Sunday, November 20, 2016

Finland's darkest hour

It's around this time of year, in late November, when the sun sets on Utsjoki in Northern Finland for winter - not to be seen again until January. Even then it's only for an hour or so, but it's essentially eight weeks of darkness. It's not all bad, it's the best time to see the Northern Lights and the snow does bring some relief.

Image: Pentti Kallinen / Yle

In a similar vein, the sun was supposed to rise on Finnish football on January 1st 2016. The reign of Mixu Paatelainen and his Christmas tree was over, a solid caretaker spell from Markku Kanerva steadied the ship, Hans Backe taking over the job full-time at the turn of the year once his television commitments were finished.

Since then...

It isn't (all) Backe's fault. He's had a rotten run of injuries. At various points, he's been without Moisander, Sparv, Pohjanpalo, Uronen and Hetemaj. He has also inherited a World Cup qualifying group in which Finland were fifth seed because of the FIFA ranking at the time of the draw (90th in July 2015, thanks Mixu). A group containing Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey was always going to be tough, especially with the addition of a Kosovo side who'd never played a competitive game. Certainly harder than the Euro 2016 pool, where third place guaranteed at least a play-off.



Away friendlies were arranged against big teams in Belgium, Poland, Italy and Germany. They were even leading in Belgium in the 89th minute. But...

There is a tactical inflexibility as infuriating as Mixu's 4-3-2-1. Playing seven defenders at home to Croatia, which left about half a mile of space behind Pukki, was knackered as soon as they conceded. Moisander in midfield? I've gone on record saying I'm not his biggest fan, but don't play him there. Of course he then picked up a booking which ruled him out of the Ukraine match.

Moisander v Iceland

The players need to take responsibility. Moisander himself was lucky to play against Croatia after a complete lack of discipline after the injury time goal in Iceland where he grabbed the ref by the collar. Backe's video analyst John Wall has said that "only half of the players" watched the pre-Ukraine footage that was sent to them by mobile phone. Individual errors have directly resulted in conceding goals.

This brings us onto Roman Eremenko. This week he received a two-year ban from UEFA after testing positive for cocaine in a Champions League match between Bayer Leverkusen and his club side CSKA Moscow. Eremenko scored in a 2-2 draw on matchday one. Russian journalists have suggested that the levels in the sample implied that he almost certainly took the drugs on the day of the game. His club have indicated that they will appeal...


Eremenko has probably been the most consistently excellent Finland player at club level over the last two years. He hasn't always brought that form to the national team, but his quality is unquestionable. Assuming the appeal is unsuccessful, he won't be available again until October 2018, at which point qualification will have begun for Euro 2020. Then one has to take into account his readiness - fitness, mental state, motivation, plus he'll be 31 and not played a match in two years. Will he still be on the gear during his enforced break?

There are benefits - his presence in the team arguably slowed things down in the final third, while it may allow younger dynamic players like Robin Lod to flourish in his absence. There are several others in the U21 side who may also benefit, Simon Skrabb to name one. But his absence is another black mark on Finnish football, one which will bring extra scrutiny on players and support staff alike.

The other elephant in the room is the FIFA Ranking. I touched on it earlier, how the rankings are used to decide seedings. Well, under Backe the ranking has dropped to 101st at the time of writing - Finland's lowest since the system came into effect in 1991. Ranked below Syria, Malawi and Kyrgyzstan is a sad day. The methods used to calculate the positions are questioned, but they are based on results. To put it into context, even the defeat to Ukraine will see Finland rise back into the 90s due to the re-weighting of older matches.

Finland have hardly had glory days in their football history - a fourth place in the 1912 Olympic games is their biggest success, with no World Cup or Euro appearance to list. The team of the late 90s came closest, conceding a shambolic last minute own goal equaliser to Hungary cost a play-off match. A generation with Litmanen, Hyypiä, Johansson, Niemi, Riihilahti, Kolkka, Forssell didn't make it. There was no root-and-branch review.


The biggest nations look to themselves when things go wrong. Germany did it after poor showings in Euro 2000 and 2004 (despite a World Cup final appearance in-between). Brazil took some time after their 2014 semi-final humiliation against the Germans, but replacing Dunga with Tite this year saw a massive upturn in form after a poor start to their qualification. England constantly try new approaches but with similar results - constantly looking elsewhere in a bid to establish their own identity.

