When Cecilia Ran Runarsdottir, Iceland's teenage goalkeeper, made her senior debut, she was only 13 years old. Fast-forward five years and she has since become her country’s youngest-ever shot-stopper, signed for one of the world’s biggest clubs, Bayern Munich, and is now set for her first full season in one of the world's best leagues.
The 19-year-old was set to be part of Iceland's squad at the Women's Euros this summer too, her first major tournament. A broken finger sadly ruled her out at short notice, but she did get the opportunity to experience it with her team, staying in England to soak in a special atmosphere.
When GOAL speaks to Thorsteinn Magnusson, Runarsdottir’s first goalkeeper coach, then, there is one burning question: How does a goalkeeper make such an impact at such a young age?
His answer is simple. “That’s down to character.”
That Runarsdottir became a goalkeeper was by chance. She had been playing football for a few years when, aged 10, her team needed someone to go in between the sticks at a tournament.
Two years later, Magnusson spotted her at a goalkeeper school put on by the Football Association of Iceland. Recalling the day, the words “there was something special” are uttered several times over.
From there, he took her under his wing and worked to bring her potential out. It took only a year until she was playing senior football in Iceland’s second division.
“At that time, it was just so natural for me because I always wanted to play, I always wanted more and, obviously, I had a great goalkeeper coach, Thorsteinn, who helped me a lot,” Runarsdottir tells GOAL.
“When you look back, you're just so thankful for the opportunities that the coaches gave you. You don't realise it at the time – because you always want to play, you're just thinking about that – but it's crazy to put a 13-year-old in goal.
“[The people around me] always just saw how hard I worked and they knew I deserved it. They knew I was good enough. For them, it wasn't so surprising, but I think it must be surprising when you're watching the game to see a 13-year-old, really tall goalkeeper come in!”
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“You have to see the way she was coached,” Magnusson adds, explaining how she has been able to break into the senior game so young.
“She was coached as, 'What is your role as a goalkeeper? It doesn't matter who you're playing with, or who you're playing against. You always have that role.'”
It’s one thing for a coach to say that – it’s another for the player to genuinely think it. And Runarsdottir does.
After making her breakthrough with Afturelding in Iceland, she signed for Fylkir in the top division. Following her first season with the club, she earned her first call-up to the senior national team and, a few months later, made her debut.
Aged 16 years, seven months and seven days, she was her country’s youngest goalkeeper, beating the previous record by 148 days.
Named the Young Player of the Year in the Icelandic top flight in her second season, she soon started to attract attention from abroad.
She moved to Sweden, which has one of the best leagues in the world for developing young talent, before signing a contract with Everton and, this summer, switching to Bayern Munich.
When asked if she ever thinks about the star names she is training and playing with in Germany, Runarsdottir replies with an answer that mirrors what Magnusson said.
“When I first walked into the dressing room, you recognise all these faces and all these names,” she says. “But I think as soon as you step on the field, you're not thinking [about that].”
The work that has gone into making Runarsdottir one of the most exciting young goalkeepers in the world is not just about psychology, of course.
“We were training six days a week,” Magnusson recalls of them first working together. “It was a little bit hard for her – you can imagine, the girl is just going to be 13 years old. But she never gave in.
“After about two or three weeks, I had to change the training schedule because she was doing really well. It was unbelievable to see how quickly she was adapting and realising what she had to do to be a goalkeeper.
"Right away, there was a big character and a really clever, intelligent person.”
He remembers the teenager kicking “400 to 500 balls” every day to improve her goal-kicks. He remembers the weighted vest she would train in “four times a week for four years” to get the “unbelievable” jumping ability she has now.
“Six times a week for four years, it didn’t matter if it was snowing or raining, we always went out [to train],” he adds. “She never had an excuse to not go.”
One other thing that Runarsdottir and Magnusson did when they first started to work together was write down some goals.
One was to make the senior national team in six to eight years. “And we were a couple of years early!” Magnusson laughs.
Runarsdottir believes that “crazy” moment is the achievement she is most proud of so far. There are likely to be a lot more to come, too.
She’s played abroad now, lived on her own and been in an environment that has given her a taste of the highest level.
“Bayern Munich is one of the best teams in the world and you just see, 'Okay, this is the level. This is what you're aiming for',” she explains.
The 19-year-old can aspire to do anything, but her goals are quite simple. First, of all, she wants to help Iceland qualify for the Women's World Cup for the first time.
Besides that? “I always want to be better, give 100 per cent, help my team-mates and be a good person,” she adds.
With that attitude, an elite mentality and tireless work ethic, it’s no wonder this talented teenager has already ticked off some big goals – and she’s only getting started.