.
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