Sunday, March 27, 2016

Veikkausliiga 2016 kits

With a new season of Veikkausliiga beginning, it's usually a time to marvel at some of the kits that will be on display - with the obligatory large number of sponsors. I didn't do a kit blog at the start of last season, which is just as well as some of the kits remain the same. I've included last season's kits by way of a comparison... Most of the photos are official Veikkausliiga profiles.

Most of the clubs have a webshop, the details of which are on a tab at the top of the page.

SJK

The champions will play in the same Adidas kit as last season, as modelled by new signing Abdoulaye Méïté. Special mention though to the jackets worn by the coaching staff, classic Adidas Originals gear with the trefoil logo. Magnificent.


RoPS

Last year's silver medallists are again decked out in Puma, this time the same template as the current Arsenal home jersey.

2016
2015
                                     
HJK

Looking to regain their crown, the club have made several signings but keep the same shirt as last season. Perhaps they still have some remaining from last year that they didn't sell in Japan?


Inter Turku

Inter remain with Nike jerseys, but they've moved onto a more subdued template. Less identifiable, but far more attractive.
2016
2015
FC Lahti

Same Umbro jersey as last year, but with... A bigger main sponsor? Was there a bit too much black left? I do hope Halton have paid more for the privilege.
2016
2015
IFK Mariehamn

Same Puma kit as last season... Same official profile photos too!


HIFK

Very little change other than an updated template - nice to see Kappa still doing kits, shame about the lack of shoulder trim like the Man City kit of the 90s.
2016

2015
Ilves

A change in template, little else. A shame, I loved the 2015 design but it's not a bad replacement.
2016
2015
KuPS

Same kit as last season (the 2015 official photographs were of the previous kit). All that's missing is a copy of today's newspaper being held by the obvious hostage.


VPS

Same Puma kit as last season, clearly found in a basement bin somewhere in Vaasa.


PS Kemi

It's putting it mildly to say that I'm heartbroken. This is the biggest shame of all. One of last year's finest kits, a custom made Adidas abstract effort (underneath the sponsors) has been replaced by a budget plain red Stanno rag I wouldn't clean my car with. Such a shame.
2016
2015
PK-35 Vantaa

Shefki's boys are following the Inter Turku model, replacing red and black stripes with a low-key number. Nice. I've got one already...
2016
2015
So that's the fashion parade for the upcoming season. As I said before, most clubs have a shop online - check the tab at the top. I'm not on commission, but don't forget that every penny counts for most of these clubs.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2016 Veikkausliiga season preview

Last season's Veikkausliiga was very similar to the 2015-16 Premier League season. The established sides struggled, allowing a financially well-off relative newcomer a chance to seize the title. It is too early to say whether England will see a similar outcome, but in 2016 the Finnish football landscape is in a much different place from previous seasons.

SJK's winning points total of sixty was the lowest since the introduction of the 33-match season, only one point more than 2014's silver medal. Runners-up RoPS meanwhile improved by twenty-one points, to ensure HJK's bronze medal and their lowest position since 2008.

So what can we expect from the new season? I'll preview each team individually below, but first a summary of the changes that have been made over the long winter.


Jaro and KTP were relegated last season, the latter in the new play-off to spice up the bottom. They have been replaced by Ykkönen champions PS Kemi and play-off winners PK-35 Vantaa. The division continues in the same vein as before with 12 teams playing each other side three times. An extra home match is the reward for the teams who finished in the top six last year. One team is automatically relegated, while the team finishing eleventh face a two-legged play-off against the team who come second in Ykkönen.

Each side will use the new Select Elite matchball, replacing the Brillant Super. Elite is dimpled like a golf ball, ensuring a more steady flight. HIFK forward Pekka Sihvola has already praised the ball and also the fact that each match will be played with the same ball.

Matches will be continue to be streamed live on ISTV (Ilta Sanomat) but now also on multi-channel broadcaster Ruutu+. One match per month will be shown free-to-air on TV channel Nelonen. I'm not aware of the status of international rights so probably on the usual betting websites. It is unlikely again that highlights will be available on ETS - but connect with the Twitter and Facebook pages for the latest news etc.

