When Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrimsson lead Iceland's national team out in Saint Etienne against Portugal on June 14, it will mark the proudest occasion in the Scandinavian country's footballing history.

After years spent in the doldrums of the international game, ranked alongside the likes of the Faroe Islands and Moldova, Iceland are currently riding the crest of a wave having qualified for this summer's Uefa Euro 2016 competition in France – the first appearance at a major tournament for the senior men's side.

But the honour of leading Iceland's senior women's team to a first major championship is held by a man with Chester FC connections, a man who has since helped transform football from the ground up in his homeland after hanging his playing boots up 11 years ago.

Siggi Eyjolfsson took charge of Iceland's women's side in 2007 and led them to their first major competition, the European Championships, just two years later, repeating that feat in 2013. He has been a key cog in helping catapult Icelandic football onto the world stage, a stage the men's side will share in equal footing with the likes of Spain, Italy, France and Germany this summer, a far cry from their days as group cannon fodder.

It's 16 years since Eyjolfsson arrived at Chester City, a tall, wiry striker who was among Ian Atkins's first acquisitions as he bid to stave of the threat of relegation from the Football League in 2000.

Signed on loan from Walsall, where he was a popular figure, he was one of three debutants for Atkins and impressed during a nine-game loan spell, netting three times for the Blues, including an effort at the Vetch Field against Swansea City in a crushing 2-1 defeat on a Friday night for the Blues.

In his fleeting spell with the Blues he struck up a good understanding with Luke Beckett and the pair looked on course to help Atkins achieve a Houdini act and keep the Chester in the league, but the striker's recall to the Bescot Stadium a month before the end of the fateful 1999/2000 season would bring an end to his short career in the blue and white stripes.

Eyjolfsson's career is one of those rare kinds that has proved more fascinating after his playing days had come to an end. But his success as technical director of the Icelandic FA, head coach of the nation's women's team and his mark on the Icelandic game over the past decade is all down to hard work, planning and a steely determination to effect the footballing future of his nation in a positive manner.

Eyjolfsson left Iceland for America in 1995 to pursue a bachelor's degree in exercise and sports science and then a master's in exercise and sports psychology at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. The previous season he had helped his side, KR Reykjavik, to the 1994 Icelandic Cup, but, despite his tender years, the striker had already began to map out his life after football.

Siggi Eyjolfsson in his Chester City days
Siggi Eyjolfsson in his Chester City days

Playing football remained a constant for Eyjolfsson stateside, though, with the Icelander playing for the UNC Greensboro Spartans at NCAA Division One level, the highest rung of American college sports. While a Spartan, Eyjolfsson helped his team-mates to the regular season SoCon (Southern Conference) league title in 1997, their maiden league triumph.

It was his time in America that brought him to UK shores and to the West Midlands in 1999 to link up with the Saddlers, then under the stewardship of ex-Aston Villa stalwart Ray Graydon.

Eyjolfsson was one of a growing band of Icelanders starting to try their hand at the Football League. The likes of Hermann Hriedarsson, Heidar Helguson, Eidur Gudjohnsen and twin brothers Bjarki and Arnar Gunnlaugsson all arrived in English football in the late 1990s, all aiming to make the step up from the Icelandic Premier League and follow a trail blazed by Siggi Jonsson and Gudni Bergsson, who both arrived in the Football League in the late 1980s.

“I had the chance to go and study in America, get my education and still play football, it was a golden opportunity for me,” said Eyjolfsson, who is now assistant coach and Norwegian Tippeligaen side Lillestrøm SK.

“I did two degrees while I was there and it was while I was in the US that Walsall offered me a trial. A scout called Graham Smith had seen me play for my university and gave me the chance to come over and join the club.

“I had been entered in the 1998 MLS draft and was invited to the combine event in Florida, but I decided I would take the chance to play in the UK.

“There were lots of Icelandic players in the English league at that time. I loved every minute of playing in England, although the game was far more physical than I had been used to previously.

“I took some time to get into the team because I'd arrived at a time when we were doing well. We were promoted to Division One at the end of that season but the following year we struggled and I wasn't getting the game time I was wanting.

“Ray Graydon said that a loan would do me good and I ended up going to Chester, who were bottom of the league at that time.

“Ian Atkins was a good manager who trusted me and my game and he played me from the very start. The results for the team started to improve and I scored a few goals but Walsall wanted me back. There was talk about extending my loan until the end of the season but I wanted to fight for my place in the Walsall team. I scored on my first game back, against Huddersfield I think, but things didn't go my way after that.

Despite his popularity among Saddlers fans, Eyjolfsson departed Walsall in the summer of 2000 and packed up his belongings for another sojourn in Europe, this time spending a season with Belgian Pro-League side KRC Harelbeke.

He then returned to his native Iceland, once again with KR Reykjavik, where he won two league titles in two years. But far from being downbeat about his spells away from the Icelandic game failing to live up to his own expectations, Eyjolfsson had designs on a career in football after he hung up his boots and began studying for his coaching qualifications.

Despite still being in his prime on the pitch, Eyjolfsson decided to throw his hat into the ring for the technical director's job with the Icelandic FA. Despite being just 29 and applying for a role traditionally held by far more experienced heads, he was successful.

“I had always wanted to be a coach, even from the start of my playing career, there was just something about being able to inspire and influence players that really appealed to me,” said Eyjolfsson, who achieved his Uefa pro licence in 2007, making him just one of two Icelanders to hold the qualification at the time.

Eyjolfsson's youth and drive made him a perfect candidate to help lead an Icelandic coaching revolution. A nation with a population of just 330,000, that had to cope with the harshest of winters and could play football just five months of the year, was stirring from its slumber.

