Showing posts with label Veikkausliiga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Veikkausliiga. Show all posts

Monday, June 19, 2017

Top five - Huuhkajat needing a transfer

Another guest post from Mark of FC Suomi - this time looking at the five Finland players in need of a transfer... Five players at various stages of their careers.

Tero Mäntylä

By the end of 2014, Tero's stock as a ball playing centre-back was on the rise and with the number of games under his belt increasing both domestically and in European competition, the then-22 year old looked like in Ludogorets and the Bulgarian top flight, he'd managed to take the road less travelled to the big time. As qualification to the Champions League became more likely, however billionaire owner Kiril Domuschiev decided to throw money into the first team. After playing his part in the qualifiers to get them to football's top table, Tero found himself at the back of the Ludogorets queue. With game time looking scarce, Tero made a bold move to mutually cancel his contract, packing his six winners medals (two leagues, two cups, two supercups) and heading north to Aalesunds. The 2015 season started well enough for Tero, playing behind then-captain Sakari Mattila; though Aalesund with a lack of firepower struggled in the league. Harald Aabrekk was sacked, Trond Fredriksen came in and Tero's role slowly diminished. and in 2017 is yet to make an appearance for the Tangoshirts. At his best, Tero was seen as an understudy to Niklas Moisander, composed and a good reader of the game who relies more on wits than strength. The promising youngster is now 26 and may be well served with a return home, to (for example) a former champion looking for composure and calm after a disruptive start to the campaign.

Mehmet Hetemaj

This may be tough for SJK fans to hear, but Mehmet Hetemaj is too good for the Veikkausliiga. Through the highs of Simo's transformative reign and the pain of the Boström experiment, Mehmet has been a constant throughout. Mehmet often provided the extra quality needed (see the Finnish Cup Final last year, and semi-final this year) to drive the team forward. His three years in Seinäjoki have taken him to the ripe old age of 29 meaning it may be unlikely there's still one big move left in him, but a good showing in European competition could be all he needs.  

Thomas Lam

Mark Warburton is a fighter. He was installed at Nottingham Forest to avoid yet another crisis, so he rallied the troops around simple, direct tactics and the kind of tackling that wouldn't be unusual outside of a nightclub at four in the morning. While it's true Thomas Lam may need to toughen up his edges, their styles in play and approach to the game may be too broad to bridge. Warburton and his assistant David Weir have no time for "luxury players", yet seem to define such players by the thickness of their accent and are no strangers to falling out with people. Throw in the inevitable chaos and confusion that is the once mighty Nottingham Forest, and you've got one of the intelligent prospects of Finnish football potentially being taught the art of the concealed Glasgow kiss, the cheeky nut-grab or the hoof. With many admirers still back in Holland and a host of Championship managers also aware of his poise and calm, it may be best for all concerned to simply agree to disagree.

Tim Väyrynen

The Veikkausliiga player of the year in 2013 left Finland with high hopes, three cup winners medals and a burgeoning international career. Since then he's had a series of impressive false starts, despite scoring on his Borussia Dortmund II, Victoria Köln and Dynamo Dresden debuts. Köln in the German regional leagues was the only place he got a run of games, scoring 11 in 15 and lifting the Middle Rhine Regional Cup at the end of the 2015 season. Other postings have seen Tim limited to sub appearances, which for a developing player with his potential was less than ideal. Like others in this list though, he is no longer a young player. Now 24 with roughly around ten appearances a season (mostly off the bench) for the past four seasons, at four different clubs, Tim needs consistency, that means games, which usually brings goals.

Berat Sadik

Two years ago, Sadik was in the prime of his career, banging goals in for a resurgent FC Thun and causing Mixu Paatelainen problems by carrying his scoring form to the national team with a goal against Northern Ireland. With plaudits from every corner, European competition beckoning and Mixu on his way out; the summer of 2015 looked decidedly rosy. Football is however complex, a mistimed tackle (in Finland's win over Greece) and misguided transfer to newly promoted Krylya Sovetov in the Russian Premier League combined to give Berat just 17 appearances in the last two years, only four of them starts and grabbing no goals. This turn of events is made all the more galling considering Krylya simply don't play with wingers or to a target man, like Berat, they were relegated last season. Still only 30 and with rumours that he is to fill an Alfredo Morelos shaped hole at HJK, Berat is still a powerful target man who has shown that a regular run of games ends up with goals. You just can't help feel that whatever agent took him to the Soviets (literal translation of "Sovetov") should pay back his 15%.

Congratulations must be lauded also on Petteri Forsell (number 1 in the draft of this article), who is clearly too good for the Polish first division and should make a real impact in Krakow next season. 