For European competition, SJK will enter the Champions League in the second qualifying round. RoPS, HJK and Suomen Cup winners IFK Mariehamn start their Europa League campaigns in qualifying round one. There is no longer a UEFA Fair Play place, that would have gone to VPS...

While a few sides are yet to unveil their kits for the new season, I've listed every club shop on the tab at the top of the page - to most clubs, every penny makes a difference so dig deep and stand out on your five-a-side pitch.

So, on to the club-by-club previews. The clubs are organised by last season's placings. While I try not to make predictions, don't put your money on them if I do!

SJK

A club riding the crest of a wave. They move into the purpose-built OmaSp stadium with Champions League football on the agenda. It's been a busy pre-season in Seinäjoki with lots of player transfers, but the biggest signing was securing coach Simo Valakari on a four-year contract, after interest from clubs in Scotland. He is assisted by English coach Brian Page, taking over from Chris Cleaver.

New arrivals on the pitch include Abdoulaye Méïté, Alexei Eremenko Jr, Roope Riski and Matej Hradecky. A fully-fit Eremenko combining with Riski will be a big danger up front, while Méïté should prove a decent replacement at centre-half for the departed Cédric Gogoua. Riski was a big success on loan at SJK last season, subsequently becoming the first player actually bought by the club.


RoPS

Over-performed hugely in 2015 under Juha Malinen, only just missing out on being the most Northern side in the world to win a league title. The veteran Malinen remains, but the spine of the team has undergone large changes. The club's finances are improving, helped by an updated home stadium and now Europa League football.

Keeper Tomer Chencinski, defender Faith Obilor and playmaker Moshtagh Yaghoubi have all left, although striker Aleksandr Kokko's transfer to Switzerland fell through. Janne Saksela has become a surprise recent addition to the Finland squad, while U20 World Cup winner Ransford Osei is expected to provide more goals.

HJK

Not many people predicted such a limp campaign from Klubi - especially those in charge. Poor signings, a horrific injury list and too much focus on business was critical. The club are trying to avoid the same mistakes, but time will tell. Promising financial results and strong infrastructure need to equate to points and trophies. The ill-thought friendly with Liverpool seemed a step too far, where an away fixture at Mariehamn was postponed, with 150 fans having already booked their travel.

Defenders Baah, Heikkilä and Heikkinen have all left, but re-signing Mikael Forssell, Anthony Annan and Medo will provide experience, allied with promising Colombian Alfredo Morelos up front and Taye Taiwo providing steel at the back. Atom Tanaka will need more consistency to add to the shirt sales he generates. HJK "should" be more competitive this year.


Inter Turku

Another solid but uninspiring 2015 in Turku. Despite an improvement on previous campaigns (49 points compared to 36 the season before), the club seem content with their lot. Coach Job Dragtsma continues to lead, but remains the steady ship. The man needs a trophy, the 2008 title seems a long time ago.

Their exciting midfield prospect Kaan Kairinen eventually moved to Midtjylland, having been linked with Juventus and Tottenham. Central defender Obilor has signed from RoPS, in front of another former TPS goalkeeper Henrik Moisander. Experienced internationals Tamboura (left-back, Mali) and Nicolaou (midfield, Cyprus) join to increase solidity. Scoring goals will be the big problem - no player scored more than six league goals last season.


FC Lahti

Links with exotic football clubs Fluminense and Hartlepool have been made, while Kuningas is emerging as a promising talent... An odd introduction to Lahti, but they continue to perform. The King is not the man whose statue sits next to their Kisapuisto home, but Finland U19 midfielder Mikko Kuningas.

Brazilian Matheus Alves and his twelve goals have left, but veteran Rafael remains despite his waning minutes. Two more Fluminense loan signings Bonilha and Euller will hope to take a similar road into Europe. Liigacup winners after defeating SJK in the final.

IFK Mariehamn

After the Lord Mayor's Show. Their first major trophy (the Suomen Cup) followed by the departure of coach Pekka Lyyski after thirteen years in charge. Peter Lundberg and Kari Virtanen now manage this cosmopolitan side into a new era. Another European adventure awaits, with the added attention and pressures that come with it.

Talisman Petteri Forsell has left again, but Aleksei Kangaskolkka is fit again and the dangerous Dever Orgill should ensure more goals - only 30 in 33 league games last season, having scored 30 alone in their cup run. Keeper Otso Virtanen has moved to Scotland, but the rest of the defence remains.





