Friday, February 20, 2015

Interview with KuPS defender Dani Hatakka

Yet another interview, this time with Finland U21 defender Dani Hatakka, who has recently signed for KuPS after leaving Honka. Enjoy.

Dani in his new KuPS colours - photo via

You were the second highest scorer at the recent Commonwealth Cup with four goals - is that something you've worked on over the summer?
To be honest I've been focusing on different kind of things during the pre-season other than scoring goals, but I've always been quite strong in set pieces. In the ComCup, I guess I was just in a right place at the right time four times! Unfortunately I couldn't reach the top scorer title which was only one goal away!

Dani celebrating his four goals - photo via the Commonwealth Cup website

One of your goals was a fifty metre shot from a free kick - was that the best goal you've scored?
Well at least it was the most memorable goal so far but I'd like to think that my best goal is still coming somewhere in the future..

Hatakka from the half-way line - Vine via Oskari Karppinen

You were at Honka until recently, under difficult times. Did the uncertainty about the debts and future affect the players?
As crazy as it sounds, I think the players at Honka were used to our salaries not being paid on time. Of course we worried what will happen to our club and for us players. One thing we can proud of was that when it was time to go train we trained 100% professionally and there was no space for uncertainty.

You were the first team to be managed by Shefki Kuqi, was he as passionate behind the scenes? Did he encourage the players to swan dive after goals?
Shefki is very passionate when it comes to football. Behind the scenes, he is a very warm and kind person.

After a bad start last year, KuPS improved hugely under the new coach - how well do you think KuPS will do in 2015?
So far we've had a really good pre-season and I really feel there's a purpose, whatever we do in training. We haven't played well in the LiigaCup but I feel very confident and I can't wait for the season to start!

Which players do you watch closely to learn from?
I watch Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry very closely.

Dani in action for Honka against KuPS - photo via Heikki Saukkomaa

A lot of Finns have a favourite English team to follow, which do you support?
I don't really have a team of my own. Because I watch Ivanovic and Terry playing that way, I kind of cheer for Chelsea.

You spent some time with Udinese in 2012, did you get to meet any of their big names? Did it give you a taste for playing abroad?
Yes, I had the honour to meet some first team players such as Antonio Di Natale. It was a great experience for me to see a big organisation like Udinese so closely. I spent the week with Sulley Muntari's younger brother who also trained there at the same time. I still speak with him every now and then.

What's your favourite bit about Kuopio? Have you been up the Puijo Tower yet?
It's hard to choose one favourite bit, although I like living here. I have a good group of friends, a nice apartment with a view over the harbour and Lake Kallavesi. Kuopio is quite a small city but still there's quite a lot going on. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to visit Puijo Tower yet. I think I'm gonna wait for some nice day in the middle of summer to go there.

Nikolai Alho and Jesse Joronen have both told me about their 325 Media project - have they tried to get you to join in as well?
Haha, no, but I wonder why?! I think we've had so many national team trips together so they know that I wouldn't add any value to their music haha! It's great that they have a good thing going on outside of football and I'm impressed every time Niko releases a new song.


So there's another interview - I've had a couple of messages with suggestions, I'm working on those!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Interview with SJK defender Richie Dorman

The latest in my series of interviews continues with SJK's Welsh defender Richie Dorman.

With Chris Cleaver, Wayne Brown and yourself at the club, have you introduced many British traditions with the rest of the SJK family?
When I arrived at SJK in 2012, I was pretty shy and overwhelmed by moving into this small, very Finnish city. Chris was a massive character in the dressing room and really helped me fit into the team. By that point he had introduced a few traditions already with the fine system and the initiations for new signings. We added some more difficult tasks after I had done mine!! I think also the jokes and making fun of each other is mostly a British idea. Once the Finnish players learned it was all friendly and fun, they joined in too. Chris and I were fairly easy targets with my big ears and his big nose! Wayne is a bit sneaky and I always seem to get blamed for his mischievous behaviour. We had a home-made full English breakfast a few weeks back.

