Thursday, February 28, 2013

Competition - win a Jari Litmanen t-shirt by 8BitFootball

As part of a collaboration with the genius of 8bit-football.com, he has created an image of Finland and Ajax legend Jari Litmanen celebrating his goal against another European goal for Ajax.


For a chance to win a t-shirt featuring this image, we're running a competition.

To enter, just answer the following question:

Q: Who did Ajax defeat in the semi-final of the Champions League in 1995?

To enter, send an email to rich@escapetosuomi.com with your name, address, t-shirt size and preferred colour.
Entries must be received by 2359 on Monday 4th March 2013.
Winners will be chosen at random.

If you'd like to buy this top, or any other great merchandise featuring 8bitfootball designs, click here.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Scotland v Finland, September 1976 - the programme

The next piece in our series looking at old programmes featuring Finnish clubs looks at the international friendly between Scotland and Finland at Hampden Park in September 1976, purchased from eBay for a bargain 99p.

As discussed in the programme for the England game, qualification for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina was underway, for Finland at least. As part of the now very small qualifying period, Scotland were in a group seven with only two other teams (then-European champions Czechoslovakia and Wales) and were yet to start. Finland meanwhile had lost their only game, at home to England.

So the programme for this friendly international...

Very 70s

The programme was available for 10p - about half the price of a loaf of bread. But poorer value for money than the England edition - this was only eight pages long, including two full page adverts in the rear.

The cover itself is a quirky design, seemingly merging some Bay City Rollers-esque font with a stylised Nordic cross design, covering images of Scotland's recent match against Northern Ireland in the British Home Championship.

The inside cover

Page 2 goes straight into the Finland squad (with profiles) - after a short paragraph including a quote from manager Aulis Rytkonen talking about the "mature and experienced Scots". Pen pics of Goran Enckelman (whose son Peter would sign for St Johnstone and Hearts), Erkki Vihtila, Olavi Rissanen and Pertti Jantunen.

The profiles are fairly in depth, with age, position, club, caps, height and weight. It had some interesting facts, such as Enckelman being a gymnastics teacher at Turku Classical College, and that four of the squad were firemen.

 Surprisingly thorough

Page 3 stunner is Ian Archer of the Glasgow Herald, with some facts and figures about Finnish football, as well as the impact of World Cup revenue on the Scottish FA (Scotland earned around £200,000 from the 1974 World Cup). Some stereotypes are bandied around - Finland is a gritty place, severe climate and of Spartan character.  Basic numbers include that there were 800 clubs, and that Finnish baseball is a popular pasttime.

We're even treated to a quiz about the previous World Cup - answers to follow!

Finland in sky blue

Page 4 gives a splash of colour - the Finland squad pose in their light blue kits, and if you look closely... You can see a blue top randomly discarded on a bush in the background, while a very 70s yellow football (with black panelling) sits to the side of the group.

Underneath are some figures, with Finland's results under Rytkonen, and previous results between the two sides (Scotland had won all three). The previous fixture in 1965 was in Helsinki, and Scotland won 2-1 - there's a list of the Scotland players from that day, including famous names like Denis Law and Billy McNeill.

Next is the squad list, with the match details.

Line-ups

The Finland squad has already been covered, but there are also several recognisable names in the home team. Archie Gemmell (before that goal in 1978), future Arsenal manager Bruce Rioch, a young Andy Gray, and their star player Kenny Dalglish, still of Celtic.

According to the page, Scotland had pre-informed that they will use no more than two substitutions, while Finland could use three "if they so desire". Certainly none of the full team changes in some friendlies these days.

Supporters were also advised to exercise the utmost care when leaving the ground. There's no qualifying statement, perhaps an indictment of conditions of 1976 Hampden Park. The notice below states that the entertainment (other than the game of course) would be provided by the military band of the King's Own Scottish Borderers...