HIFK

They brought more to the league than three passionate derby matches with HJK. Their 100% Finnish squad performed solidly, with Pekka Sihvola adding vital goals. Coach Jani Honkavaara quit his teaching job midway through the season to concentrate on the role full-time and remains in post. It's hard to see them struggling this season, but a top-half finish would be deemed a success.

There haven't been many transfers, Fredrik Lassas and Youness Rahimi have been replaced by Xhevdet Gela and veteran striker Juho Mäkelä. He and Sihvola up front will be a dangerous pair.




Ilves

Despite only being promoted because of MYPA's demise, a poor start to the season slowly lifted and resulted in an eighth-place finish - but it was overshadowed by manager Keke Armstrong's sacking for punditing on live TV while his team lost at SJK.

Jarkko Wiss is now in charge, looking to keep the club in the top flight. Matrone and Milosavljević come in from SJK to provide experience. Striker Mika Lahtinen scored ten goals in 2015, they will need a repeat performance from him to add danger to solidity. With an upgraded stadium slowly looking likely, Ilves are another club with a vocal fan-base on the verge of a permanent place in Veikkausliiga.



KuPS

The Freddy Adu circus of last year masked another poor season - two wins in their final 14 games saw them skirting just above the relegation spots. Marko Rajamäki remains in charge, but off the pitch the club needs a direction. Poor finances, yet talk of a new stadium, while a strange transfer policy doesn't seem to complement a decent crop of youngsters.

Defender Hamed Coulibaby has already been ruled out for the season, while the signings of Nigerians Egwuekwe, Onobi and Salami were shambolic at times. Yet the return of Petteri Pennanen from injury and the exciting midfielder Urho Nissilä provide hope at least. A large weight on the shoulders of the nomadic Championship Manager stalwart Mika Ääritalo for goals. I fear for KuPS this season...




VPS

Phew, that was close. Losing their first six games, but surviving after a rare mid-season managerial change. Olli Huttunen left the club in June, his replacement Petri Vuorinen oversaw a fine run in August/September which proved crucial. The club move into their new Elisa Stadion home this year (hosting a Tom Jones concert) and can regroup with another year of top division football.

Experienced defender Veli Lampi comes in from HJK, joined by Juho Lähde. The main departure was Juho Mäkelä, who scored sixteen league goals last year, nearly half of the team's total. Jamaican Steven Morrissey, who has been so unfortunate with injury, will help lessen that burden, if he can stay fit.





PS Kemi

A year ago, I couldn't have anticipated writing about PS Kemi in a 2016 Veikkausliiga preview, having just been promoted from Kakkonen. They led Ykkönen throughout the season, to reach the top division for the first time in their history. I'll be honest, I didn't see much of them last year... One bit of sad news - their magnificent Adidas kit has been replaced by a generic Stanno teamwear effort. Shame.

After being granted a license for 2016, the small club have been busy making numerous signings, with the ultimate intention of remaining in the division. Key goalscorers Billy Ions (17 in 2015) and Saša Jovović remain, with Matias Ojala coming from AC Oulu and Zeljko Savic joins from SJK. A recent article spoke to their various foreign signings and their integration into living in Finland - it's a fascinating read that goes beyond football.




PK-35 Vantaa


Promotion play-off winners PK-35 are back in the top division for the first time since reforming. They are led by the charismatic Shefki Kuqi, returning after his debut coaching season in 2014 where he led Honka to survival. His new club are very much in his image, including signing his brother Njazi and boasting his former Ipswich teammate Pablo Couñago, who scored seventeen goals in 25 games last season.

Despite being linked with Emmanuel Eboue and John Arne Riise, PK-35 still have some financial clouds and appear to have a very confrontational style, never far from scuffles. There will be fireworks. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Kaufmann impressed in the Liigacup and could be a wildcard in the league season.




So that is my season preview - it's as up-to-date as I can manage... Always welcome debate and comment below the line or on social media. I plan on a lighter look at the 2016 kits soon...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

FC Lahti win the 2016 Liigacup

SJK hosted Saturday's League Cup final against FC Lahti at the WallSport Areena - a penalty shootout was required after both sides failed to score in regulation time - with FC Lahti winning their third Liigacup after a 4-3 shootout win.

