Showing posts with label 2016. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2016. Show all posts

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 They have been replaced by Ykkönen champions PS Kemi and play-off winners PK-35 Vantaa.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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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...


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...