Several Finnish youth internationals are based at clubs in England, with supposedly access to elite coaching. Keto at Arsenal, Virtanen at Everton, Sundman at Aston Villa to name but three. Their time may come, but they will need regular first team matches. It's a conversation had regularly about Jari Litmanen - would he be allowed to stay in Finland until 21 in the current age, playing regular games and winning trophies?

Domestic league football in Finland has had something of a renaissance in the last couple of seasons, in interest and drama at least. SJK and IFK Mariehamn winning maiden titles after proper title races, Helsinki derbies bringing sell-out crowds and some needle too with a promotion/relegation play-off between the two big Turku clubs. While average attendances haven't jumped, the fact that every Veikkausliiga game is streamed live and some shown on free-to-air TV won't hurt at all. Even the second tier had a strong finish. The PK-35 shambles didn't reflect well however and we can almost certainly look forward to the annual financial scrutiny resulting in some movement within the divisions. We've seen Backe calling up some Finland based players for recent squads - Granlund, Riski, Saksela and Viitala have all been watched.


Ultimately, there's no quick fix for Finland's problems. Palloliitto (the Finnish FA) aren't flush with cash and there are numerous reasons why the changes also need to come at the top. Removing Backe will only work if a proper structure is in place to choose the correct successor, and there is little chance of that happening given the calibre of applicants for the last vacancy. The disparity between international sides is greater than in league matches, there are more mismatches in qualifiers. Backe's recent contact with Wales manager Chris Coleman seemed to suggest a desire to look past his own side, but Finland do not have Aaron Ramsey or Gareth Bale.

At their recent meeting, the weekend of the Eremenko ban news, Palloliitto reminded everyone that the number of registered footballers in Finland is up 7% to over 140,000 players, including 32,000 females. These are numbers to be proud of, for sure. But the context in which these figures were unveiled suggests that everything is fine.

It's a long time until the next qualifier away to Turkey in March and a lot can change. It certainly can't get any worse.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Interview with FF Jaro manager Kristian Heames

In my day job, I've worked with a variety of different people. Some wonderful, some awful, most ok. One is a contestant on this week's Come Dine With Me (Mark aka Bobby), another is the spitting image of Giles from Gogglebox. I didn't ever think that one colleague, someone I have a lot of time for, would have a brother who would one day manage a Finnish football club I also have a lot of time for. But nonetheless, I should have twigged earlier that Sinead's brother is the new boss of FF Jaro, Kristian Heames. Through Sinead, I managed to get a few questions in, all for the price of some jelly popping candy chocolate. Even after all those times I bored her to tears by talking about the dog...

How did you end up at Jaro? Did you have previous links to the club?  
I have a coaching company in England called FDS, we work with West Bromwich Albion and have been coaching in Finland for nearly 10 years.  In that time we worked with Jaro and got to know people at the club and on the board.  After Nikolas Vidjeskog was coming to the end of his caretaker role they interviewed me whilst I was in Finland, I felt it went well and they offered me the job that evening with a three day start time which was a bit of surprise!


You've done a number of other roles in football, how have they prepared you for management?
I think spending time delivering sessions to many thousands of players over the last 16 years prepares you well for working with a new group.  Whoever you coach you have to earn their respect and give them what they need to improve and perform. Also having worked in strength and conditioning, scouting, coaching and business has given me a broad range of experiences which help when you have to cover a lot as a head coach of a small budget club.

Do you think the club can achieve promotion next season?  
Yes and that is what we are aiming for.  

The infrastructure of clubs varies hugely, how is Jaro looking below the first team?
There are many juniors playing and for the size of town and club they compete well in Finland. The ultimate success being the number of players making it through to play for the first team.

Jaro have a good recent history of bringing through young players (Öst, Eremenko, Atakayi, Skrabb etc), any more on the production line?
Samu Alanko was a big plus from this season. At 18 years old to score seven in eight at the end of the season and starting three games was obviously a success. Also local boy Joni Remesaho, who at 23 made his Jaro debut and a big impact even though it was his first experience of the Ykkönen. Going forward we have Adam Vidjeskog and Oskar Sandström, who I would expect to make good progress and an impact next season, with possibly some B juniors like Axel Vidjeskog moving up.

Joni Remesaho and Kristian (via FF Jaro Facebook)

What have you changed at the club since you arrived? Results suggest a big improvement. 
There were many good things in place already but I think confidence and team spirit certainly improved quickly when I arrived. I think this spirit is so important and we used that to win all types of games. When you win games the confidence comes. To achieve this on the pitch, we tried to play in a positive manner and also by increasing the tempo which we played at.