The lone pro (Arto Tolsa)

The final page of interest (the other two pages are ads, and nothing exciting) is by Ken Robertson of the Scottish Sunday Express. It opens with interest in Finland's belief that they can qualify for the 1978 World Cup, from their group with England, Italy and Luxembourg.

In Finland's previous encounters with Italy in qualification for 1976, they drew 0-0 in Rome and lost 1-0 in Helsinki. The piece continues talking about Finland's only full-time professional in those ties, defender Arto Tolsa of Belgian club Beerschot. Apparently known as Finland's Franz Beckenbauer (praise indeed), he was missing from the squad to face Scotland due to knee injury. There's humour in remembering Kai Pahlman, who was a musician as a day job, and Juhani Peltonen, who played for (West) German club Hamburg.

The answers to the quiz above are here too!

The match itself ended 6-0 to the hosts. Unfortunately I couldn't find video highlights. Goals from Rioch, Don Masson (penalty), Dalglish, Andy Gray (x2) and Eddie Gray led to a convincing victory. Scotland did get to Argentina in 1978, losing to Peru, drawing with Iran, and beating eventual runners-up Holland.

1976 Scotland (celebrating their Home Nations Championship)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kuningas Litmanen Part III - Barcelona, Liverpool and back to Ajax

Because of the timeline of the documentary, I've decided to separate the remainder of the film into club and country. This part will cover leaving Ajax, and the rest of his club career.

Back at Helsinki

After leaving Ajax, we see Jari being unveiled at HJK in Helsinki in 2011 - and news footage about his statue in Lahti being vandalised. The head had been damaged, while the base had been burned and cracked. Litmanen said it was getting harder, and that Lahti had been another chapter in the road.

The first of several clips of Jari in hospital follow, with a doctor discussing the results of an MRI scan on his left knee...

We return to his later Ajax days, the failure in the 1996 Champions League final (despite Jari scoring in the match, and converting in the shootout), and his only red card for Ajax, at Volendam in 1997.

Sent off (around 2:30)

The red card was so out of character that Danny Blind went round to Jari's house after the game to ask if anything was wrong at home... Jari said he'd run into space, and straight into a fist. The defender had been harassing him, and decided to knee him in the stomach. Team manager David Endt talked of how often Jari was kicked, that this was the only time he reacted - was the solitary red card a sign of his sportsmanship?

Jari talks of his final days at Ajax being littered with injury. He may stay fit for a month, then be out for a month. Ronald de Boer called him the glass man, and recalls a time when Jari played a rare ninety minutes, then hurt his back getting into his Corvette. Louis van Gaal was of the opinion that Jari wasn't mentally strong during injury. Jari himself mentioned how constantly playing 2 games a week was crazy, and needed pain relief to focus more on games.
Jari receives treatment

Physio Jari-Pekka Keurulainen reckons Jari's right ankle should have been operated on in the 1990s, but it wasn't done until 2006. Jari's first operation was in 1984, yet he still carried on playing football with a cast on his right leg. Tommi Kautonen was told that it was fine, and laughs at Jari's insistance on playing on with it.

Ronald de Boer and Edwin van der Sar joked about how often Jari spent in the physio room, so much that he had his own bed - even the Ajax physio Pim van Dord joined in, saying there was one bed he wouldn't allow anyone else to use.

So Jari's final home game (also the final match of Danny Blind and van der Sar) was at home to RKC Waalwijk on May 16th 1999. A 2-0 victory, sealed with Litmanen tapping the ball into an empty net. At the final whistle, the three departing players were in tears, and Jari gave the crowd an emotional speech, thanking the fans for their wonderful support. David Endt had to withdraw himself to the dressing room in tears.


 Saying farewell

Jari described the changing of Ajax, that most of his former colleagues had left, and was left with a decision - sign a new deal and never leave, or see something else.

And so we see Jari in the Nou Camp, Barcelona...


