For a club with so much history and tradition, Belenenses have rightfully reclaimed a spot amongst the elite of Portuguese football. They did so in style, demolishing opponents in the Segunda Division last season to top the table by a huge 21 points and secure promotion. The Blues from Restelo remain only one of two clubs (the other being Boavista) to capture the league title outside of Porto, Benfica and Sporting. Their return spells good news with a set of Lisbon derbies revived whilst also giving tourists an extra reason to visit beautiful Belém.
The club initially struggled to cope with top flight football this campaign. Four consecutive defeats were followed by the news that influential head coach Mitchell van der Gaag would remain away from the touchline due to health issues. But they have shown tremendous resolve to fight back when faced with adversity and managed to string together some impressive results lately, including a 1-1 draw at the Estadio da Luz against giants Benfica. One of the reasons for their revival has been the performance of a summer reinforcement, Iceland international Helgi Danielsson, who took some time out to talk to Football Radar.
FR: What inspired you to start playing football?
HD: I took to sport at a very young age and my dad, being a coach, encouraged me to take up football as a career option. By the time I was 15 I received my first professional contract and that gave me the belief that I could make it to the big time.
Who is your favourite footballer?
I support Liverpool and am a big fan of Steven Gerrard.
What is your preferred position on the pitch and can you deputise in any other areas?
I like to play in the defensive midfield role and have sometimes played at right back when required.
You had a spell of five years (1998-2003) at Peterborough United in England. How would you describe your experience?
It was a bit up and down to be honest. It was fun at the beginning – I was young and enjoying my early days as a professional footballer – but then things took a turn for the worse and I ultimately ended up taking a three-year break from the sport altogether, deciding to concentrate on my studies instead.
What made you return to football after that period?
I’ve always been passionate about football and after completing my university degree [Danielsson graduated in chemistry] I received an offer from Swedish club Öster that I decided to take up. The comeback wasn’t easy and the club got relegated but it served as a stepping stone to strive harder for success.
How did you cope with the death of teammate Ivan Turina at AIK Solna last year and did it serve as an extra motivation to win the title for him?
I wouldn’t say it was an extra motivation but more a realisation that life is very unpredictable and it’s important to do the things that you cherish most. The fans’ tribute to Ivan in the charity game was really incredible.
How has the adaptation process gone thus far in Portugal?
It was tough in the beginning because results were not going our way and I was not playing regularly but we stayed positive through that period and the atmosphere is better now on the back of recent showings. I’ve gradually settled into the side and so have my family in Portugal.
Any special moments as a footballer?
The goal against Napoli during 2012 in the Europa League is a fond memory, especially as it was the last ever game at the national stadium [the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm was demolished later that year] and it was packed to capacity. I’m also proud of helping my national side, Iceland, make the play-offs for the World Cup in 2014. We were the lowest-seeded team to get there.
What are your short and long-term goals?
I know I have only a few more years of football left in me so the immediate goal would be to play a prominent role in Belenenses having a good campaign and to help the Icelandic national team scale greater heights. After football, I will settle down with a profession in a chemistry-related field.
What are your other interests and hobbies?
Playing heavy metal stuff on my guitar, reading popular science books, and taking care of my three daughters.
Football Radar would like to thank Helgi Danielsson for talking to us and Belenenses’ media officer, Nuno Almeida, for making the arrangements.
Interview by Menino Pereira (Primeira Liga analyst)
Follow me @FRfutebolMenino
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