There's a big mix of nationalities in the squad - what is the team spirit like?
Really good, but it took some work. We are currently in the process of building next years squad. The local players need to be recruited first as you need at least 9 homegrown players. After that it is about selecting the right players from outside the club, whether they are Finnish or elsewhere.


What are your early thoughts on living in Finland? How much of a culture shock has it been?
I have been in Finland many times over the last ten years and spent a lot of time with Finnish people, so the culture shock was not that big, I feel quite comfortable here. I think the social media thing has already boosted the club, albeit in a small way. The club's Facebook page seems to have had a lot of new likes from England since I started!

Woody wearing my Jaro shirt - thanks Viktor!

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A big thank you to Kristian for his time and Sinead for sorting it out. More interviews over the winter months. You can hear more from Kristian in an audio interview with local paper Österbottens Tidning, available from this link.

Veikkausliiga 2016 predictions reviewed

Back at the start of the season, some friends of ETS, led by Henry, made some predictions before the first ball was kicked (you can have a gander here). Now, with the snow falling and the trophy safely secured in Mariehamn, the guys reminisce about how it all went - with gratitude that little money was invested on the results...


Henry Hakamäki - Twitter @huck1995

Key to the Title:  Defence, defence, defence, and preparation. Mariehamn kept 18 clean sheets in 33 Veikkausliiga games and only conceded 25 goals all season. This is despite having the second lowest possession share in the Veikkausliiga.  All of the players, even the strikers, worked tirelessly off the ball and when not in possession, constantly harassing the opponents and then bunkering down once they took the lead.  Keeper Walter Viitala and defenders Albin Granlund, Kristian Kojola, Philip Mantilla, Bobbie Friberg da Cruz and particularly Captain Jani Lyyski need to be particularly commended for their incredible work this season.  Also, worth noting is that the new coaching staff of Kari Virtanen and Peter Lundberg had the team looking extremely prepared and organised for every single fixture of the season.

Why PK-35 and Inter Turku Were the Bottom Two: The cynical side of me wants to say that the common thread between the PK-35 and Inter Turku is Shefki Kuqi, but he wasn’t entirely the problem with either team.  In reality though, it was mainly what was going on higher up.  PK-35 were run horrifically, and it’s no surprise that they finished so far down at the bottom that they had less than half the points of the second worst team. It’s hard to come into the season with little finances, have the coaching staff revolt and resign, lose a manager, have all the best players pack up and leave, and still have to play games. With Turku, there was a lack of cohesion between players.  Look at the roster and you’ll see enough talent that they should have been easily safe, but they did not work together well at all, leading to scoring the least goals in the league and giving up the fourth most goals. Shefki’s appointment certainly didn’t help with the cohesion, and due to this, their results actually got worse once he took the job.

Player of the Year:  Jani Lyyski (IFK Mariehamn), with Alfredo Morelos (HJK) and Roope Riski (SJK) being runners up.  Mariehamn’s defence was practically impenetrable throughout the whole year, in no small part to Captain Lyyski.  Ferocious in defence, calm and collected in organising those around him into seemingly always the right spots, and even chipping in five goals and an assist to his name, he virtually did it all.  Pretty much impeccable all season. Meanwhile, Morelos was the main reason that HJK finished second, without him it’s doubtful they would have made the top four or even five, and Roope as usual was the driving force behind SJK for the majority of the season and rightfully collected the Golden Boot for the league.

Dark Horse (obviously Mariehamn, but another is…):  What Mariehamn accomplished cannot be overstated.  And to be pretty much at the top of the table from beginning to end of the season is a testament to their stability and consistency.  Beyond the obvious, Ilves and VPS were both hugely surprising this season. VPS did an incredible job of succeeding despite losing Juho Mäkela after last season, and gave up the second least amount of goals of any team (behind Mariehamn).  Ilves, meanwhile, seemingly won every time they were in a close game, and to finish fifth in the league with the budget that they have was incredible.  Special shoutout to Ilves keeper Mika Hilander, who looked like the best goalkeeper in the league for big chunks of the season.  Their midfield actually was really solid, scoring 29 goals.  If they had a big time striker, they could’ve even won the league (their strikers only accounted for 8 goals…).


Biggest Disappointment:  PK-35, whom I picked to surprise a lot of people this season, certainly surprised, but it was the surprise of being worse than I could have even imagined. The season started badly and progressively got worse and worse, with the sole happy moment being their final game of the season where they got revenge on Shefki, who had basically abandoned them mid-season, by beating Inter Turku and ensuring that Inter would play in the promotion/relegation playoff.  Also worth noting is HJK. Outside of their young loanee, Alfredo Morelos, Atomu Tanaka (who got injured once again), and Taye Taiwo (also injured), there was very little explosiveness, and without them their season could have been very, very bad by their standards. For a club with their resources to have to rely on three players as heavily as they did and to not run away with the title is an indictment of the lack of focus on domestic fixtures by the club.

