Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tulos: Adieu, Adu and other things you may have missed

The latest update on what's been going on in Finnish football - it's been a busy fortnight or so.

Finland's crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Northern Ireland took place on Sunday in Belfast - unfortunately it ended in a 2-1 defeat, pretty much ending any hopes of qualification for next summer's tournament in France. Two goals from Kyle Lafferty were the difference, while an injury-time consolation from sub Berat Sadik made no difference. It was an inept performance filled with errors and minimal threat posed. The 'Mixu Out' brigade are in full swing, even the FA's line that he will remain in place until the end of qualifying appears to be very much 'by-the-numbers'. The Hungary match in June could be interesting...

The big transfer news was a rather large surprise - former United States international Freddy Adu signed for KuPS! Yep, that's the same Freddy Adu who was billed as the "next Pele" scoring an MLS goal for DC United aged 14. Since then, it's all been a little sad, KuPS are now his eleventh club following spells in Brazil, Greece, Turkey and Serbia. Needless to say, my friends in Kuopio are expecting plenty of interest and shopping, with a press conference this Thursday set to be quite the party. I've been told that Freddy chose Finland in order to escape the circus and concentrate on football...

Image via KuPS.fi

Atletico Malmi's Suomen Cup fairytale ended at the hands of FC Lahti in round five. The team who finished third in last season's top division won 2-0 with goals in the first half, and while they dominated the stats, they were resisted further goals. Malmi can now concentrate on their Kolmonen season, will another promotion be on the cards?

Malmi and Lahti players join together

Finland U21s played twice last weekend, winning matches against Kazahkstan (3-0) and Luxembourg (4-1). FC Inter striker Vahid Hambo scored in both games.

I did an interview with Tero Koskela of the Finnish Player's Union (JPY), where we talked about various issues facing footballers along with the role of the organisation. My next interview is with Veikkausliiga marketing executive Risto Oksanen, which will be online in the next week or so.

Finland midfielder Tim Sparv featured in an article by Dutch journalists about the innovative management behind his club FC Midtjylland. The club are owned by Matthew Benham, who also owns English club Brentford. The system of player recruitment is based on statistics, but Sparv was highlighted as the "no-stats all star" due to his reading of the game.

As expected, Finland captain Niklas Moisander signed a pre-contract with Serie A club Sampdoria. While it had been rumoured for some time, it was still big news, although the announcement got more interest due to the eccentric club president Massimo Ferrero in full swing...

Other things probably happened but I can't remember... I did book flights to Finland in June, at the moment looking at matches with Atletico Malmi, SJK, KuPS, Union Plaani and possibly HIFK.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Interview with JPY's Tero Koskela

The latest interview for ETS is with Tero Koskela, who works for the Finnish player's union JPY (Jalkapallon Pelaajayhdistys). The work that the JPY do is crucial to maintain confidence and the integrity of the sport in Finland, and they do a fine job of it. 

What is your role with the JPY? 
Well, my title is an account manager but I'm doing everything what is needed to do in our small organisation. We only have two full time employees so we have a lots of tasks to do and of course we try to serve all of our 1200 members. At the moment, I'm focusing more on meeting and educating players. For us it is important to physically be where the players are, in the locker room. When they let us to come to their “holy place”, we know we have earned their trust.

What are the challenges that the JPY now and in the future? 
For our organization, we should get one or two employees more but that´s more of an economic issue. When it comes to the individuals (players) we need be active in open discussion about what kind of status the professional players have in our society. Our players doesn’t earn big money so they should have the same employee benefits that normal workers have. We still have too many players whose insurance doesn’t cover much if a bad injury happens.

The JPY appear to be very forward thinking with the match fixing app, the player CV database etc. Are there many more projects in the pipeline?
Of course we are open to any new ideas, but at the moment implementing these projects to our members takes big part of our time.

SJK's Juho Lähde talks about the match-fixing app

In England there is a lot of talk about young players earning big money and not perhaps having the hunger to succeed that those from Africa or South America - do you see changes in motivation for young Finns?
Big money is really not a big problem for young Finns. Earnings are often below the poverty line so being a footballer it is not very desired profession. At the same time, we have very high level of school education which ensures that everyone could retrain for another profession. We need to make our domestic football more interesting so that we do not lose our young talents to foreign leagues.

What support services do the JPY provide to foreign players moving to Finland?
We are giving them the Welcome to Finland magazine, where they can read some important facts in our culture and how the things are done here in Finland. We have a good relationship with some foreign players who have been here for a number of years and they are ready to help us if needed.

The Welcome to Finland magazine

The FIFPro tournaments in Oslo provide an excellent opportunity for free agents to try to earn new deals - do you get a lot of players trying to get involved?
In this economic climate it has become a lot more interesting for free agents. Teams in Finland often drag out their contract negotiations to sign players who participate in these FIFPro tournaments. This is one of the important services we need to develop, to help our unemployed players to find a club and give them chance to train professionally.  