Surveying his former stomping ground

At the Barcelona training ground, Jari is reunited with former team-mates (and current Barcelona starts) Carles Puyol and Xavi. Jari said he'd seen the Spanish league, and Barcelona as one of the biggest clubs in the world (remember Jari had trained with the club in 1992, see part 1). The coach Louis van Gaal wanted him, and he knew several of the players from Holland, as van Gaal had brought with him several Dutch players (Reiziger, both de Boer brothers, Cocu, Kluivert, Bogarde, Zenden).

Inside the Nou Camp, Litmanen uses his hometown of Lahti as a point of reference - Lahti's population was around 100,000, only slightly larger than the capacity of the stadium. He walks along the turf, commenting on the perfect pitch.

Carles Puyol said they knew of him previously, such a skilled player at Ajax. He even said he blew fire into the team. Xavi talks of being an 18-19 year old beginner, finding life under van Gaal difficult. Jari became a friend, always helping and becoming encouraging. Van Gaal suggested to Xavi to watch Jari play and practise, to learn his control and making space.

Carles Puyol                                          Xavi

Puyol recalls Jari staying after training to practise his shooting, Xavi remembered how he'd line up 7-8 balls and shoot them all into the net. Then the talk of saunas... Xavi remembered Jari having a sauna every day, walking in naked but for his football boots, advising how they mould to the foot better... Even Jari's cobbler back in Lahti remembers getting a bag of boots from Barcelona. Jari had a particular requirement for stud placement at the rear of the boot for more support, and he trusted Tuomo Rokka.

Back to Jari on the pitch, he admits not scoring many goals, but a special one from a Kluivert pass. He said there were 3 to 4 internationals in each position, and when fit he'd need to compete with them, but the first season was difficult with injuries.

A candid van Gaal admits that Jari found it hard, the system was set for him with two number 10s, but the pace of Spain compared to Holland didn't help. Van Gaal was replaced by Llorenç Serra Ferrer, and Jari was told he'd need a new club. Then teammate Marc Overmars said it was due to the club having no structure on or off the pitch. In January 2001 Jari moved to the club he supported as a boy...

"We always touch the sign"

Litmanen was signed by Gerard Houllier in the season Liverpool won three trophies (FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup). Jari admitted that as boy he had supported Liverpool, and that this was the third time they had tried to sign him. We also hear Jari speak English for the first time, at the first press conference, talking of his favourite players being Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish as they'd played in his position.

He chose to wear the number 37 shirt (3+7 = 10), as Smicer had the famous 7 shirt, and Michael Owen had the number 10 jersey. His new boss enthused about Jari's different qualities, and how they'd compliment his current strikers (Owen, Robbie Fowler, Emile Heskey).

Current Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was in the squad when Jari arrived, and like Xavi was full of praise for Litmanen's way with younger players, being supportive. But it was his skill in training that amazed Gerrard, his movement and skill a class apart.

The heavy Scouse accent required subtitles

We see some footage of Jari scoring his first Liverpool goal, a penalty at Sunderland, while Edwin van der Sar recalls how he misjudged a bounce while playing for Fulham at Craven Cottage, and Litmanen beat him and rolled the ball into an open goal, although he was hoping that the producers of the DVD wouldn't find footage of the goal. 

Jari spoke about the difficulties he found at Liverpool with the management. Houllier became ill, and was replaced for a number of months by assistant Phil Thompson. Jari was playing well at the time, and used the English saying "Never change a winning team". But Thompson did, and tolf Jari he wouldn't be playing much again. Even when Houillier returned, Jari found appearances hard to come by.

Highlights of Liverpool v Roma, 2001/02 

There's footage of a match between England and Finland at Anfield in 2001, where Jari broke his arm after a challenge with Rio Ferdinand (we'll cover this match in part 4), but it was here where his inury problems started at Liverpool.

Gerrard wishes Jari had stayed longer, to offer more to the club, and he was frustrated that Jari would sit unused on the bench, as he could create things from nothing. Sami Hyypiä was also surprised his compatriot didn't feature, as Jari was the best player in training and 5-a-side matches. Finland goalkeeper Antti Niemi recalls reading FourFourTwo magazine, where the president of a Liverpool supporter club said he wished Jari would leave the club, if only so that other people would get to enjoy watching him play.