Most important signing of the year: Probably Morelos, but since I’ve written about him several times already, I’ll spend some time talking about Emile Paul Tendeng (Ilves) and Rob Taylor (RoPS). With 7 goals and 9 assists, Tendeng was behind a significant amount of Ilves’ goals this season, and he was key to them surprising nearly everyone and finishing 5th in the league.  With the lack of finishing by the strikers of Ilves, Tendeng could have had many more assists as well. Meanwhile Taylor pretty much did it all for RoPS, leading them in goals and tied for the team lead in assists, all while playing attacking, center, and defensive mid over the course of the season.

Young Player of the Season:  I can’t choose between Alfredo Morelos (HJK) and Rob Taylor (RoPS). Morelos was one of the only reasons HJK were in a position to win the title through the season.  He was second in the league in goals, and seemingly half of them to either put HJK in the lead or draw them level.  He did underperform in their “must-win” games, but without him, HJK would likely have not even been in the top 4.  Rob Taylor also was vital, driving most of RoPS’s attacks throughout the season.  He’s already looking like he could be a part of the Huuhkajat lineup moving forward.

Manager of the Year: Clearly the dynamic duo of Peter Lundberg and Kari Virtanen. To do what they did with the resources that they had was nothing short of miraculous. Theoretically the Huuhkajat should have a managerial vacancy soon, and while there are lots of managers out there that we would be delighted to have, these two would almost certainly have more success than he-shall-not-be-named (his surname rhymes with “Sacke”…).  Beyond them, Jarkko Wiss (Ilves) and Petri Vuorinen (VPS) deserve a shout for what they did with their respective sides.

What was the most exciting part about this season?:  Could it be anything other than the title race? For the second year running, we’ve come into the last round of fixtures not knowing who would win the title, and again we have a new first time champion. The Veikkausliiga was tight all season, and after the previous dominance of HJK over everyone else, these last two years have been wonderful for the fans.  The excitement and suspense have been incredible, and I’m hoping next year is more of the same!

What was the least exciting part of the season?:  PK-35 were painful to watch, and after losing Billy Ions to SJK, so were Kemi.  Despite the title race being close the last two seasons, the resource gap for the majority of teams is still plain to see.  Furthermore, no one likes to see retrospective point penalties, such as PK-35 and SJK were subject to this season.  Finnish football still has a long way to go in terms of running leagues smoothly and clubs need to spend more time ensuring all paperwork is in order and things such as player eligibilities are taken care of.  It’s the little things that are holding back Finnish football at this point.  The sooner they can be taken care of, the sooner we can move forward.

Juhavaltteri Salminen - Twitter @jvsalminen

Key to the Title: Certainly there's a great surprise element involved, but you have to give credit to IFK Mariehamn for the way they run the club. They're not paying the highest salaries and Åland in itself isn't a huge attraction for players, but boy do they take good care of their employees. They're excellent at finding potential players who have yet to make a breakthrough. They create a very family-like atmosphere in and around the club and have been consistenly developing over the past few years. So while their title was inarguably a shock, that doesn't mean it wasn't also a great reward for doing a terrific, consistent job over the long run. Last year's Finnish Cup title was a sign of things to come, but I definitely didn't see them doing quite as well as they did.

