WERE Alfred Finnbogason to write an autobiography, Scotland would be its recurring theme.
The Icelandic striker, whose 28 goals for Heerenveen this season have attracted a long queue of scouts to the Dutch club’s Abe Lenstra Stadium, admits that his connections with this country have played a significant role in his development.
Two years of his childhood were spent living in Edinburgh, where he played boys’ football for Hutchison Vale. His hero at that time was Henrik Larsson. His first European match was for Breidablik against Motherwell. The highlights of his international career include the under-21 play-off between Iceland and Scotland at Easter Road three years ago.
Now, after a remarkably prolific season, the 24-year-old centre forward finds himself linked with West Ham United, Sunderland, Everton, Aston Villa, even AC Milan, although the smart money is on a move to the Bundesliga.
“I know that a few clubs are interested,” says Finnbogason. “There is a long way from interest to being bought, but I think something will happen in the summer. I have had a good season and Heerenveen has a history of good strikers that they sell to bigger clubs so I would like to go in the same direction.”
Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Georgios Samaras are among those have come and gone from Heerenveen, bought on the cheap, given a platform and sold on for a hefty profit. “Van Nistelrooy is a player I looked up to a lot when I was growing up,” says Finnbogason. “He was a fox in the box, which is something I try to emulate. My strength is in the opponents’ penalty area, being alert when others are not.”
To be mentioned in the same breath as those players, which his manager, Marco van Basten, has already done this season, is what Finnbogason dreamed of at the age of nine. That was when his father moved the family to Scotland so that he could spend two years studying at Edinburgh University. Alfred attended Blackhall Primary School, took up golf at Silverknowes and played football for “Hutchie Vale”, the boys’ club renowned for producing future professionals.
“I remember we had a really good team,” he says. “We were under-9s, but we played under 10s, and we won every game. I don’t know if any of the players are playing professionally now but, at that time, we were by far the best boys’ team in Edinburgh.
“It was a fantastic time in my life, a big influence on me. It meant that, in future, when I went abroad, I was able to stand on my own two feet. The earlier you do that, the better prepared you are. And to be in Scotland, where it is all about football. . . that was only good for me.”
Finnbogason went with a friend to watch Hibs in those days, but he doesn’t pretend to be a fan. Victor Palsson, the Icelandic midfield player, late of the Edinburgh club, sometimes keeps him up to date with events at Easter Road but the striker has come a long way since then.
After making a name for himself in his homeland, where he won the title with Breidablik, a move to Belgian club Lokeren didn’t work out, and it was a six-month loan to Swedish club Helsingborgs that caught the eye. In Larsson’s own backyard, he earned himself a move to Holland with one goal and five assists in a Champions League qualifying round against Slask Wroclaw.
“Larsson was the player I looked up to when I was in Scotland, the one I wanted to emulate. Now, I have followed in his footsteps by playing for Helsingborgs, where he started, and in Holland. So it’s all moving in the right direction.”
Finnbogason has also benefited from working with Van Basten, the legendary Dutch striker who is rebuilding his managerial career after unsuccessful spells with Ajax and the national team. “If you have a coach who played in your position, he knows how you think, how you feel in the game, and those little things can really help you. It’s been a privilege to play under him. If you don’t learn from the best, you don’t learn from anybody.”
The identity of Finnbogason’s next boss is the burning question. If the speculation is any guide, there are plenty of possibilities, although he is likely to be too expensive for Neil Lennon. The Celtic manager, who wants an old-fashioned striker to play through the middle, was interested last season, when Finnbogason, on loan from Lokeren, scored 12 goals in 17 appearances for Helsingborgs, but his value has soared since.
Finnbogason, though, is not in the business of ruling anything out, including a move to the country where he lived 15 years ago. “My first European game was against Motherwell. For Iceland, I played against Scotland at Easter Road. Just after I left Helsingborgs, they came up against Celtic in the Champions League. In one way or another, Scotland is always calling me, so you never know.
“At the moment, I think there is only one club I would play for in Scotland and that’s Celtic. It’s a huge club and they play in the Champions League. It would be appealing to play for such a big European club. The Larsson history would make it even better but I want to make the best decision possible for my career. I’m not going to come back to Scotland just for old time’s sake.”
Another option for Finnbogason is to stay put, which isn’t such a bad idea. Heerenveen, where he still has two years of his contract to run, are every Dutchman’s second-favourite team, a club so modest and sensible that they are impossible to dislike. They suit Finnbogason down to the ground. “It’s a perfect match,” he says. “If you are being linked with the bigger clubs in the best leagues in the world, you must be doing something right, but I’m a pretty down-to-earth guy. If a good offer comes my way in the summer, of course I will take a look but, at the moment, I’m just trying to focus on Heerenveen.”