Photo by Pyry Waltari

Lahti started the game well and put the ruling Finnish champion under pressure. Lahti squeezed SJK's end of the field, but after ten minutes it failed to produce results. SJK had already broken up Lahti's attack, but a careless pass by Johannes Laaksonen gave directly Bonilha. Bonilha was free and he shot from sixteen yards toward the top corner with a fiery shot. However, SJK's keeper Mikhel Aksalu made the save and kept the goal untouched.

After less than 20 minutes into the game, SJK had their first chance to take the lead. SJK kept possession until Jarkko Hurme sent a high ball through to Matej Hradecký. Hradecký played the ball to Roope Riski. Riski played the ball to strike partner Tuco, however, Tuco's finish hit the bar. 

By the end of the second half, SJK ended strongly but were unable to make a breakthrough. After ninety minutes, the game went straight to penalties...

+ Alexei Eremenko, SJK
+ Rafael, FC Lahti
- Youness Rahimi, SJK
+ Jasse Tuominen, FC Lahti
+ Roope Riski, SJK
- Kalle Multanen, FC Lahti
+ Johannes Laaksonen, SJK
+ Pyry Kärkkäinen, FC Lahti
- Timo Tahvanainen, SJK
+ Hassan Sesay, FC Lahti

So Sesay struck the winning penalty, and Lahti go into the upcoming season with the Liigacup.

Two weeks until Veikkausliiga begins....

This report is an edited version of an article which originally appeared on Veikkausliiga.com.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Henry's transfer preview of Veikkausliiga

Friend of the blog Henry Hakamäki has written a lengthy look at the various transfers made by Veikkausliiga sides this winter. Feel free to debate, correct or moan at Henry on Twitter or in the comments below.

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With the Liigacup final on the 19th of March betweem SJK and FC Lahti, we are at a point in the pre-season where Veikkausliiga news is slow. The one thing going on currently, which we are in the midst of, is transfers and new signings. While there’s still more movement of players to be expected, now is a decent time to recap the biggest moves into and out of each Veikkausliiga club so far. I encourage all of you to let me know if you agree or disagree with my choices, which will help me when the time comes for my season predictions.

HIFK
Several players on the way out for HIFK, highlighted by Youness Rahimi (SJK) and Fredrik Lassas (FC Köln II). The biggest loss is Rahimi, a young player with a lot of potential who already has versatility and good from set pieces. The biggest in-coming name is Juho Mäkelä (VPS), a Veikkausliiga veteran and proven goalscorer.  His record over the years has been prolific and consistent, though he is getting on in years.  If he can keep the goals coming and remain fit all season, this was a tremendous move for HIFK. Also coming in are midfielder Xhevdet Gela (FC Lahti) and promising defender Juho Pirttijoki (unknown transfer from Haka).
Juho Mäkelä

HJK
It’s hard to pick just one player for HJK, since they have so many coming in and out. In terms of departures, Erfan Zeneli (Shakhtar Karagandy) with other big names leaving being Gideon Baah (New York Red Bulls), Demba Savage (BK Häcken), Rasmus Schüller (also BK Häcken) and Tapio Heikkila (SJK, then IK Start). HJK are currently swimming in quality defenders. However, attacking players is what they’re short on now and Zeneli will be missed. As for signings, the most important so far is Alfredo Morelos (Independiente Medellín). While Mikael Forssell is making his return to the team, Morelos will be counted on. The team’s best moves, however, were for defensive players to replace Baah and Heikkila. They’ve picked up Ivan Tatomirović (FK Sarajevo), Anthony Annan (Stabaek IF), and Medo.
Ivan Tatomirović

Ilves
After their impressive season last year, staying in the Veikkausliiga, Ilves have had a quiet transfer window so far. The team stayed up playing with tremendous heart and intensity, but lack players that can really turn a game on its head by themselves. The biggest loss is Antti Mäkijärvi (VfB Oldenburg). While he didn’t spend much time with Ilves, he’s a Finnish U21 international and plays left wing, a position that Ilves has lost multiple players from. They also lost Mohamad Kdouh (Vllaznia Shkodër) and Eminike Mbachu Epeleze. Coming in are Pavle Milosavljević (SJK), Antto Hilska (JJK), and Felipe Aspegren. Milosavljevic is the player that will aid in keeping Ilves in games this year. He’s a tough defender, a proven leader and has the experience of winning the Veikkausliiga title with SJK. Very good pickup for them, but I’m still hoping for some more.
Pavle Milosavljević