Many thanks again to Mark for this stellar contribution. You can follow his works on FC Suomi and on the Finnish Football Show podcast.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Veikkausliiga kits 2017

Every year, I start the season by looking at the kits to be worn in the upcoming Veikkausliiga season. I'm a big fan of football kits, although sometimes they do get a bit boring... This year, we're looking at a variety - some awesome, some incredibly dull. Make your own mind up!

IFK Mariehamn - Puma

HJK - Adidas

SJK - Adidas

VPS - Puma

 Ilves - Adidas

RoPS - Puma

KuPS - Puma

Lahti - Umbro 

PS Kemi - Stanno

HIFK - Puma

Inter Turku - Nike

JJK - Nike

If you fancy getting your hand on these, click on the club shop tab at the top - most are readily available...

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Veikkausliiga predictions 2017

Last year, during my Lumi-related hiatus, some of the Finnish Football Show extended family did some predictions ahead of the 2016 Veikkausliiga season. No-one called IFK Mariehamn's title. Now I'm back, and while it's lumi of a different kind which is having an effect, let's see what we can see.

Your name:  Henry Hakamäki
Twitter handle/Website: @Huck1995 Finnish Football Show and Shorts Contributor

Title Winners:  HJK.  And unfortunately, I don’t see the title race coming down to the last day of the season, as we’ve been blessed with the last two seasons.  After the past two seasons of (comparative) failure, at least according to HJK standards, they’ve really reloaded this summer and have looked really strong in the Suomen Cup this pre-season.  Last season’s title winners IFK Mariehamn have a lot of their title winning side, and SJK has through injury and transfers lost a lot of their team’s spine, so it’s hard to see them playing to the standard they set last season.  If Tanaka manages to finally stay healthy this season, Morelos continues to play to his incredible level from last year, and the incoming Demba Savage, Mosa Yaghoubi, Faith Obilor, Juha Pirinen, Hannu Patronen, et al. make an impact as soon as they come in, watch out.  The rest of the league will have trouble keeping pace, and HJK could even do a bit of damage in Europe this year if they get a decent draw.

Bottom two:  Kemi Kings and JJK.  Kemi was lucky to avoid relegation last season, which was mainly due to the dumpster fire that was PK35, and the sheer incompetence of Inter Turku despite having quality players.  Needless to say, Kemi had one bright spot last year, Billy Ions, who left halfway through last season to join SJK, and they haven’t really done anything big in the transfer market to expect better from them this year.  If the young players they picked up can make a big impact right away, they might have hope, otherwise it could be a long season for our friends from Kemi.  Meanwhile, as much as I hate to say it, JJK looked absolutely abysmal in the Suomen Cup, finishing with 7 goals for (4 were in one game against Kakkonen side Mikkelin) and 19 goals against (including a 9-1 thumping against KuPS) in only 5 games.  Their side is basically the same side that won the Ykkönen last year, but their only additions were the midfield additions from KuPS, Patrick Poutiainen and Saku Leppänen.  If the Suomen Cup was any indication, expect them to ship in a crapload (scientific measurement) of goals and struggle this season.  

Player of the Year:  I always tend to see the Player of the Year as the player most responsible for a team winning a title or over-performing dramatically.  Therefore, I am going to cheat a little in this category and say that if HJK win the title in a landslide, the MVP will be Alfredo Morelos, who will likely be the league’s leading scorer as long as he doesn’t get transferred out to a bigger team halfway through the season, with Mosa Yaghoubi coming in second in the PotY race.  However, if Ilves push HJK whatsoever, or possibly even do the unthinkable and snatch the title, Emile Paul Tendeng will almost certainly be the Player of the Year.  Seeing as the former scenario is more likely at this point, I’m going to give the odds to Morelos.  

Dark Horse (Team that will do better than expected):  Ilves.  Ilves and Inter Turku both look like they could challenge, though with Inter something always seems to go wrong and they under-perform, so I’ll go with Ilves.  Jarkko Wiss did an incredible job last year of taking an Ilves team that was widely expected to be one of the teams that would be fending off relegation and turning them into a legitimate decent team.  With another off-season under his belt at the helm, holding onto Emile Paul Tendeng (one of last season’s best players), and adding more experience in the backline with the incoming Jani Tanska and Teemu Penninkangas, as well as an exciting attacking player (what they lacked last year outside of Tendeng) Tuco, and a few promising youngsters in Youness Rahimi, Eero Tamminen, and Iiro Järvinen, Ilves could be posed to at least make things interesting for HJK, and a European place is a reasonable minimum goal for them.