So Jari came to the end of his Liverpool days in 2002 - so he decided to return to Ajax. But it wasn't straight-forward - he said he was offered a laughable contract, but thought it wasn't about the money. But the negotiations hurt his pride, and he eventually decided to go anyway.

In his second spell at Ajax

But quite simply, the move didn't go very well. Ajax weren't the club they were in the mid 90s, and some of the younger players didn't take Jari seriously, despite him being the first for training, and the last to leave. David Endt randomly names two players in particular "let's call them Wesley and Rafael" as laughing at him behind his back. Conveniently it was as Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart were celebrating a goal which Litmanen assisted.


The only then-player to give good feedback on camera was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then a raw 18 year old who had signed from Malmo. Zlatan (in English) said "He played behind me, he helped a lot and helped me improve. He was a quality player, easy to play with him and the combination was fantastic."


Zlatan played with Jari for Ajax


Endt described Zlatan as hungry to win and improve himself, he was big and wanted to show the world how good he was, but he had a small heart. Jari explains that the end of his second spell was very one-sided, he had no input and in 2004 he was released.


Antti Niemi remembers an international for Finland in Amsterdam, where their coach was halted by 500 Ajax fans trying to say farewell to their hero. They had flares, signs and it was a fantastic, emotional moment.


The rest of his club career is somewhat glossed over. He signed for FC Lahti in 2004, and quickly moved to German side Hansa Rostock in January 2005, who had fifteen games to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga. Despite his arrival, Rostock were relegated, but teammate Marcus Allbäck remembers Jari's enthusiasm, "he played with the football like a small child plays with a favourite toy".

Rostock against Bayern Munich

It was at Rostock that Jari received one of the strangest injuries - in the dressing room after a game, he asked someone to open a bottle of drink for him. An unnamed teammate attempted it with a snuff box, and the cap of the bottle went straight into Jari's eye. Even now he has problems seeing in bright sunlight.

The rest of his club career gets glossed over. A spell at Malmo gets a brief mention, but no mention of his spell with Fulham (0 matches), and nothing additional about his return to Lahti or HJK.

So that's the end of the club part of the DVD. We'll return soon with the final part of the summary, about his international career.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

England v Finland, October 1976 - the programme

As part of a new series, we're looking at some classic programmes between British and Finnish sides. It's pretty dependent on which programmes I can get from eBay though...

As part of qualification for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, England and Finland were both drawn in qualifying group 2 along with Italy and Luxembourg. Remember when groups only had four teams? The opening game of group 2 took place in Helsinki, between Finland and England, and ended 1-4 to the visitors.

So the return fixture took place on October 1976 at Wembley Stadium, and here is the match programme. It was Finland's first full visit to the Empire Stadium.


Having been to recent England internationals at Wembley, one of the first things you notice is the price. 20p! It's at least £5 for a programme for games these days. Taking inflation into account, 20p is now the equivalent of just under a pound. But, this is only twenty pages long. A penny per page (including adverts) is probably not that bad I guess.

The front cover shows a photo taken from the previous fixture in Helsinki, a goal scored by Kevin Keegan in the 30th minute to put England 1-2 ahead. Inside is a photo (and caption) for the goal, describing a delighted Keegan signalling his pleasure. A strange choice of phrase for someone in such short shorts.


England kit fans will appreciate the Admiral effort in the photo, along with Keegan's dapper wristbands.

Legendary football statistician Jack Rollins (author of the Rothman's Football Yearbook) has put some facts and figures about the two sides. A couple of them here: England are seeking their 300th win in full internationals, and that this fixture was the fifth time that England and Finland have met, England having won the previous four.


Jack Rollin goes on to give a history of England's previous World Cup qualifying campaigns. Only two short paragraphs catalogue 1966 (as England didn't have to qualify, being hosts), but a lot was made of the failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. There was some minor reminiscing over a pre-World Cup friendly in 1966 where England beat Finland 3-0.

