By Maxwell Rotbart
The FIFA World Cup boasts that it is the world’s most widely viewed sporting event, broadcast in more than 200 countries and reaching an audience in the hundreds of millions. By comparison, the annual Super Bowl view-fest is a television featherweight.
This year’s World Cup, the quadrennial global soccer championship series that is currently being played out in Russia, has attracted special attention because of the participation of Team Iceland. Iceland - population 334,000 - is the smallest country to ever qualify for the FIFA World Cup, dating back to its inaugural year in 1930.
The unexpected success of Team Iceland has made the underdogs a global darling. TIME magazine devoted its June 16th cover story to “The Little Country That Could.”
Understandably, the people of Iceland are ecstatic about the success of their footballers. Indeed, a local brewer even launched a pale ale, Heimir, named for the team’s coach, Heimir Hallgrímsson.
To the people of Iceland, especially the residents of the island of Heimaey, population about 4,000, where the coach lives, Coach Hallgrímsson is much more than the nation’s trailblazing soccer strategist. He’s also their go-to dentist.
Dr. Hallgrímsson, 51, did not simply graduate dental school, or once practice dentistry, before finding his true calling as a professional soccer coach. Not at all.
When he’s not in the global spotlight, Dr. Hallgrímsson continues to see patients and tend to their oral health needs.
It’s partly because of Iceland’s small size - especially in the soccer community - that Dr. Hallgrímsson needs the second job to support himself. As he told The Guardian in 2016, “my mother was always really unhappy that I wasn’t practising (dentistry) more. In Iceland, you don’t make money being a football coach.”
As Vedis Gudmundsdottir, a patient of Dr. Hallgrímsson’s, told The New York Times, “He’s always smiling, really professional and really good at what he does.” Ms. Gudmundsdottir has been a patient of Dr. Hallgrímsson’s since her childhood. She adds of her dentist, “Nobody looks at him like he’s this big-shot coach.”
Just as he sizes up the strengths and weaknesses of his players, Dr. Hallgrímsson told the Times he likewise treats each patient according to their needs:
“You know how it is in the dental chair. Some are really afraid of going to the dentist. Others don’t mind one way or the other. The third group are sleeping. You have to approach each client in a different way — you have to adjust to his personality.”
Dr. Hallgrímsson’s dental skills also benefit his soccer players. In 2016, as reported in Iceland Magazine, when player Rut Kristjánsdottir of the women’s team lost a tooth in a match, Dr. Hallgrímsson drove her to his office and tended to it on the spot.
Of course, Dr. Hallgrímsson - being the head coach of Team Iceland - can’t always be in the office. His patients don’t seem to mind, however, as they consistently return to see Dr. Hallgrímsson because of his friendly bedside manner and his reliable care.
Now that he’s becoming a global sports personality, Dr. Hallgrímsson is very likely to earn additional income from speaking and endorsement opportunities. But aside from the funds it provides, Dr. Hallgrímsson indicates that he plans to continue his dental practice for its other rewards – even if only on a part-time basis.
As he told Sports Illustrated earlier this year: “I just do it … to keep my fingers and brain working in dentistry. It’s good to take time off football and do something different. Some coaches play golf. I do dentistry.”
Author: Contributing writer Maxwell Rotbart specializes in covering business, education, and history-related topics. He is the author of The State of Israel: Prime Ministers, available from Amazon.com.
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