Biggest Disappointment:  IFK Mariehamn.  Until this past week, it would have been (unfortunately, as I love them) RoPS. They lost a lot of big players in the off-season and didn’t really replace anyone, and they had a pretty horrific financial report come out which didn’t instil confidence that they would remain a mid to upper table Veikkausliiga team.  However, within the last week they picked up Ivan Tatomirovic and David Addy to shore up their back line, and Sani Kaita to join captain Antti Okkonen, freshly back from injury, to close up shop and keep their goals conceded figure low.  Keeping Robert Taylor and picking up Sakari Tukiainen (who bossed the Estonian league) in the offseason at least gives some signs of life.  Meanwhile, IFK Mariehamn lost their best two attacking players in Dever Orgill and Diego Assis, promising young midfielder Thomas Mäkinen, and reigning Veikkausliiga goalkeeper of the year Walter Viitala, and haven’t sufficiently replaced them this offseason.  Robbin Sellin comes in to fill in the midfield, and Lucky Mkosana arrives from the New York Cosmos to try to get the goals for the side, but that’s pretty much it.  Their main hope for not having a disastrous season is that they are still run by last year’s miracle workers Peter Lundberg and Kari Virtanen, and Jani Lyyski (who was my personal Veikkausliiga MVP last year) will still be in the heart of the defense and acting as a coach on the field.

Most important signing of the year:  Mosa.  If Mosa keeps his head down and keeps working hard all season, he could be the piece that’s been missing for the last two years for HJK.  Perhaps his recent call ups to the Huuhkajat will help him refocus himself, and if so, his addition makes HJK’s attack terrifying.  Mosa could be the player to bring the most out of Tanaka, Akseli Pelvas, Demba Savage, and Morelos.  If he can be the glue that helps these guys gel together, there’s no team in the league that won’t struggle to stop HJK from putting up goals.  And as much as I’m hoping for the title race to come down to the wire, I’m hoping for a great season for Mosa to help get him back on track, even though a great season for him most likely means a non-competitive league.  Timo Furuholm for Inter could also play himself into contention here, he’s a proven quality Veikkausliiga player, and Inter could rely on him to fire them into European places, which would be big after the past couple seasons.

Young Player of the Season (22 or younger):  Rob Taylor.  So, Mosa is 22, but if I have him listed as #2 for Player of the Year if HJK win in a landslide, and as the most important signing, I’m going to spread the love a bit to another fantastic young attacking talent in the Veikkausliiga.  Rob Taylor was great last season with RoPS, and looked decent at the international level as well when he got to trot out for the Huuhkajat (missing sitters notwithstanding), and I expect that he will continue to grow as a player and have a big season.  As I said, RoPS had a questionable off-season until they picked up some defensive players, but they are still lacking in the firepower department, so I anticipate that manager Juha Malinen will give young Rob the keys to the car and let him run the show a little higher up the pitch than he maybe did last year.  Expect him to bag a decent amount of goals and assists, and have most of their attacking moves run through him.

Manager of the Year:  Jarkko Wiss.  Gotta give it to Wiss, he did a tremendous job last year with Ilves, and I expect them to be one of the strongest challengers this season.  For a team that two years ago got into the Veikkausliiga on luck alone and managed to cling onto their league status despite losing former manager Keke Armstrong partway through the season, Wiss has done an incredible job of stabilizing the club since he’s come in and getting his squad to overperform.  Plus, he seems like a genuinely good guy, and that’s got to count for something, right?

What are you most excited for in this season?:  The past two years we’ve been spoiled with incredible title races, but that’s not likely to happen this year.  And I would have said the return of JJK to the Veikkausliiga, but if their Suomen Cup results were any indication, it will be more trainwreck than triumphant return.  So I guess I’ll have to go with Inter Turku games.  Their team is looking strong, and while they likely will underperform (as is the norm), they should at the very least score a lot of goals, and that always makes for fun viewing.

What are you least excited for?:  Kind of the theme of my whole set of predictions, HJK should run away with the league, and with the amazing finishes we had to the title races for the last two years, culminating in two first time Veikkausliiga Champions (SJK and IFK Mariehamn, respectively), this year looks like we will go back to the theme from the five straight years before that, where HJK just crushed everyone in their path to the title.

(As a brief aside, if anyone wants to give me something to be happy about, has had detailed stats and player ratings for the Swedish and Norwegian leagues for the past few seasons, and I’ve been trying to get them to cover the Veikkausliiga as well. Would be great to have some analytical based player ratings for the league, so if you want to help me out, tweet to @whoscored and tell them to get player ratings for the Veikkausliiga this year! Every tweet to them is extra incentive for them to do it!)
Your name: Mark Hayton
Twitter handle &/or website: @FCSuomi / / The Finnish Football Show

Title Winners: HJK - Mariehamn and SJK are weaker this season, Hannu Patronen, Moshtagh Yaghoubi, the return of Demba Savage and retaining Alfredo Morelos should see Klubi take it at a canter.

