PARIS (AP) Both the English city of Leicester and the island nation of Iceland have populations of 330,000; both have shaken the established order in European soccer.
A member of Leicester City’s backroom staff has advice for Iceland’s national team as it heads for a quarterfinal at the European Championship against host France: Forget about us.
“Don’t start dreaming, because as soon as you do that, you are thinking about the consequences of the result,” Leicester performance psychologist Ken Way told The Associated Press.
[ MORE: Barca to extend Neymar, sign Umtiti ]
Leicester won the Premier League last season against the odds – one of the most improbable triumphs in English soccer history.
“If you get carried away with, `We could reach the semifinals, we could reach the final, we could be champions,’ you take some of the power and focus away,” he added. “They should forget Leicester.”
Iceland is the smallest nation to ever contest a major tournament. The team advanced from its group above Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and then stunned England to reach the quarterfinals. The next challenge is even tougher with a game Sunday against the host at the Stade de France. Win that, and it’s either Germany or Italy in the semifinals.
Though Way is urging the Iceland team to put aside any comparisons with Leicester, he can see the parallels.
[ MORE: Kante, Hazard to Real Madrid? ]
“You can see their Viking attitude,” said Way, who usually works two days a week at Leicester. “(Leicester captain) Wes Morgan spoke last year about being a band of brothers who would die for one another on the pitch … it is very definitely a team spirit like us.”
That was evident when Iceland came from behind to beat England 2-1 in Nice on Monday. England seemed fixated on the result and the magnitude of the consequences whereas Iceland seemed devoid of such pressure.
“It looked like they (Iceland) were having fun, the whole team,” Way said in a telephone interview. “They had a much more kind of Leicester kind of view of things: Let’s go out and attack – very much on the fight side of the human dimension.”
The contrast with the English players was evident after the final whistle when many of them were slumped on the pitch.
“It was not just a reaction to the defeat but a reaction to what they knew this meant back home and the criticism they would face,” Way said.
In Iceland, there’s great joy at the national team’s Euro 2016 heroics.
Way urged the Iceland coaching staff to be careful about changing things too much just because the team has outperformed expectations. Key, he said, is maintaining the harmony of the squad.
[ MORE: Zlatan confirms United move ]
“The sort of knee jerk reaction you could imagine happening is (Iceland) suddenly decide that because they have done so well they need to bring in some piece of magical equipment, a particular new training drill or something different,” Way said. “That’s fine as long as every member of the team is totally bought into it at the same level.”
Way recalls that Leicester introduced a cryotherapy chamber as an alternative to ice baths last season but that it wasn’t mandatory for players to use the low-temperature treatment.
“As soon as you have some not convinced what you have opened up there is doubts, potential mistrust,” he said.
Way also urged the Iceland team to be wary about viewing their Euro 2016 experience as a stage to impress scouts.
“Don’t get carried away with it and think `I could be signed by Leicester City or Real Madrid or Chelsea or whatever,”‘ Way said.