Former Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper Jonathan Faerber is headed back to Iceland to continue his amazing footballing odyssey that has taken him around the world.
With the Icelandic Men’s Premier League, known as the Úrvalsdeild karla, next season kicking off in March, Faerber is out to win another contract in the remote European outpost.
The Australian keeper has spent the past three seasons in Iceland playing for local clubs Reynir Sandgerði, Keflavik IF and UMF Tindastoll. It is the latest stop in Faerber’s incredible journey that has taken him to both Germany and the United States.
The 31-year-old from Sydney’s north shore has already had spells in Iceland’s fourth tier and second tier, as well as a stint in the top flight.
“I’m looking to step it up a notch,” he told The World Game.
“I’ll be back there early to jump in a few clubs’ training and see what happens. Last season I ended up moving north to join a club in the second league.
“I enjoyed it, it was good. [But] the standard was definitely a step back and that’s what I’m looking to rectify now. I want to be back in the Icelandic Premier League and that’s where I feel I belong.
“That’s the goal.”
Iceland might only have a population of around 360,000 but the country punches well above its weight in football. Strákarnir okkar are ranked 39th in the world and qualified for both Euro 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Faerber says the Icelandic people are “football-mad”.
“It consistently blows my mind how good the quality of football is in a country as small as Iceland,” he admitted.
“Actually having lived there for a while now it doesn’t come as a big shock. They are absolutely football-mad.
“Strictly speaking they say handball is the number one sport but I don’t see it. Part of the reason they are so good is because the country is so small, also because they train hard and often.
“For such a small place they are very organized in the way they do it. They don’t have academies per se but almost every kid in Iceland plays football.
“From the age of about six years old they’re training five days a week in summer. It’s pretty intense. They really put the work in and a lot of the coaches are either internationals with high qualifications, or they’re locals who go out and visit mainland Europe and get an A, B, C license and then come back.
“One area that is lacking is the quality of goalkeeper-coaching. It’s a numbers game, they just don’t have enough people.
“But just about every Icelandic Premier League team and half of the second league have big indoor facilities. There’s also plenty of these indoor centres where there is not football clubs. These centres are everywhere.”
Faerber started playing football at the age of five with local junior club Wahroonga Tigers. He played across Sydney for several different state league clubs before eventually linking with the Central Coast Mariners.
“I sort of bounced around from club to club all over Sydney,” Faerber explains.
“When the A-League sort of kicked off my goalkeeper coach growing up was mostly John Crawley. He’s a quality coach and a quality man. He’s brilliant.
“I also did a lot of training with Jim Fraser as well. John was involved at the Mariners and he invited me in there, there was him, Danny Vukovic and Andrew Redmayne.
“I came in sort of a fourth goalkeeper, train-on sort of thing. It was a brilliant experience just to be there at the Mariners, I never got any game-time, but I was so far from getting into the A-League.”
With an opportunity in the A-League blocked, the dreadlocked shot-stopper decided to try his hand overseas.
“Then in my early twenties I started looking into options overseas because I just desperately wanted to get overseas as Australian football, for whatever reason, was just presenting a real roadblock,” he said.
“Partly I had a lot of work to do on my game, but also there was just not many options when it came to professional football. Even still now there’s only 11 A-League squads and that makes it tricky.
“I was desperate to really try and push professional football. My found a group where you would pay the opportunity to try out for some clubs in Germany, and I just thought lets do it.”
Faerber left Australia in 2014 to join FSV Erlangen-Bruck in the German fifth-tier. He spent the next two and half years in the European country, with stints with clubs TSV 1860 Rosenheim and TSV Buch, before eventually heading to the United States with his girlfriend.
“I went over there and found myself at a fifth-league squad,” he said.
“It was pretty ridiculous, it was near Nuremberg. It was a semi-pro squad but still. I played with them for a season then ended up finding my way to a fourth-league squad in Germany the following year, which was really good.
“So many of the reserve teams of the likes of Bayern Munich and FC Nuremberg are all in the fourth league. Then I ended my moving to a different town with my girlfriend and playing with a sixth-league club.
“Then I moved to America briefly and I thought to keep on moving and exploring. I moved to LA for a little while and I threw myself into a couple of combines.
“I sent a blind email to every professional squad in the USA with my resume, some video, from MLS teams to USAL 1, 2 and whatever the third league was. I think it was about 60 clubs.
“I got some responses, I ended up going to train with Portland Timbers’ second team, as well as Houston Dynamo’s second squad. I was bouncing all over the country and the same thing kept happening was we’d like to have you, do you have a green card.
“Which my answer was no I do not, and the response was we have a certain allocation of green cards to hand out and we have already handed those green cards out, so we cannot help you.”
But it was while in the United States that Faerber caught the eye of a number of Icelandic coaches. He quickly decided to take the plunge and go back to Europe.
“At one of the combines I went to there was a lot of representatives from Icelandic clubs,” he said.
“I put in a weekend of excellent football and at the end a couple of coaches came to me and said we don’t need goalkeepers right now but certainly someone in Iceland would be interested.
“So if you’re open to it would you like us to talk to a few people, and I said hell yeah. I had never considered Iceland an option, it was just not even on my radar. But I am an adventurous sort, I do like to take the path less travelled, and Iceland I just thought it would be an epic adventure if nothing else.
“A team in the fourth league said they’re interested in you, you have to be there at the end of the week. So within three days of getting that phone call I had my things packed and was on a flight to Iceland, not knowing I was going to go back to America.
“I thought I was going back. This team wanted to me to come and train and it was freezing cold. But it was a full-blown professional contract.
“They provided me with everything I needed – a house, a car, obviously a salary. “It blew my mind to land my first full professional contract in a country as small as Iceland, let alone in the fourth tier of that tiny country.”
Faerber spent one season with Reynir Sandgerði before managing to land a move to top flight side Keflavik FC. Keflavik have competed in the UEFA Champions League, the Europa League and the UEFA Cup in the past, and were once managed by Australian coach Ron Smith in the 1970s.
“I played for Reynir Sandgerði for a year, it was a rough year,” he said.
“But I had a decent season personally. That was only a one-year contract and so my contract was up and then club said we’re not going to have foreign players next season.
“I was hoping to jump up one league, small teams, but I got in touch with Keflavik through a contact. I met them and they gave me a trial. I did very well and they needed a goalkeeper.
“So I signed for a Premier League team from a fourth league club, which is almost unheard of. I managed to break into there.
“I played most of the season on the bench but I did get a chance, played a few games and did quite well. I was happy with how I played.”
While playing professionally in Iceland Faerber has also worked as a groundsman for his football club.
“In Iceland everybody has two jobs, it doesn’t matter who you are,” he explained.
“You can be a professional footballer or the prime minister of the country. You have two jobs, it’s just always the way because it’s too small a country.”
There is no end in sight to the wild and wonderful footballing journey the 31-year-old has embarked on. Faerber says he has no regrets about where is career has taken him so far.
“It’s been a wild ride,” he said.
“It seems to be the story of my career, it’s just all over the place. And I don’t see it stopping anytime soon, short of being struck by a meteorite. I love it, I really do love it.
“Playing football at the highest level is obviously paramount. Its what every athlete works for. But what I didn’t expect when I started and when I consciously decided to give it everything I’ve got, what I didn’t realize how good football can be as a vehicle for experiencing the world.
“It’s remarkable. The journey really is the destination.”