The first set of pen pics shows the England squad, with brief descriptions and four photos - of Peter Shilton, Paul Madeley, a splendid photo of a young Ray Wilkins and Joe Royle. The summaries basically include the club, sum of their most recent transfer and their age.

Check out the hair on Butch

We see photos of England in action against Ireland from September, and a squad list.

Excuse the fold...

No match programme would be complete without an article on the opposition - and apparently FINLAND MUST NOT BE TREATED LIGHTLY!


Some mildly patronising comments such as "Naturally for Finland to compete at all so well at this level is a splendid advertisement for their enterprise and willingness to succeed" are quite entertaining in this more enlightened age, and then we're reminded that England gave football to Finland in 1890.

A brief history of Finnish football follows, touching on the 1912 Olympic side, and various failures to qualify for World Cups. There was a brief mention of the UEFA Youth Tournament final in Switzerland, where England narrowly won 1-0. Coach Aulis Rytkonen gets name-checked, that he was a former international himself.

We also get a bonus advert for previous match programmes, including the 1966 World Cup final, the 1962 European Cup final, and the 1976/77 Rothman's book for a bargain £2.50...

We gave them football!!

After some more adverts, for Zetters treble chances and the inter-varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge (35p for a standing ticket), we meet some of the Finnish players.

The photographs are of Göran Enckelman  of TPS (father of former Aston Villa keeper Peter), Erkki Vihtilä of Ilves, Ari Mäkynen of VPS, Ramio Vierikko of MiPK Mikkeli and Matti Paatelainen of Haka, the captain of the side and father of current coach Mixu.

Like an FA Cup match of today, the programme likes to remind us of the day jobs of the Finns, most of whom were amateurs. Vihtela was an electrician, Makynen was a fireman, Vierrikko a student, Jouko Suomalainen an insurance agent, Aki and Esa Heiskanen were also firemen, and Jyrki Nieminen a computer operator on the railway. I'd love to know what puns the British tabloid press had prepared for them if they scored...

Meet the Finns

So that is the programme. The game itself finished 2-1 to England - Man City's Dennis Tueart scored after four minutes, before the computer operator (and HJK forward) Nieminen replied for Finland. Joe Royle scored the winner after 51 minutes. England finished second in the group, on goal difference behind Italy. Finland ended up third, only taking points from two wins over Luxembourg.

Highlights of England 2-1 Finland in 1976

I'll be giving this programme away as a competition prize in the near future. Follow my Twitter for more information, and you can get your hands on a piece of history.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The IV KOMIA tournament 13th-16th February

The second tournament of the week takes place in Seinäjoki, from Wednesday 13th to Saturday 16th February.


Here is a rundown of the teams involved, and details on how to attend.

SJK

Hosts of the tournament, and silver medallists in the 2012 Ykkönen. Their playing squad includes two British players, in Welsh defender Richard Dorman and English midfielder Chris Cleaver. Scheduled to play FC Inter and VPS, so a good test against top flight opponents.





Finland U21s

The U21s get a run-out as well, and good experience for a lot of players from the Finnish league. Only Daniel O´Shaughnessy of Metz is involved from abroad. The players have been involved in a training camp recently, and learned their opponents for the next Euro U21 qualifiers, including tough opponents in England and Wales. Scheduled to play Mjällby and Nõmme Kalju.

Mjällby AIF

Famous Swedish club, who finished 12th in the Allsvenskan in 2012. Under new management, but will still be a test for their opponents, who will be Finland U21s and Nõmme Kalju.
Nõmme Kalju

The 2012 Estonian champions (for the first time). Previous experience of playing Finns after playing Honka in the Europa League in 2011, and lost in a friendly to FC Inter last week. Will play Mjällby and Finland U21s.






FC Inter Turku

Runners-up in the 2012 Veikkausliiga, their only victory coming back in 2008. Have lost Mika Ojala and Joni Kauko but brought in Tamás Gruborovics from JJK. Inter still have 2012 league top scorer Irakli Sirbiladze to rely on for goals, but he's injured and won't feature this week. Only one point from three Liigacup matches so far. Will face SJK and VPS.