Inter Turku
During the season last year, Inter lost two big players in Vahid Hambo (Brighton) and Mika Ojala (VfR Aalen). They also have since lost Vincent Onovo (HJK) and Juuso Hämäläinen (RoPS), but the biggest move of all was Kaan Kairinen (FC Midtjylland), who has been the poster child since he was brought up from Inter’s youth team at the age of 16. Kairinen is a player with excellent technical abilities and reads the game very well for his age. Inter have brought in some big names to replace these players, including Pape Sow, Sebastian Mannström (SV Elversberg) and Henrik Moisander (FC Lahti). The name that I thought would make the biggest impact on the team is Faith Obilor (RoPS). Big, strong and a proven defender in the Veikkausliiga, Obilor and Sow should help the center of the defence and keep most opposition at bay.
Faith Friday Obilor

PS Kemi
Newly promoted Kemi are coming into the Veikkausliiga for the first time after winning the Ykkönen. The squad is full of young players and the team will need to find the balance between using the squad that won their league last year and incorporating new players into that cohesive group. Outgoing players include Daniel Kollar (PK-35) and Miguel Cid (BFC Daugava). Several players including come in - Aliu Djaló (Gaz Metan Medias), Muller (GD Tourizense), Joona Veteli (FF Jaro) and Ryan Gilligan (Umeå FC). Kemi needs to look for another defender though before the season starts.
Zeljko Savic (signed from SJK)

KuPS
KuPS loses a lot of defensive players this year and the replacements could make or break the season for the team. Outgoing players include Ebrima Sohna (Al-Arabi SC), Toni Markic (Zawisza) and Dani Hatakka (SK Brann). Incoming players for the year include Mika Ääritalo (Lahti), Johannes Kreidl (Hamburg) and Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves FC). Admittedly, I do not know a whole lot about Egwuekwe. What I have seen though is that he’s a strong defender that isn’t afraid to go into challenges. He’ll need to have a good season, partnered with Babacar Diallo in the centre of the defense, because there’s not much defensive depth as it stands.
Mika Ääritalo

FC Lahti
Lahti has been relatively busy in the off season, which has lead to a place in the Liigacup final after a fairly impressive group stage. Petri Pasanen has hung up his boots after a tremendous career and Henri Toivomäki (Sarpsborg 08), Pekka Lagerblom (Jacksonville Armada), Mika Ääritalo (KuPS), and Henrik Moisander (Inter Turku) are a few of the players that have gone. Sesay will be missed particularly, as a player who had manned the left side of the defence, his departure leaves no natural left backs.  Jani Tanska, Kalle Multanen (FC Haka), Tomi Maanoja (KuPS) and Duarte Tammilehto (IFK Mariehamn) all come into the team for this season. Multanen will be the key man as he’s the only established goalscorer on the squad. Drilon Shala is a capable secondary striker, but other than those two, there’s just youth up top for Lahti.
Tomi Maanoja

IFK Mariehamn
The Suomen Cup winners have had a very quiet off-season thus far, at least in terms of players coming in. Going out, however, are three big names that were integral in the team winning the Cup. Midfielder Duarte Tammilehto (Lahti), goalkeeper Otso Virtanen (Hibernian) and midfielder Petteri Forsell (Miedz Legnica) all leave for this season. Forsell was one of the best wingers in Veikkausliiga last year in my opinion, attacking with pace, skill, and good passing to the strikers. Coming in are 16 year old Joel Mattson (Mariehamn U19) and Gabriel Petrovic (Brommapojkarna). Petrovic was a highly regarded central midfielder a couple years ago and played for Mariehamn in 2006, but I’ve not heard what he’s been up to in a several years, it appears as if he’s been languishing in the third division in Sweden for some time, so for both his and Mariehamn’s sake, they need him to resurrect his career in a way.

