Showing posts with label Suomen Palloliitto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Suomen Palloliitto. Show all posts

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, January 24, 2013

Honka lose two players over unpaid wages

Thursday saw a potentially landmark decision in football in Finland, and potentially worldwide. While governed by the laws of the land, football employment cases tend to drag on before leading to precedent cases (Bosman, Webster etc).

After weeks of wrangling, the Finnish football association (Suomen Palloliito) ruled that Honka players Duarte Tammilehto and Tapio Heikkilä were legitimately allowed to walk away from their contracts with the Espoo club on the grounds that they weren't paid for two months, and bonuses were witheld. The club was in financial trouble, and were in danger of missing out on a license to compete in the Veikkausliiga (and Europa League) in 2013.

Why always me? Former Honka captain Heikkilä

The SPL's ruling was thorough, quoting legislation, EU rulings and competition regulations. But they need this ruling to be bulletproof - the situation of unpaid/deferred wages is repeated all over the major European leagues. In Britain alone in 2012, Portsmouth, Hearts and Rangers have had to defer player wages. Rangers players left the club en masse when the club was liquidated, but that was different - Honka remain, despite questions over whether they should have been granted a license.

The short arm of the law - former Honka midfielder Tammilehto

Honka are about to embark on a European campaign, with their first Suomen Cup in tow. But without these two players, and striker Tim Väyrynen is currently training with Dutch Eredivisie side Heracles, it's hard to see how they can keep pace in 2013. They will struggle to advertise themselves as good employers after this, and only a European campaign could tempt players to Espoo.

Meanwhile, two promising young players are free agents. Heikkilä is rumoured to be interested in moving to KuPS, while Tammilehto is close to signing with TPS. Honka have seven days to appeal the ruling.

It wouldn't be Finnish football without some kind of legal wrangling prior to the start of a season...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Veikkausliiga 2013 - not all about the money

On Wednesday evening, the Finnish Football League licensing committee will meet to decide on the Veikkausliiga licenses for the 2013 season. It's been well documented that Suomen Cup winners Honka have had financial difficulties, but on Monday it was revealed that three clubs have been asked to provide documents and assurances that they could fulfil a top flight season. 

 Cup winners Honka, could they be relegated for off-the-pitch problems?

Ykkönen runners-up SJK and third-placed side Viikingit have been invited, as were the team relegated in 2012, Haka. It would be a huge shock for three clubs to be promoted. KuPS last week posted financial losses for the season of €200,000, meaning they have lost €1.1m over the last three seasons. Their main financier Ari Lahti will continue to bankroll them, but for how long?

Will any of these clubs join the 2013 party?

Well money isn't the be all and end all. As part of UEFA regulations, the Finnish league are obliged to ensure that the competing clubs meet the main objectives:

a) to further promote and continuously improve the standard of all aspects of football in Europe and to give continued priority to the training and care of young players in every club;
b) to ensure that clubs have an adequate level of management and organisation;
c) to adapt clubs’ sporting infrastructure to provide players, spectators and media representatives with suitable, well-equipped and safe facilities;
d) to protect the integrity and smooth running of the UEFA club competitions;
e) to allow the development of benchmarking for clubs in financial, sporting, legal, personnel, administrative and infrastructure-related criteria throughout Europe.


Perhaps Honka's financial troubles, with the recent disputes about players looking into legal angles, won't meet D.

We will know on Thursday what the final line-up will be for 2013. The Veikkausliiga website made a point of trying to avoid leaving it late, but with the Liigacup draw already made, could we have Ykkönen clubs involved?

It's only been two years since the whole structure of the league was forced to change because of the removal of Tampere United and AC Oulu, so at least it's a step in the right direction that it's being sorted before Christmas. But Finnish clubs (and the governing body) will need to ensure the stability of the clubs to avoid this confusion again next year.