VPS

8th in 2012, their joint best finish since their return to the top flight in 2006. But VPS have lost their Jamaican striker Steven Morrissey (now in Denmark), and only one point from their opening three Liigacup matches. Will play Inter and SJK.








Saturday will see matches to decide 5th/6th place, 3rd/4th place, and the final. The matches will take place in the Wallsport Arena, and tickets for all matches are available here.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Vantaa Tournament 13th-16th February

With the Liigacup now in full swing, and everyone having played, what better time to have a break, and allow the Veikkausliiga clubs a chance to play some different opposition…

Two tournaments are taking place this week, in Vantaa and Seinäjoki, which see several familiar faces take on opponents from beyond the shores of Finland.


We'll start with the Vantaa Tournament, and have a brief look at the teams involved, and where to get tickets should you be inclined to go watch...
 

HJK

Champions of Finland for the last four years, HJK have already started 2013 well with 3 out of 3 Liigacup wins, and playing well in Spain against FC Twente and Strømsgodset. Have added experience to the side in Mikael Forssell and Teemu Tainio, and retained forward Joel Pohjanpalo, until August at least.





TPS 

The 2012 bronze medallists in the Veikkausliiga, and are unbeaten in four Liigacup matches so far (they won it in 2012). Look to have strengthened over the winter with English midfielder Wayne Brown returning and Honka's midfielder Duarte Tammilehto likely to sign soon.





Djurgårdens IF

Recently the strongest team in Sweden but have gone throughdifficult times and finished 9th in 2012. Captained by Finn Joona Toivio, and until recently, home to international Kasper Hämäläinen (now at Lech Poznan of Poland).





FC Flora
 
Bronze medallists in the Estonian league in 2012, they knocked Haka out of the 1996/97 UEFA Cup. Now under a new coach in former international Marko Lelov. Former team of Mart Poom and Jonatan Johansson.






Hønefoss BK

13th in the 2012 Norwegian Tippeligaen, and home to former TPS striker Riku Riski (and midfielder Toni Kolehmainen). Promoted back to the top division after relegation in 2010.







 FC Lahti
 
Surprised many on their return to the Veikkausliiga by finishing strongly to come 5th in 2012. Have brought in defenders Markus Joenmäki and Pyry Kärkkäinen from KuPS, and surprised many by signing young Inter midfielder Joni Kauko (until the summer at least). Formed in 1996 by the merger of Reipas and Kuusysi.





MYPA
 
Finished a reasonable 6th in 2012, and made it through the first qualifying round of the Europa League but lost in Romania. No such distractions in 2013, and look set to keep last season's top scorer Pekka Sihvola, who was busy trying to get a move over the winter. Played three Liigacup fixtures so far, won one, drawn one, lost one.






JJK
 
Finished a poor 9th in 2012, again got to the second qualifying round of the Europa League. A porous defence was the main cause for the low finish, but have not yet made any changes to the squad. Eero Markkanen looks the likely dangerman for 2013. One win and two draws from five Liigacup matches.





Skonto Rīga
 
One time permanent champions of Latvia, finished 2nd in 2012 under guidance of Marian Pahars, and won the Latvian Cup as well. Lost to Hadjuk Split in the Europa League, will return to the competition in the summer. Once the home of Arsenal 'legend' Igors Stepanovs.





PK-35 Vantaa

Finished fourth in the Ykkönen in 2012. The local team in the tournament, and have already defeated MYPA this pre-season, but lost to Haka last week. Will be challenging the top half of the table at the end of the season.



If you want tickets, they're available through Lippupalvelu.

We'll be looking at the IV-KOMIA tournament soon, watch this space.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Kuningas Litmanen Part II - Ajax

So the Litmanen story moves onto Amsterdam, and Ajax. Most of the interviews in this section, apart from those with Jari himself, are in English.

