December 12, 2017

Atli Eðvaldsson: Iceland’s Bundesliga Pioneer

Just days ago, the Iceland Men’s National Team made history by becoming the smallest side (per national population) to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. Sixty years before, Atli Eðvaldsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland with a destiny of becoming one of Iceland’s pioneer players. Eðvaldsson had football in his blood. His father, Evald Mikson, was a goalkeeper on the Estonian National Team and his older brother, Jóhannes Eðvaldsson, made over 100 appearances for Scottish giants Celtic in the late 1970’s.

Club Career

In 1974, Eðvaldsson made his debut with Valur, an Icelandic historic giant based in Reykjavik. Eðvaldsson became a main feature in the club’s lineup alongside Magnús Bergs.  During his time with Valur, the 6’2″midfielder would score 31 goals in 93 appearances. Moving forward to 1980, history was soon to be made. German stalwarts Borussia Dortmund came calling for both Eðvaldsson and Bergs with the intention of making them the first Icelandic players to appear in the Bundesliga.

Eðvaldsson and Bergs had two different tales at Borussia Dortmund. Eðvaldsson appeared 31 times in his one year at the club while managing to bag 11 goals. Magnús Bergs, on the other hand, spent double the time at Dortmund but only made two appearances. It is at this point in their careers where Atli Eðvaldsson and Magnús Bergs go separate ways. Bergs would go on to play for K.S.K Tongeren in Belgium, Eðvaldsson would stick around in Germany and make history.

In 1981, Atli Eðvaldsson joined then Bundesliga side Fortuna Düsseldorf on a free transfer. In the 1982-83, Eðvaldsson truly broke onto the scene by scoring 21 goals in the Bundesliga campaign. A 21 goal tally was enough to put Eðvaldsson in second place, tied with Stuttgart star Karl Allgöwer and one above none other than Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Not only was the goal tally great for Icelandic football, but on June 6th, 1983, Eðvaldsson became the first Icelandic player to net a hat trick with an incredible performance against Eintracht Frankfurt. Oh, but he did not stop at just three goals. Eðvaldsson scored all five goals in the 5-1 win over Frankfurt. Eðvaldsson would go on to make 122 appearances for Fortuna Düsseldorf, but shockingly only scored 38 goals before his departure in 1985.

The departure from Fortuna Düsseldorf meant a new chapter in the life of Eðvaldsson, as hejoined KFC Uerdingen 05 (then known as Bayer 05 Uerdingen). Now, some readers may not have heard of KFC Uerdingen 05, which is understandable given the club plays in the fourth division today. However, Eðvaldsson joined Uerdingen during their glory days alongside fellow Icelandic Lárus Guðmundsson.  Eðvaldsson spent three seasons with Uerdingen, but failed to really get anything going for himself as the club began to decline. In his first season, KFC Uerdingen 05 finished third, but in his second the club fell to eighth and in his final year, the club fell all the way to eleventh. During these three seasons, Eðvaldsson managed to score just ten goals in 78 appearances. By the time Eðvaldsson departed from Uerdingen, he was in the twilight of his career with some daylight remaining at age 31.

Eðvaldsson made his return to Düsseldorf. Unfortunately, it was not a return to his highlight club of his Bundesliga career. No, it was with TuRu Düsseldorf, a lower division club. Alti spent a season with TuRu, scoring six goals in 23 appearances before departing again. This time, the road took him to newly promoted Turkish side Gençlerbirliği S.K. Again, Alti Eðvaldsson spent just a season at the club, again making 23 appearances but falling to just four goals scored before departing again.

With the detour from Germany to Turkey, Alti Eðvaldsson returned to Iceland at the age of 33 to join a historically strong (but struggling at the time) KR Reykjavik side. In the dying light of his career, Alti scored 16 goals in 48 appearances with his local side over the span of his career. In 1993, Alti Eðvaldsson ended his playing career with HK, an Icelandic second division side in Kópavogur. In his final season, Eðvaldsson made just 11 appearances and scored a lone goal.

International Career

Atli Eðvaldsson made 70 appearances with the Iceland Men’s National Team and scored 8 goals, but unfortunately never qualified for either a World Cup or an European Championship.

Management Career

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Eðvaldsson began his managerial career shortly after retiring as a player by taking over Icelandic side ÍBV in 1995. In 1997, he joined second division side Fylkir, got his feet wet, and moved to KR Reykjavik. Eðvaldsson almost lead KR to a title, but lost it on the final matchday. This led to Eðvaldsson taking over the national team. Eðvaldsson went 11-5-14 in his three years on the touchline but could not lead Iceland to an international competition qualification. After taking off a year, Atli returned to management with Þróttur Reykjavík with the task of bringing the side back to the first division but failed to do so. This led to a three-year hiatus before he returned to the touchline with the club that started it all for him, Valur. Valur comfortably finished 8th in his season in charge, which is on the lower half of midtable in the league. After four years without managing, Eðvaldsson joined lower division side Reynir Sandgerði. After one year, he again moved to a different club, this time with second division side Afturelding. He remained at Afturelding for one season. On September 22nd, 2017, Atli Eðvaldsson was appointed manager of Swedish third division side 1614 Kristianstads FC. As of October 10th, 2017, the club sits in fifth place under his command with the goal of getting to second for a chance of promotion.

A Legacy

Atli Eðvaldsson was the first successful Icelandic player to play in the Bundesliga, which opened the door for current players such as Augsburg striker Alfreð Finnbogason and former Hoffenheim man Gylfi Sigurðsson. Atli Eðvaldsson’s daughter Sif Atladóttir is currently carving her own legacy with 50 caps for the Iceland Women’s national side while playing club football in Sweden at Kristianstads DFF. Sif Atladóttir also spent time in Germany, playing one season with FC Saarbrücken.

Players come and go as life goes on, but Alti Eðvaldsson will forever remain as Iceland’s pioneer in German football.

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Hailing from Ohio in the U.S., Aidan started watching soccer to better understand the game he played. Now he's a coach specialized in goalkeeper training, and loves writing about the Bundesliga. Aidan's true love is Borussia Dortmund, but respects the passion of all Bundesliga clubs (even Schalke). Aidan also contributes writing to the Yellow Wall Pod and underthecoshblog.com (Canadian soccer coverage). You can find him on twitter @aidan_reagh.

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