Gabriel Petrovic

PK-35 Vantaa
The immensely entertaining PK-35 (or is it manager Shefki Kuqi that’s entertaining? I guess a bit of both) join the Veikkausliiga this year after finishing second in the Ykkönen last year and winning the promotion play-off.  The majority of the squad remains the same, with the exceptions of defenders Sakir Redzepi and Biran Jeng, a couple of Kuqis (Albert and Daut) and youngster Daniel Rantanen (free transfer to HIFK), who I think is a promising young player who can distribute the ball well, and hopefully has many, many more years at the top level.  Coming in are Ilari Äijälä (KTP), Lucas Kaufman (Ekenäs), Daniel Kollar (PS Kemi) and Njazi Kuqi. Kollar is a young, promising goalkeeper whom I think the team will enjoy success with, but the pick for highlight coming in was between Äijälä and Kuqi.  I went with Äijälå because he is a great fullback that will help shore up the defence and provide some experience in the back. Kuqi will help bring in the goals, but he’s not going to be quite as leaned on as Äijälä by the team because he’s joined in the attack by Lucas Garcia, Masar Ömer, and the ageless Pablo Couñago, so this team has a multitude of attacking options.
Ilari Äijälä

RoPS
The Veikkausliiga runners-up have had quite the off-season, with most of last year’s backbone moving elsewhere. Going out are Eero Markkanen (AIK), Mosa Yaghoubi (Spartaks Jurmala), Faith Obilor (Inter Turku), Tomas Hradecky (Bohemians 1905) and Tomer Chencinski (Helsingborgs). Yaghoubi is the one that will be missed the most. He was one of the best young players in Veikkausliiga and really should be called up to the Huuhkajat anytime now. Replacements for these players include Juuso Hämäläinen (Inter Turku), Rob Taylor (JJK) and Ransford Osei. Osei is the player that can make or break this team this season. A solid secondary striker who a couple years ago was on the up and up, even making it to the Eredivisie with Twente, he will be counted on to take some of the scoring burden off of Aleksandr Kokko, last season’s top Veikkausliiga scorer. In all honesty, Kokko not leaving would make him the highlight player of the transfer season if I could do that.
Juuso Hämäläinen

SJK
What an off-season for the champions. While a couple of key pieces from the championship team moved on, the team is fully reloaded for the upcoming season and it’s hard to decide what move was the best for them. Heading out from Seinäjoki include Allan Souza (back to Liverpool), Wayne Brown, Akseli Pelvas (Falkenbergs), Pavle Milosavljevic (Ilves) and Cédric Gogoua (Partizan Belgrade). Coming in are players of fabulous quality. Highlighted by Finland international Alexei Eremenko Jr (Jaro), he is joined by players including defender El-Hadji Gana Kane (Ferriolense), young midfielder Matej Hradecky (TPS), Estonian international Tarmo Kink (Levadia), winger Youness Rahimi (HIFK), Finnish international defender Jarkko Hurme (Odds), Roope Riski on a permanent basis (Haugesund), and former Honka defender Abdoulaye Méïté. The team is not short of depth in most positions. I highlight Eremenko as my key, because unlike most of the players listed coming in, how he does this season could vary wildly. If motivated and he regains past form, he could be towards the top of league assist charts. If he remains in the form he has been in for a couple years…Allan would be missed.
Youness Rahimi

VPS
After a disappointing 2015 in which they only finished one point ahead of KTP, they also lose their top scorer, Juho Mäkelä (HIFK), who scored 16 of the team’s 36 goals last season. In addition, they also are losing midfielder Tony Björk, holding midfielder Denis Abdulahi and defender Teemu Honkaniemi. Coming into the team this season are Finnish international defender Veli Lampi (HJK), Nikko Boxall (Zweibrücken), Juho Lähde (SJK) and striker Andre Clennon on a permanent basis (Arnett Gardens). Lampi must lead the defence to perform solidly in order to make up for the lack of scoring threats.  There are just not many attacking options as it stands, so that must be something the club must look at.
Veli Lampi

So let me know if there’s something I missed, stupid mistakes in judgement or you disagree with my assessment of what players will be important for each team. I’m always up for differing opinions. Until next time, which I’m hoping will be my predictions for how the league table will look at the end of this Veikkausliiga season, thanks for slogging through this article with me.