Ajax scout Ton Pronk was at the Suomen Cup final in 1992, and saw Jari. He describes the final as a "bad, bad, bad game" but he felt in his heart that Litmanen had the qualities that Ajax looks for, that he was the man. It was his preparations for the game that made him stand out initially, and he went off to Amsterdam... Where he was met by Ton, who took him straight to pre-season training, and this is where Louis van Gaal takes over.

Jari's first Ajax coach Louis van Gaal

Initially van Gaal wasn't impressed - Pronk had said he was at the right level, and had to convince van Gaal that Jari deserved to stay for the rest of the week, and Danny Blind describes how it was only a spate of injuries that meant Litmanen would get a fair go. It was only in small exercises that Jari first shone, the coach spoke glowingly about Litmanen's first touch, his ability to find space. He knew he'd make a perfect number 10, and fielded him in that position against an amateur side. Jari scored four goals.

Pronk smiles when van Gaal told him he was right after all...

Jari vs Portsmouth, Lahti 1993

Jari was happy to play as a number 10, but his expectations were managed, he was told he wouldn't play much because of Dennis Bergkamp. In a Finnish news clip, he was asked why he left MYPA, where he said it was for footballing reasons.

Litmanen arrives at Ajax's very modern looking training ground in February 2012, and meets some old friends. Coach Frank de Boer and director of football Marc Overmars both receive warm embraces, before journalist David Endt talks about Jari being seen as a rather unspectacular signing.

Captain Danny Blind remembers a young Jari

Danny Blind joins us, reminding that he and Frank Rijkaard were the elder statesmen of the team being in their early 30s, while the rest of the squad were in their late teens and early 20s. But he saw it their responsibility to help the younger foreign players settle in. Jari agrees, saying that he didn't feel like an outsider, and that as they all had one goal, it made life a lot easier.

Van Gaal eulogised that Litmanen's skill helped him settle, and that he was so open to learn from the coaches and players that it was only a matter of time. He had already started learning from Dennis Bergkamp, who was due to move to Spain in 1993.

Dennis himself speaks about the special position of 'shadow striker' that he had made his own. He knew Ajax were looking for other players to replace him, and initially Dan Petersen was the more likely candidate.

Jari's predecessor Dennis Bergkamp

Blind talks of van Gaal's early preference for Petersen, until the moment Jari got a run in the team. The coach himself had assumed that Litmanen was more of an attacking midfielder than a second forward, but his vision and awareness of space set him apart, plus he would defend more than Bergkamp...

Dennis left for Inter Milan in 1993, not Spain, and the captain described it as the beginning of a fantastic period for the club and for Jari. We see some clips of Jari lifting some trophies in his early days, the Dutch Super Cup in 1993 and 94, and the Eredivisie in 1994 as well.

 At the old Ajax stadium

We return to Jari walking around Ajax's then home, the Olympisch Stadion. He talks of his finest games being played in this ground, and his first great goal, a solo effort against PSV Eindhoven (below). Jari ended that season as top scorer with 26 goals, and was voted Footballer of the Year, an honour he prized.

 
Jari's first great goal for Ajax

He was happy with the style of football that Ajax played, just like Barcelona but not quite at the same level. It was a team of individuals, which emphasised his own skills of moving between the lines. Van Gaal was pleased that he had developed Jari more, that he was always open for the next pass. Litmanen reckons that Ajax (and the coach) improved him by 10-15%, as he feels like Finland had taught him the basics.

Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar remembered how keen Litmanen was to stay behind after training, with Marc Overmars and Edgar Davids, crossing and shooting at the keeper. His other former team-mates join in, Ronald de Boer was surprised by his determination, and Blind impressed with his focus and shooting techniques.

Not a bad couple of players

Overmars however gently mocked Litmanen's stretching techniques, using tubes to stretch with. Frank de Boer joins in, laughing at how Jari would even stretch in the bathroom for ages, but how he learnt the Dutch sense of humour. Van der Sar smiled when thinking of how he took it to the extreme.