“When I was coming up through the system we could only play five months of the year because of the winter and the frozen pitches,” he said.

“You couldn't even stop the session to discuss with the players and other coaches because you had to keep moving because of the cold.

“But the past 15 years or so have seen winter facilities built, meaning we can now play football the whole year through and get to actually coach these players properly.”

When Eyjolfsson took on the mantle of technical director there was one thing he was keen to address: the level of coaching.

His role with the FA saw him design coaching courses for all levels, help develop elite talent and provide pathways to success with clubs. It was a role he took on with great relish and one where the results of his and his team's hard labour have paid enormous dividends.

“The biggest part of my job was coaching education and making sure that we improved it,” said Eyjolfsson, now 42.

“We had to design courses from scratch and we had to make sure that Iceland could finally offer A and B licence coaching qualifications, something that they couldn't do beforehand.

“We designed the courses and what our young players should be taught coming through the system. We were trying to bring the country into the modern day in terms of coaching and wanted to put down the foundations to build on in the future.”

His sterling work didn't go unnoticed by the Icelandic FA hierarchy and he was appointed women's national team manager in 2007 and was able to use his academic background to tap into the psychological side of coaching, combining his new role with that of head of education at the FA.

Before his time at the helm of the women's side, no senior national side had reached a major tournament, but Eyjolfsson soon put paid to that particular millstone.

They qualified for the Uefa Women's Euro 2009 competition in Finland, even beating France 1-0 in en route to the competition.

They lost all three games in 2009 but bounced back to secure qualification to the 2013 Euros in Germany, this time making it out of their group before falling at the quarter-final stage.

“We had under-17 teams that had made it to major competitions but it was the first time that we had a senior Icelandic team make a major competition and we managed to make two in a row,” recalled Eyjolfsson.

“We were seeing the benefit of better coaching and having the use of winter facilities. The players were fantastic and it really showed that Iceland were a nation that should be taken seriously on the international stage.”

Eyjolfsson had been at the forefront of a remarkable revolution in Icelandic football and helped shape a brighter future for a nation that had long been ranked alongside football's minnows.

Although quick to point out that the rise of the Icelandic game is down to a concerted team effort from top to bottom, it is hard to ignore the rapid rise of the game in Eyjolfsson's homeland since he first stepped through the door as technical director in 2002.

A monumental overhaul of the way the game is coached, opportunities for coaches to develop their skills and qualifications, facilities to provided football round the year and improved pathways for talented players have all come about during his time in the role. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that the national men's team have risen over 100 places in the FIFA rankings.

But having achieved so much unprecedented success, all by his early 40s, Eyjolfsson still had an itch that he had not yet scratched and yearned for a crack at carving himself out a successful career as a head coach in his own right, this time in the men's game.

“I am very proud of what I have achieved in the role and how the hard work of so many people has helped Icelandic football,” enthused Eyjolfsson.

“It is in the best shape it has ever been, but I started to think about what I wanted to achieve as a coach, personally. I wanted to manage and try and make a career as a head coach in the men's game, but there seems to be negative perception among European clubs about Icelandic coaches, there aren't too many.”

You would think that, given his tremendous CV and track record of success in the face of adversity, clubs across Europe would be scrambling to give a young head coach who had achieved so much a crack at his first job. The reality was different, but Eyjolfsson did land the head coaches job at Icelandic Premier League side IBV, a club based in Vestmannaeyjar on the south coast of the country, in 2014.

He would find a link back to his time at Chester during his spell at IBV, though, with Chester-born ex-Crewe Alexandra striker Ian Jeffs, a mainstay of the Icelandic league for well over a decade, among his squad.

But his stint with IBV would be short-lived and he answered a call from compatriot Runar Kristinsson, head coach of Lillestrøm SK and Iceland's most capped international, and agreed to make the switch to Norway.

“It has been a great experience so far and I'm learning all the time as an assistant coach,” said Eyjolfsson.

“When the offer came up I knew that it would be a good chance for me to make a name for myself as an assistant and that it would help me try and take my own coaching career to the next level.

“We're currently in pre-season training and were just beaten by Newcastle United last week in a warm-up match. We finished eighth last season, but we think we can do better than that this time around.”

And what of his prospects of achieving a head coaches role of his own in Europe? Eyjolfsson acknowledges that despite all he has achieved in his time in Iceland, the fact his name doesn't carry much weight from his playing days is always likely to prove a stumbling block.

“You know, it's funny. All these jobs across Europe seem to go to players who have a big name or who fans remember as being a great player, it has nothing to do with whether they are a good coach or not,” he said.

“Most of these big players have no experience of coaching yet get the opportunities. I hope that what I have achieved as a coach will stand for something and that someone, somewhere will give me a chance as head coach in Europe. I feel that I merit that opportunity at least.

“You look across Europe and you see that a lot of these coaches and technical directors are from the Netherlands and places like that. Well, Iceland beat the Netherlands twice in qualifying despite having just 20,000 people playing football in our nation, so what does that tell you?

“There is always the chance to go back to the Icelandic FA at some point, but I feel that they are in a far stronger place now than when I first arrived. I want to concentrate on me and my career now.”

And when Iceland do make their entrance to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard this summer, Eyjolfsson will be watching on proud in the knowledge that he was able to play some part in one of international football's most rapid rises.

“It will be a huge moment for us as a nation and we will all be very proud,” he said.

“What we wanted to achieve at the beginning is being realised now and I think that things can only get better. I will be there in France watching I hope, but it's a moment that will fill me with pride wherever I watch it.”