What do you miss most about Wales?
The family. I get home once per year over the Christmas break and it is always hard saying goodbye and leaving again in January. 

A young Richie during his Airbus UK days

You were on the books of Blackburn Rovers as a youngster, was there anyone you saw who stood out?
I signed when I was 11 and in that team there was Joe Garner and Frank Fielding who both played from that age up to the reserves. Garner now plays with Preston in League 1 and he always had such a desire to win, even when we played together. Frank is now with Bristol City, also in League 1, a top goalkeeper. Anthony Pilkington came in during my time although he didn’t stay as long as the others. He played with Norwich in the Premier League and is now with Cardiff.

SJK surprised everyone in 2014 by finishing second and qualifying for Europe – do you think you can be a serious contender for the Veikkausliiga next season?
Of course HJK have a great squad with some very talented players and coming off the Europa League group stage they will be playing even better this season. We will keep working hard everyday, doing the small things and help build this club in the direction the owners and fans want. Lets see at the end of the season and hopefully we can surprise a few more people.

Photograph via SJK's Facebook page

How did playing in the US college system help prepare you for a career back in Europe? What did you study while you were there?
My degree is in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. The football side was really professional, we trained every morning and then went to the classes in the afternoon. The facilities we had were amazing and the best I have had at a training ground. It was very different than playing at home or out here in Finland, but playing there gave me the desire to come back home to keep playing and also the belief that I was good enough to do it.

What is your favourite Finnish phrase?
‘No niin.’ Translates to something similar to ‘next,’ ‘lets go’ or ‘moving on.’ It’s quite funny to use it after people say something stupid in a slightly sarcastic way. But I’m not sure that is the correct use!

Richie and teammates enjoy Finnish life in 2013

One of the criticisms aimed at young British players is that they are less likely to move abroad – would you recommend making the move?
I probably would not be playing professionally had I not left Wales. Moving to Finland really helped my career so if any young British player had the chance to go and play abroad, I would highly recommend it. At least view the option with an open mind. The culture of other countries might be different but football is always football.

Which player(s) do you watch closest to try and improve?
Growing up it was always Steven Gerrard. Now that I’m playing full back I watch Azpilicueta of Chelsea a lot. He is arguably the best 1v1 defender in the Premier League and in possession keeps it simple. 

Do you wear shorts in the sauna?

Do you have any plans to play in other countries?
I love playing in Finland with SJK, we have a good group of lads and coaching staff so at the moment I have no plans on leaving Finland. Eventually at some point it would be great to play closer to my family so they could get to see me play more often. 


Many thanks to Richie for his candid answers. If you want to buy an SJK jersey with Dorman on the back, you can get one here.

I'm looking to continue the series with other players and personalities - if you have any suggestions, drop me a line!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Tulos: Litmanen, licences and flare fines

It's been another eccentric week in Finnish football - in case you missed any of it, here is a summary.

It's been sixteen years since Mikael Forssell made his Chelsea debut

A Helsinki court found that a fan who threw a flare during the Finland v Spain match in 2013, which cost the Finnish FA a fine of €7000, is liable to pay the fine. Needless to say the majority of the public has sided with the fan, while there have been suggestions of crowd-funding in order to pay the fine on their behalf.
Jari Litmanen has been keeping his fitness up with Estonian club Nomme Kalju - he does spend a lot of time in Estonia, while it's more likely that it is just keeping fit for further legend games. Doesn't stop the speculation about a comeback!