Why PK-35 and Inter Turku Were the Bottom Two: Well, as far as PK-35 are concerned...my short answer here won't begin to adequately answer this question. The club was in turmoil before they ever got promoted, and the ownership changes that were supposed to stabilise the club worked for the exact opposite. Horrible leadership, terrible financial awareness, what have you. Finnish football has had enough of these kinds of stories, but somehow we never seem to learn. 
As for FC Inter, the answer is simpler. While Job Dragtsma will always remembered as the coach who took Inter to glory, there were signs of weariness on both sides. The club had fallen into a feeling of routine and complacency, and while there have been warning signs in the past few years, this was the year things finally came to a head.
It's not just about the coach, it's about the way the club is run in general. It's Stefan Håkans' work of passion rather than your ordinary, success-driven and ambitious football club. Håkans' heart beats for Inter and football, but a sense of being too well-off has emerged at Inter. They have no financial concerns, no real pressure to succeed because it's a thing of passion more than anything else. Inter have become complacent, fallen into the routine of doing things the way they've been doing them for ages, when what they really needed to do long ago was shuffle the pack to keep things interesting. Now it's been same faces, same routines, the same stuff for too long and the club has stagnated to the point where it's starting to cost them massively on the pitch.
As far as this particular year is concerned...Well, Dragtsma seemed to have lost his spark some time ago and didn't seem like the right man to change the club's fortunes anymore. Then they put their faith in a rookie head coach who was just as much a face of the club's stagnation as Dragtsma, so the first change of coach didn't really change anything. Finally, they got Shefki Kuqi, which, given Kuqi's recent history, was a huge risk to take. On the pitch Inter were a mess most of the time, and somehow the club thought they could save their ass in the transfer market. While they signed good players (on paper), that's just not how you turn things around if you can't play decent football. There's countless examples of that. So it was a summer of amateur mistakes from Inter, and a year in which their lack of ambition finally caught up with them. Maybe a relegation play-off spot and a possible relegation is exactly the alarm clock they needed. The club really needs somebody to take responsibility of everything that has to do with the actual football in that organisation. Inter are a huge fiasco. With the players they have the club should have been in the running for silverware. This is a total disaster, even if they stay up.

Player of the Year: I hate it when the awards always go to those who record the most goals or assists, but this time I just have to go for Alfredo Morelos of HJK because of his overall value to his team. HJK were hideous by their standards, and if it wasn't for Morelos, they would've missed the top 3 entirely. What little success HJK had, they owed it to Morelos' goals, so I just can't overlook him. A shout out has to go for Emile Paul Tendeng of Ilves, what a great signing.


Dark Horse: This has to be Ilves, even if they were unlucky to narrowly miss out on a Europa League spot. While many expected the classic "difficult second season" problem to catch up with them, what happened was the complete opposite. Jarkko Wiss proved his credentials as a coach, and they made some fantastic additions (Tendeng, Soisalo) while keeping faith in the players they had. I also wanna name VPS. I didn't expect much of them, but for me, VPS were the team that showed the most improvement over the season. It's a club with a new football philosophy, and I can see them becoming a force in the next couple of years (if they aren't one already).

Biggest Disappointment:  I can't pick one over the other, so HJK and Inter will have to share the prize. For HJK to miss out on the title for the second year running is a disaster that can't be overstated, given their resources. There's just no excuses, and I'm interested to see who carries the responsibility and how. Their form dipped remarkably after their UEL qualifiers, just like last year. That clearly suggests the club is too obsessed with Europe, no matter what they say. They've lost their focus and it's cost them. European fixtures are a great opportunity, but how can you build an entire football season around a few European fixtures? To concentrate so fully on Europe is to underestimate the league and the other clubs. They've been arrogant and not in a good way. It is also very much a coaching issue. A Veikkausliiga coach can't ask for more than Mika Lehkosuo was given, and for HJK not to win the title with the players they had is an unacceptable failure. Inter share the top spot in this category for reasons mentioned earlier. It's baffling they haven't even secured their Veikkausliiga status with the players they have.

Most important signing of the year:  My both player of the year nominees happen to be new signings, so it has to be Morelos or Tendeng. But a shout out has to go to Gabriel Petrovic, who returned to IFK Mariehamn and was an unsung hero in their success. While he doesn't provide too many goals or assists, he's an extremely important balancing factor in IFK's midfield and a key player in their fantastic defensive record.

Young Player of the Season: Mikael Soisalo (Ilves). His move to Ilves went very much under the radar, but what an exciting prospect he turned out to be. Ilves also deserve a lot of credit for finding such a gem of a player.

Manager of the Year:  It just has to be Peter Lundberg hasn't it? To replace a club legend after a 13-year tenure and take a mid-table side to an unlikely title is really remarkable. I don't want to understate Kari Virtanen's role as a mentor either, but Lundberg has done a fantastic job at the training ground. Jarkko Wiss (Ilves) and Petri Vuorinen (VPS) are well worth a mention as well.

What was the most exciting part about this season? Almost everything! Finnish football has badly missed a title race, but now we had one for the ages. The relegation battle was also a three-way contest right until the end. Not a single one of the last round's games was a dead rubber. What more can you ask for? So the most exciting thing for me was the general competitiveness of the league. It has boosted interest and attendances, so I hope the trend continues even if it's not realistic to expect a similar ending every year. I also want to mention the opening of new stadia in Vaasa and Seinäjoki, Finnish football is in dire need of proper grounds.