After the match-fixing problems at RoPS in the past, and the large betting interest in Finnish football, has the JPY app made a big difference?
Awareness around the match-fixing issue is the best thing that has happened. We have been able to give players a thorough education through this application and to discuss openly about the risks surrounding match fixing. 
With MYPA and Honka having such public financial problems, what could clubs do differently/better to support players? 
These two cases have similar problems. The players have been unaware of the situation because the club´s internal communications have been very poor. Telling the truth might not have saved the clubs, but it could have helped the players prepare for what is coming and maybe give them more time to change their plans.

Various Finnish clubs have been working with JYP to promote anti-racism and anti-discrimination campaigns - which countries do you think have done well with this? 
In Scandinavia, Denmark and Norway have done a lot of really good work to promote this issue. I also have a feeling that in England, they do quite a lot of work through the Show Racism the Red Card campaign. I haven’t met any player who doesn’t support this. 

JJK players show racism the red card last week

Some players I've met talk passionately about education and having a qualification to "fall back on" - is this a culture that's promoted to young players?
This is very important for our players. Players can’t live on their savings when they finish their career, if they've been playing in a big football country that´s a totally different situation. I don’t think it's necessary for a young player whose goal is to play abroad but when they see that the Finnish Premier League is the highest level where they are playing, then it's important to have a Plan B.


Many thanks again to Tero for his answers. You can follow the JPY on Twitter and Facebook, while Tero is also on Twitter here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tulos: Pukki, season tickets and Britpop

Another slow fortnight or so since the last Tulos. Here's a quick summary for those of you who have been away...

A superb offer for fans of teams in the western division of the Kakkonen in 2015. Season ticket holders at either of the three clubs in the post are also able to attend the home games of the others, so over forty matches for the price of one season ticket, as little as 50 Euros in some cases.

Teemu Pukki knows how to time things - 48 hours before the announcement of the next Finland squad (for the Northern Ireland game), he scores for Brøndby in their 2-0 win over OB.

With more speculation in England about the introduction of academy teams into professional leagues, I wrote for Put Niels In Goal about how the teams fare in Finland, featuring the Suomen Cup ties between teams from the same club... Featuring the joint team huddle of HIFK/3 and HIFK/4 (below).

Finland's FIFA ranking continues to drop, now just five places above their previous worst of September 2012.

The latest ETS interview was with Finland ladies midfielder Annika Kukkonen, who gave some excellent answers relating to gay players, sexism in the sport, and Gangnam Style...

The latest draw for the Suomen Cup was made on Monday by Jari Litmanen - he should be made to make every draw, he pulled out some absolute stunners. TPS v Inter and JanPa/Atletico Malmi v FC Lahti are particular highlights. One big shock result of round four was KPV defeating top division side Jaro 3-0.

Fifth round draw - looking forward to it already

Last update is a bit of an ego boost - I'm very honoured to have been included in a list of the top football blogs to follow in 2015, by Left-Wing Soccer. There are some wonderful writers on there, and they're all well worth a few minutes of your time.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Interview with Finland midfielder Annika Kukkonen

The latest interview on ETS is with Finland women’s national team midfielder Annika Kukkonen, who has just returned from international duty at the Cyprus Cup. Many thanks to Annika for her candid answers, and all the best for the upcoming season in Sweden with her new club Sunnanå.

You've made over 50 appearances for Finland at such a young age - was it always your ambition to play for the national team?
61 is the number right now and its 61 more than I thought it would be at the beginning of my career. I'm really proud of that number, along with the decision I made at an early age that I wanted to come a professional player.

There has been a lot of attention on the Women's World Cup this year being played on artificial pitches – do you think it will affect the quality of the matches?
That's really hard question. I love natural grass when it's in a good shape, but I really like playing on artificial grass too and we do it lot in Sweden and Finland, so I'm kind of used to it. I don't think it affects the quality of the game in terms of passing and moving with the ball, but it can make a difference in a physical way, there are fewer sliding tackles made on artificial pitches, with good reason. It's a pain when the skin cuts on those pitches, that's the main reason why I prefer natural grass.

What was it like to play in the Euro 2013 tournament? The average attendances were the biggest ever, did it make you hungrier to play in more competitions?

It was a great experience, even though we were really disappointed with game performances. We had the honour to play against Sweden in their home stadium in front of all their fans. The fans always give the extra feeling for the games and of course it makes us hungry to play in more big games.

What advice would you give to youngsters about becoming a professional? Is there anything that you'd do differently?

Have fun! It's really important to enjoy playing football! Listen the advice you will get but always make your own decisions. You are the one who's responsible for your choices and also later on your career. I'm happy with the choices I've made.

