Showing posts with label Reipas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reipas. Show all posts

Monday, February 04, 2013

Kuningas Litmanen Part I - Growing up in Finland

(Before I start, I've decided to separate my look at the Kuningas Litmanen documentary into separate parts - I appreciate a lot of my Finnish followers will have already seen it, but this is aimed at the English market who would otherwise not have watched. It's not strictly a review, more just an accompaniment).

The film opens in Amsterdam to the singing of crowds, the backdrops of the Amsterdam Arena, of the Nou Camp, and the famous This Is Anfield sign. Dutch sports journalist David Endt speaks about how Litmanen is heart, watching him is like jazz. Photos of Jari in action for MYPA, Ajax and Barcelona merge into one another.

The first real action clip is from a match between Reipas (who became FC Lahti after merging with FC Kuusysi) versus OTP in April 1988. It's been snowing, the players are in tracksuit bottoms. If you can look past the stonewashed denim and blond mullet, a very slight, nimble Reipas forward wearing number 17 has his back to goal, throws himself in the air, and strikes the ball cleanly into the goal.

Fast forward 22 years to September 2010, to the 87th minute of AC Oulu v FC Lahti, and the score is 1-1. A ball is tossed into the penalty area, where a slight, nimble Lahti forward wearing number 10 has his back to goal (12 yards out), chests the ball expertly, and scores an acrobatic bicycle kick. Jari Litmanen's goal won the match for Lahti, but unfortunately didn't save them from relegation.

Jari's overhead goal for Lahti in 2010

We meet Miska, who had a rather elaborate tattoo of Jari on his left thigh, in his words "the undisputed king of Finnish football", in celebration of one of the coolest goals in history. Former Ajax teammate Edwin van der Sar talks about how he saw the goal on the internet and couldn't quite believe it, how he's still exceptional.

We return to Lahti in 2010, at the unveiling of a statue in honour of Jari, and we meet a fan who has travelled all the way from China to meet his hero. Current Finnish president (then head of the FA) Sauli Niinistö calls Jari an ambassador of football, Finnish football and Finland. Jari himself hopes that the statue is more durable than himself...

The statue of Jari in Lahti

Jari's father Olavi talks of the time when Jari was only a couple of months old, how the stadium noise would wake him. His father was a Reipas player himself, spending his entire career with the club. Jari's mother Liisa played for Reipa's women's team in the 1970s, and spoke about how her and Jari would play football in the garden, as well as Jari practising on his own in the garden, knocking flowers all over the place.

It's in this section where we first meet Jari, dressed in a purple roll-neck jumper eating sushi. He talks about the day when he was younger, wanting his mother to get his football from the shed, despite the weather being -20c. When mother refused, he broke the glass. Even his dad said that he'd have been punished but it was for football so he relented...

Suave Jari

Lahti coach (and Jari's friend) Tommi Kautonen talks about how focused Jari was from a young age, that it was obvious he'd leave Finland after his army days. When a junior, he'd often play in teams one or two years older than himself.

Jari talks about playing in the 1980 Helsinki Cup, where he scored the winning goal against Tuusula Palloseura. His scrapbooks are getting plenty of airing in this film. The next clip is a news report from when a 16-year-old Jari scored in the Lahti cup final, after just 60 seconds. Jari reveals his embarrassment at receiving an electric razor as a prize, when he wasn't quite ready to shave for a while yet...

Jari and his trophy (and razor)

Jari takes us for a walk around the Lahti suurhalli, where he'd play football before, during and after school. Legendary Finnish football 'custodian' Gunnar Yliharju saw him and enquired if he was a truant "Why doesn't he go to school"?

Scoring his eighth goal of the season for Reipas

Jari made it into the first team at Reipas, and an interview after a match in which he said football was his priority over school. Before long, he received his first international call-up, for Finland against Trinidad and Tobago in October 1989. National coach Jukka Vakkila spoke of how he had heard that Jari was too slow at international level, but he promoted him from the under-21s and it was a fine moment as they won 1-0. 

Jari on early international duty

Vakkila goes on to praise Jari's natural first touch, and his amazing ability to read the game. His ability to make mediocre players better, and to improve the ryhthm of a game is the sign of a good player.

One of Litmanen's later national coaches Roy Hodgson spoke about how he wanted to sign him while he was in charge of Swiss club Neuchâtel Xamax in 1991, but he was on his way to coach the Swiss national team and Jari apparently saw it as too much of a risk.

Jari talks of his training camp in Barcelona with Johan Cruyff in 1991, describing it as quite an experience for a Finnish boy to train with Koeman, Stoichkov and Laudrup (as well as referencing a young Pep Guardiola). That was the famous 'dream team', who won the European Cup at Wembley the following year.

A young Jari with Johan Cruyff (far left) in 1991

The film quickly moves around his spells with HJK and MYPA, interspersed with talk of his army career. There was also cursory mentions of enquiries made by Leeds United and PSV Eindhoven. Jari spoke about how good an education HJK was.

It was during this spell that sees perhaps the biggest insight to Jari's personal life. His cousin died in a motorcycle accident while Jari was in the army, and it affected him hugely. Jari is fighting back the tears as he describes his cousin as a big brother. His cousin had played football as well, and it helped drive Jari onwards, as it's what his cousin would have wanted.

MYPA 1992, also featuring a young Sami Hyypiä

Jari signed for MYPA in 1992 in a surprising move, as MYPA themselves admitted he was probably too good to remain in Finland. He didn't stay long, but he won the Suomen Cup with them in July 1992, his first senior trophy. Hyypiä speaks knowingly about Jari, that his abilities would take him far.

Litmanen's goal in the 1992 Finnish Cup final (from ESPN)

It was at MYPA that he first noticed Ajax scouts watching him, and that's where we'll press the pause button. The next part of the documentary will take Jari to Holland, we'll have a look at that later on this week.