What was the least exciting part of the season?: The whole PK-35 situation was just catastrophic, and it's time the Finnish football community sat down and started thinking how we can put and end to the recurring theme of badly-led clubs and financial worries. Something also needs to be done about the fixture list sooner rather than later, although this is more of a recurring discussion than anything that has to do with this particular season. This will continue to be a problem until there are enough top-flight teams with proper stadia. For Christ's sake, Veikkausliiga doesn't even have a concept called "a round of matches". While all European leagues primarily run on weekends with a settled format, Veikkausliiga continues to be played on all imaginable weekdays. Teams don't even have a similar rhythm, it's not unusual to see a league table with two or three games separating teams. Some improvements were made this year, but all in all the fixture list is a mess that shows a total lack of football culture. Either we have to admit that 33 games is too much or we just need to make the season longer by whatever means possible.

Mark Hayton - Twitter @fcsuomi www.fcsuomi.com

Key to the Title: Jani Lyyski, mainly Mariehamn's defence it was the meanest in the league, Albin Granlund at right back also did well connecting the play, he justified his call up.

Why PK-35 and Inter Turku Were the Bottom Two: PK-35 hit a fork in the road back in May and with the coaching staff revolt and finger pointing, they decided to self implode... I wouldn't put that on Shefki, the problem was higher up. Inter, that was Shefki. By bringing in so many of his own players (Njazi, Garcia, Zeneli etc.) he created a rift in an already fragmented dressing room. The players have the quality to survive the play off, it's just a question of whether they can work together.

Player of the Year:  Roope Riski, golden boot, without him SJK would've been mid table. HJK's Alfredo Morelos is in the same category, but he tended to go missing in big games.

Dark Horse (obviously Mariehamn, but another is…): Ilves, the job Jarkko Wiss has done is phenomenal. 

Biggest Disappointment: Inter Turku. That club just seems to romp from shambles to shambles. Oddly if they survive I think Shefki might be a good fit, they both need success now.

Most important signing of the year: Arguably, Alexei Eremenko for SJK, who crippled the champions and created the vacuum for Mariehamn to march into. On a positive side, probably Ville Jalasto for HJK, imperious at Centre back.

Young Player of the Season:  Robert Taylor best thing since Santa, Pyry Soiri also looks tasty.

Manager of the Year: The obvious (IFK’s Duo), with special mention to both Jarkko Wiss at Ilves and Muurinen for keeping HIFK out of trouble (on the pitch).

What was the most exciting part about this season?:  The last Stadin Derby had everything and meant so much at both ends of the table... A proper footballing experience... Oh and the hilarious head scratching from anyone that was brave enough to make a prediction.

What was the least exciting part of the season?:  Kemi, but for a filing error they'd have finished 2nd bottom. No win since August, Billy Ions departure made them really tough on the eye

Keke Myllari - Twitter handle & Website @kekemyllari kekemyllari.wordpress.com

Key to the Title: IFK Mariehamn’s team spirit... maybe it’s an island mentality!!! Also Klubi’s inability to turn draws into wins!

Why PK-35 and Inter Turku Were the Bottom Two: Errmmmm Shefki.....?

Player of the Year: Sticking with my prediction, Roope Riski, top scorer whose goals almost won the league for SJK

Dark Horse (obviously Mariehamn, but another is…): Sticking with my prediction of VPS, for those guys to finish in fourth is a great result for them, also a mention for Ilves who were predicted a tough season by many and ended the season in a very respectable fifth above established Veikkausliiga sides like RoPS and KuPS.

Biggest Disappointment: HIFK, I was expecting better things from HIFK this season but was surprised that they struggled and only just avoided a dangerous relegation play-off.

Most important signing of the year: Well my prediction of Eremenko to SJK didn’t quite work out so I’ve gone for my young player of the year Robert Taylor, despite the name he is Finnish and he proved to be a great signing for RoPS also a mention for young Mikael Soisalo picked up by Ilves from Klubi 04 for nothing, he is definitely one for the future!

Young Player of the Season: I’m sticking with my prediction Robert Taylor, had a great season chipping in with 11 goals from midfield this season finishing 7th on the top scorers list .

Manager of the Year: Shefki Kuqi for almost relegating two teams in one season!!!

What was the most exciting part about this season?: Ykkönen title race, culminating in JJK being crowned champions on the last day of the season followed closely by Veikkausliiga title race!!

What was the least exciting part of the season?: PK-35 giving up their Veikkausliiga existence without a whimper....