An old interview with Rijkaard is shown from 1994, where he talks of Jari being their strongest player, and the main attraction. Van Gaal talks of the marvellous season, all the goals. Sami Hyypiä returns, and remembers when he played for Willem II, and how Litmanen destroyed them on the day they clinched the title - go too near him and he drops further back, or give him space and he'll play the killer pass.

Jari and Jari and Jari and Jari and Jari...

A chat with a rather eccentric Dutch man reveals how his pregnant girlfriend may call their child Jari, and then we find an interesting fact - since the mid-1990s, there had been 1587 boys born in Holland called Jari... The photo above shows the original with some of his namesakes. Even van der Sar's sister had a cat called Jari.

So to his greatest triumph, the 1994-95 European Cup. The first footage we see is from the group stage clash against the holders AC Milan. Jari and Rijkaard dominated, and we see Jari score from an Overmars cross, while van der Sar talked happily about wanting to swap shirts with their opponents.

Highlights of Ajax 2-0 Milan

Jari remembers winning both group games against Milan, both 2-0, and that he scored in both games. He scored a goal which was deemed strange by David Endt, by the way he narrowed the angle... But Jari used his early days as an ice hockey player, by committing the goalkeeper and putting it into the opposite corner.

The next real footage concentrates on Ajax's semi-final victory over Bayern Munich. The first leg in Bavaria finished 0-0, but the second leg was what Endt describes as one of Litmanen's finest. Ronald de Boer reckons that this Ajax team were the best in the world of that period, and this game would help that claim. After scoring the first goal, Jari was under a huge pile of players, and could only recognise himself from the boots.

But the real classy goal was to come, and it wasn't even scored by Jari (although he was involved). Overmars cut in from the right, rolled the ball along the edge of the box towards Litmanen. But he stepped over the ball, fooling the defender, while Finidi George strode forward and struck a beauty into the top right corner. Ajax went onto win the match, and the tie, 5-2, and reach the final where they'd face Milan again, in Vienna.

Highlights of Ajax 5-2 Bayern Munich

David Endt tells us that while Jari was ultimately happy to win the cup (come on, you all know how it ends), his biggest regret was that he couldn't put his stamp on the final. A temperature and some allergy problems meant he played below his usual standards, and was replaced by the match-winner Patrick Kluivert after seventy minutes, while Van Gaal said he knew it was a close game.

Highlights of the 1995 European Cup final

After the match, Jari sat proudly with the trophy while he was interviewed, and said it was the highlight of his football career. The three years had been a fantastic time, but that he believed that it wasn't the end.

With the Big Cup

We re-join Jari in 2012 as he looks at the jersey he wore in the final, along with the associated trinkets. It felt wonderful then, and looking back it was a highlight. If he had to choose one moment from his career, that would be it.

Jari's shirt from the 1995 final

The next scene is on the canals of Amsterdam, with seemingly the entire city celebrating the triumph. He admits it's nothing like anything in Finland, and the triumph crowned an unbelievable year. We see Jari presented with that year's Intercontinental Cup, won against Gremio in Japan in front of 47,000.

We see a clip of Litmanen receiving his silver medal in 1996. Despite scoring in the final, and in the penalty shootout, Juventus won the cup with big ears. Not a lot was said about this game... Although the general vibe was that it was a huge disappointment.

Runner-up in 1996

We meet some die-hard Ajax fans, with huge Litmanen jersey collections, including their efforts to get to Lahti in 2010 to get his latest Jersey. Even more people show off some tattoos of their hero... A Finn living in Amsterdam used him as her inspiration to recover from a serious illness, and she lived to tell the tale.

So the Ajax spell ends, and fast-forwards to 2011 and his return to Helsinki. The strange time line of the DVD means that I'll probably look to cover his time at Barcelona and Liverpool next. See you soon, in the meantime here is a clip of Jari Litmanen's top 10 Ajax goals.

Jari's top 10 Ajax goals