We finally had confirmation about the line-up of the 2015 Ykkönen (second tier). The ten teams competing are AC Oulu, EIF, FC Haka, FC Jazz, JJK, MYPA, PK-35, PS Kemi, TPS and VIFK. Strangely, Atlantis were denied a place due to the FA believing their player development systems weren't up to scratch. Atlantis of course were the side that turned a reluctant sixth-division forward into a 40-goal striker last year. Weird.
Former Jaro midfielder Hendrik Helmke, who had moved to Iran in December, was released from his contract after suffering a knee injury and has signed for Egyptian club Al-Ahly.
In some evidence that goalscorers don't necessarily translate into other places - 2012 top scorer Irakli Sirbiladze has left Inter Turku and signed for KuPS, while 2013 goal king Tim Väyrynen has signed an 18-month loan with Viktoria Köln, still remaining on the books of Borussia Dortmund B.

Finally, I spoke to Finland and Real Madrid Castilla forward Eero Markkanen about a variety of topics, ranging from Grand Theft Auto to wrestling with Perparim Hetemaj.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Interview with Real Madrid striker Eero Markkanen

After an extended winter break, I've got round to asking questions of some of the big names in Finnish football - and they don't get much bigger than Finland international Eero Markkanen, currently plying his trade for Real Madrid Castilla (Real's academy club) in Spain's Segunda División B.

You’ve been in Madrid for a few months now, how are you settling in? Have you introduced any Finnish traditions yet with your new teammates?

I am settling in pretty well. The language in training or meetings isn't a problem any more, football related words were pretty easy to learn. Outside football, the language is still a challenge since everyone is talking really fast. We haven't done any crazy Finnish traditions yet, partly because a lot of traditions are alcohol-related... But I have promised to cook reindeer for them, just as soon I find it here!

Your club manager Zinedine Zidane was one of the world’s greatest players, what was the best bit of advice he has given you so far? (Eero was Zizou's first signing for Castilla)

It is hard to say what has been the best, there have been lots of them. And, believe it or not, they're all good.

Zizou and Eero 

Your dad was a professional basketball player, were you ever convinced to follow his large footsteps?

There was never any pressure for me start playing basketball from my father. Of course I played outside of our house with my father and brothers and even attended two training sessions with a local club. But football felt more comfortable for me, and I think my father agrees. 

One of your first league starts for JJK saw you scoring a perfect hat-trick (left foot, right foot, header) against IFK Mariehamn – do you still have the hat? 

Yes I still have it! Although it is in a warehouse in Jyväskylä, I couldn't fit it in my luggage when I moved here. 

Eero in his JJK days (photo by Jussi Reinilä)

You’ve spoken before about hating KuPS (JJK's closest rivals) – could you ever be persuaded to sign for them? Would you enjoy scoring against them more than anyone else? 

I would never play for them, no matter what they would offer. I'd love to score against them, actually I was really angry at myself for not scoring after my one and only start against them in the semi-final of the Finnish Cup.

You’ve been joined at Real Madrid by 16-year-old Norwegian Martin Ødegaard – what are your early impressions of him? 

He is an amazing talent with an incredible ability to beat a defender one-on-one. 

Your most famous goal for AIK was against Djurgården – did you know it was going in as soon as you hit it? 

As soon as it left my boot, I knew it was a great hit. About midway in the air I noticed "s***, that's going in" and I couldn't believe it.

You’ve posted several photos of video games on your Instagram – do you prefer FIFA or Grand Theft Auto? What rank are you on GTA? (I'm currently 57...)

At the moment I prefer GTA, I really enjoy playing it with my friends. I am only rank 41 I think... It has actually been a while since I played any FIFA!

Will there be a rematch of your wrestling match with Perparim Hetemaj before the next international against Northern Ireland?

Most definitely, if Perpa is up for it!

Eero vs Perpa round one (photo via Jussi Eskola)

Did you get a cut from the sales of the Eero the Heero t-shirts?

No I didn't, but I have the rest of them ;)

(Eero has set aside a tee for me, one of my superiors at work is a Djurgården fan so I'll see if he notices!)

More interviews will be coming up in the next few weeks - feel free to suggest names and/or questions and I'll see what I can arrange. Coming next - Richie Dorman of SJK.