Sepp Blatter once suggested that female players should wear tighter shorts to increase the popularity of women's football, while in a Cyprus Cup match, some comments were made at Australian players. Have you ever experienced such prejudice?
I played with boys when I was younger so there was a lot of talk about girls playing football - not in my team but more from the opponents, so I am used to the sexist trash talk, so now when I hear comments like that I'm pretty good at ignoring them.

Annika (right) taking on France in the recent Cyprus Cup

Tinja-Riikka (Korpela, Finland and Bayern Munich goalkeeper) gave an interview recently where she talked about the challenges of being openly gay in football, praising the support of her teammates after coming out. Do you feel that women's football is more accepting than the men's game?
Definitely! There are many more openly gay people in women's football than in the men's game. The general environment is that you are good as you are and no-one has to fit in with the same stereotypes.

Are there any leagues that you'd love to play in, other than Finland and Sweden?
Right now I'm happy and satisfied in Sweden - I haven't got any thoughts about play in any other leagues. At Sunnanå SK, I want to get my ankle injury sorted, then I will start to think about the next goals.

Did you join in the Gangnam Style dance-off at the Cyprus Cup players evening?
Haha that was awesome! I would like to be as good a dancer as that player was!!


Thanks again Annika. More interviews are in the works, keep watching this space. If you have any suggestions, feel free to drop me a line.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Atletico Malmi update

For those of your who've been paying attention, this season I've decided to join forces with a lower division club to raise their profile, to find out a little bit more about football in the capital and also to share some knowledge (I work for an English non-league club).

You're welcome!

So it was Atletico Malmi of the Helsinki Kolmonen/2 division (fourth tier) who got in touch. Since January, the club have progressed through to the fourth round of the Suomen Cup for the first time in their history, where they'll play JanPa on Sunday March 22nd in Janakkala.

If you're planning on visiting the Helsinki area this summer, you could do a lot worse than visit a Malmi league game, where you're guaranteed a warm welcome. Their division fixtures are on this link, get yourself along to a game or two.

With the current exchange rate being very favourable for those who shop in pounds, you're also welcome to sponsor the club. There is a link (in Finnish) to more information, but they're welcoming of any creative input which would help. I paid 100 Euros for a spot on the website, which paid for three training sessions for the team. Even a shirt sponsorship would be available, albeit for a fair bit more than what I paid...

I've had a couple of enquiries about replica jerseys, I've been told they're just awaiting a few more details.

Other shirt sizes should be available...

Keep following the club on Twitter and Facebook for more info. Tico tico!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Tulos: Cup draws, interviews and Japan

Been a fairly slow few weeks in the Finnish football world since the last update. Part of the joy of a summer league perhaps... Anyway, here is a little recap.

Sexypöxyt celebrate their 30th anniversary this year

The Suomen Cup fourth round draw took place on Monday, pitching some potentially very interesting ties. TamU-K will host IFK Mariehamn, PEPO play KuPS and Sexypöxyt will play Gnistan. Meanwhile, our partner club Atletico Malmi defeated NuPS to reach the fourth round for the first time, they will play the winner of JanPa and Jomela IK. I'm still waiting to hear on the availability of Malmi replica jerseys.

I've spoken to Dani Hatakka of KuPS and Richie Dorman of SJK, who were both very interesting and pretty open about life in Veikkausliiga. Dani spoke about his scoring prowess for the Finland U21 side, while Richie was grateful to Finnish football for the chance to become a professional, having spent time at Blackburn as a youngster. Sent a few emails for further interviews, hopefully will have some more soon.

HJK's attempts at world domination continue with rapid speed - they announced the signings of Japanese international forward Mike Havanaar and Swedish goalkeeper Daniel Örlund, who join fellow Japanese Atom Tanaka and former Nottingham Forest midfielder Guy Moussi. HJK CEO Aki Riihilahti spoke to MTV3 about the club's ambitions - while admitting that they had sold more Atom shirts in a week than any other player sold in the whole of 2014, while over forty thousand people watched highlights of the win over RoPS, while the usual figure is in the hundreds.
Jari Litmanen's 44th birthday passed by on February 20th with the usual fanfare and ticker tape. He keeps his usual low profile, making personal appearances in pubs etc.

MYPA appear to have folded in their present form, the club administrators have applied for bankruptcy. While it's likely that the various junior clubs will continue in some form, it's a shame that over-spending and poor financial management have enabled to club to wither. Watch this space for future news.

The latest Eremenko talent, sixteen-year-old Sergei, scored twice for Jaro in their Liigacup defeat to SJK. He has already spent time training with Internazionale's youth set-up, while those ITK lot reckon he could potentially be as good as brothers Roman and Alexei.

Anyway that's it for now - I'm trying to push the ETS Facebook page a bit more these days, so make sure you like that for some more slow-time updates. Twitter is so flimsy and instant...