I am so proud and thankful to have been named as Iceland’s best player of all time in a poll organised by the Football Association of Iceland and the fans. Especially when looking at the short list. It is amazing such a small nation can produce so many good football players who have made it in the best teams in Europe. The future is bright.
– Ásgeir Sigurvinsson
At a time when any geek, hooked on Football Manager, FIFA or PES, can access the profile of pretty much any football player on this planet, the recrutement of an Icelandic player, could come across as something fairly standard and easy to do. But in 1973, both Standard and Asgeir Sigurvinsson took a leap of faith into the unknown. It hadn’t taken much or the new marriage didn’t even take place. Indeed, Glasgow Rangers expressed a keen interest in the midfielder and offered him a trial. « The lad’s got some potential. », assessed their coach. But it was Standard Liège who would be the most convincing, and the midfielder who’d just won the Icelandic FA Cup with Vestmannaeyjar decided to join Belgium.
« The transfer was concluded with the small club where I started my football career. Standard paid 800.000 BEF (20.000 euro) which was a huge amount for an unknown player from Iceland. And top top it off, an amateur as well! Besides some Scandinavian teams, no scouting made it ever to my neck of the woods. In those days Standard didn’t have their famous Académie Robert Louis-Dreyfus. Honestly I was still a kid when I joined them. I didn’t know anything about Belgium, let alone Standard Liège. In Iceland we had, and still have, a tradition to just watch English football.»
And Iceland wasn’t as developed a country as it is nowadays.« To phone home, I had to go to the post office at Guillemins train station, order a line for Iceland, and wait for about two hours before the connection was made. Hard to imagine nowadays, isn’t it. » Life itself wasn’t easy during the first couple of months. « At first I lived in a hotel near the train station, before moving to a small studio in the city centre, having my own small Volkswagen. Life wasn’t obvious as I didn’t speak a single word of French, and the people from Liège didn’t manage to speak any English. To top it off, in Iceland we had clean air all day, and suddenly I saw black skies, thanks to Cockerill. But never did I contemplate to go back home. »
On the pitch on the other hand life was beautiful and Asgeir’s integration went surprisingly smoothly (gradually replacing Wilfried Van Moer). He made his debut against Beerschot in September 1973, being substituted however after 40 minutes due to an injury. « I felt something was wrong with my knee. When a doctor from the Antwerp region told me that one small injection would take away all my pain, I had to laugh hard. But afterwards I had to admit that never again my knee would play up again! » His first goal came at home on January 20th against… Beerschot. « I have such fond memories of Sclessin. And although the stadium has undergone many changes, it still has a special place in my heart. Many will remember the hard fought games with our rivals from Brussels, who were part of the European elite at that time. I still remember one game at Standard with all of us 20 cm deep in the mud, and where I scored the only goal of the game. I still have a photo from that game showing Van Himst and Rensenbrinck with their heads down, whilst I was celebrating my goal. »
Asgeir reserved his last goal for the game at Standard on May 31st 1981 against Waterschei for the semis of the Belgian FA Cup. Standard would go on to win the FA Cup against Lokeren, but Sigurvinsson had the leave the pitch after 5 minutes when injured. Nobody knew it would be his last game for the Rouches. Raymond Goethals, who’d replace Ernst Happel during the Summer, was keen to combine Asgeir with newbie… Arie Haan, but it wasn’t meant to be and Asgeir got a transfer to German giants Bayern Munich.
During the many European games Asgeir played with Standard, he often meet many teams from Eastern and Western Germany, and it’s likely that during these games Bayern started to put taps on the exemplary international. « In those days the Bundesliga was by far the strongest league in the world, and being able to be part of that was a recognition of its own. I remember the difficult games we had with Standard in those days when visiting Germant, or the exclusion of Michel Renquin, or the leg fracture of Helmut Graf. They don’t tend to make you have an easy game in Germany. Later, I had that same sensation when I played against Bayern Munich, probably there was some resentment on my behalf. »
Resentment as his move to Bayern is seen as a failure. The stars from the German team couldn’t accept that an Icelandic midfielder transferred from Belgium would give them a footballing lesson. « Standard received a 25 million (650.000 euro) transfer fee, but Roger Petit still managed to divert a part of my signature fee to Standard’s bank account. That being said, if Bayern hadn’t shown up, I probably finished my career in Liège. I already spend 8 seasons at Sclessin, and Roger Petit had offered my a contract extension for another five. »
History could have changed if Bayern didn’t veto a transfer back to Belgium a couple of months later. John Cordier, the architect manager behind KV Mechelen wanted to transfer Sigurvinsson and Dell’Haye, but in the end only got Benfeld and Reisinger. In the end Asgeir stayed in Germany and joined Stuttgart, the team with whom he won the German league in 1984!
Today, the best Icelandic player from the 20th century, manages a Youth Academy with father and son Gudjohnsen. Standard Liège and Stuttgart are still his most favorite teams in the world, and he still speakers French and German perfectly. « In May 2018 I came back to Belgium to meet up with a couple of my former team mates for the game against Club Bruges. It was wonderful to meet up with them, and seeing some had more grey hair than I have! (laughs) »
(c) Philippe Gerday, November 2018
Birth: May 8th 1955, in Vestmannaeyjaer
Affiliated at Standard: July 26th 1973 – June 30th 1981
Trophies with Standard: 1x Belgian F.A. Cup (1981), 1x Belgian League Cup (1975)
International caps / goals: 45 / 5
1971 – 1973
1973 – 1981
1981 – 1982
1982 – 1990
Royal Standard Club Liégeois
F.C. Bayern München (DEU)
Vfb Stuttgart (DEU)
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup