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Club-flop Sigthorsson shines for Iceland

sportspaper Updated: Jul 03, 2016, 09:16 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

NANTES, FRANCE: Far from a match-winner with Nantes this past season, Iceland striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson will forever be remembered as the man who slayed England following the shock 2-1 win at Euro 2016.

And while Sigthorsson, who scored Iceland’s winner in Nice, was absent as Nantes players returned for the start of preseason on Wednesday, his name was on the minds of many at the French club’s training base.

The 26-year-old has played his part in a remarkable Icelandic adventure as the Nordic nation of just 330,000 have defied the odds to take their place in the last eight of Euro 2016.

But it has also served as a frustrating reminder of an underwhelming first season in France where the Icelander’s club future remains uncertain just a year after joining Nantes from Ajax.

Sigthorsson, whose international record of 21 goals in 43 appearances makes for impressive reading, is now plotting to help Iceland claim the scalp of tournament hosts France in Sunday’s quarterfinal.

“I really hope he continues his journey in the Euros but if that’s the case, that would mean that (France) will be swept under the carpet,” said new Nantes coach Rene Girard, who replaced Michel Der Zakarian.

Of Sigthorsson’s future, Girard said: “When he finishes his tournament, he’ll have four weeks of holiday like the other players. We’ll see after that.”

Girard’s final remark highlights the doubts over his longterm prospects at Nantes with whom he scored just four times in 29 appearances before a sore knee curtailed his season.

Sigthorsson’s meagre return represented a huge disappointment given the hype generated at the Stade de la Beaujoire by the arrival of a striker with an international pedigree.

Criticised for failing to integrate with the team, former coach Der Zakarian also accused Sigthorsson of being overweight, but the striker is belatedly showcasing his talent to Nantes fans this summer.

“Was it the brother of Kolbeinn Sigthorsson at FC Nantes this season or what?” asked the Nantes edition of the 20Minutes daily recently, while So Foot magazine, under the headline “Doctor Kolbeinn, Mr. Sigthorsson”, suggested it was a case of split personality.

“I see it in his legs, he’s more mobile than at Nantes. He is very sharp from the pictures I’ve seen,” said Der Zakarian.

However, full-back Leo Dubois, also quoted in 20Minutes, said he had not necessarily spotted “a new Kolbeinn” at the Euro.

“Iceland play perfectly with the qualities that Kolbeinn has. He is excellent in the air, a good target man, but they don’t look for through balls with him,” explained Dubois, trying to pinpoint the reasons for Sigthorsson’s struggles with Nantes.

The striker’s departure from Brittany, which not long ago seemed almost a foregone conclusion, now appears less certain. “Kolbeinn had a difficult season, that happens to all the great players. He’s looking to regain his form, which is good for everyone. He’s a player of international class. He’s part of the squad,” said Girard.

“He still has four years left on his contract,” added Franck Kita, the club’s general manager. “The machine is started, it would be a shame to do away with it. It’s perhaps the time to keep him and to get through this.”

But whatever Nantes think, the question might be whether Sigthorsson will be keen on returning to a mid-table Ligue 1 side with more attractive offers likely to come his way.

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