Bottom 2: JJK and PS Kemi, a shame because it's another damn fine shirt from Kemi this season.

Player of the Year: If he stays and keeps his head Moshtagh Yaghoubi, if not it usually falls to Antony Annan to keep HJK together.

Dark Horse (Team that will do better than expected): Are Ilves a dark horse? They look like HJK's strongest challengers, you also have to mention Inter Turku. 

Biggest Disappointment: Probably RoPS, who didn't pull up any trees in Suomen Cup and have had a quiet pre-season. 

Most important signing of the year: Timo Furuholm. He is nailed on gonna get 20 goals for Inter at least.

Young Player of the Season (22 or younger):  Mosa is still 22, but if and if, I'm hoping Robert Taylor will push on also keep an eye out for Irfan Sadik at Lahti Berat's younger bro.

Manager of the Year: Jarkko Wiss. 

What are you most excited for in this season?: Shefki. On paper that team could win the league, but it never seems to work like that... there will be fireworks on the west coast this season though, that's for sure.

What are you least excited for?:  the final two months of the season when HJK have it in the bag... but then they can't all be like last season.

Name: Juhavaltteri Salminen
Twitter: @jvsalminen

Title winners:  HJK have looked very good in pre-season, and anyway, they screwed up badly to not win the title the last two years. I'm not sure their decision to stick with Mika Lehkosuo was an ideal one, but the way they've been playing and the sheer quality of their players should make sure the season doesn't end in another disaster.
As far as challengers go, KuPS look very strong. SJK's pre-season has been quite ridiculous off the pitch, but I expect them to find form sooner or later and challenge at the top.

Bottom 2: It's not looking bright for JJK, is it? They've got a few quality players, but to me they just seem to be lacking the necessary depth. It's weird how they couldn't keep the promotion-winning side together, and pre-season hasn't showed much signs of improvement. In my head it's a tight race for the other spot between HIFK and PS Kemi. I'd say HIFK will just edge it with their experience and slightly better playing squad. Losing Ryan Gilligan right before the start of the season is a blow for PS Kemi.

Dark horse: Well, I have no clue what to make of FC Inter. They've made some good signings and, provided their foreign acquisitions prove to be good players, their starting 11 is very impressive. Two of their strikers have every chance to be the league's top scorer! That being said, with a disaster of a season in fresh memory and the still-unproven Shefki Kuqi as head coach, who knows. Anything can happen, quite literally.

Biggest disappointment: I was very impressed with VPS last year. For many years VPS were just another Veikkausliiga team with no real edge or talking point about them, but under Petri Vuorinen they've found an identity. I see a lot of potential in VPS, but with that said, they haven't looked very good in pre-season. I love how they try and keep the ball on the ground and go about their play, but it's looked quite ineffective to me so far. So I'm afraid VPS will disappoint me. As for IFK Mariehamn, I expect them to slide back to mid-table, but I'm not sure that counts as a disappointment? For them to win the title last year was exceptional, for them to finish mid-table this year would be in line with expectations.

Most important signing of the year: Important as in best? I'll go for Timo Furuholm at FC Inter. Everybody knows how dangerous he can be in this league, but his off-the-pitch influence should also be kept in high regard. Inter fell into complacency over the last few years and that almost resulted in a catastrophe. Furuholm has the attitude, he won't stand anybody not putting in the required effort. An important signing for a team that's seemed to suffer from a leadership void, and the captain's armband should tell you something about his influence.

Young player of the season: Ilves' Tatu Miettunen played really well last year, I'm eager to see if he can keep it up. As for up and coming names, FC Lahti's Paavo Voutilainen has gathered some experience in pre-season and done well, I'd love to see him get some minutes once the league kicks off. Also keep an eye out for Mikko Kuningas and Santeri Hostikka at the same club. And here's hoping Nnaemeka Anyamele and Fredik Lassas finally manage to take the next step at HIFK...

Manager of the year: Now that's a difficult question. I think Ilves' Jarkko Wiss had been very deserving of the award last year, but obviously there was no way you could overlook IFK Mariehamn's Peter Lundberg and Kari Virtanen. If Ilves keep it up this year, I think it's time for Wiss to receive the award.

What are you most excited for in this season? Once again the league seems very evenly-matched for me, so that's my pick! HJK might win by some margin, but there will be tight competition for the other important spots. KuPS, Inter and Ilves look promising, VPS might improve as the season progresses, and you never know about Juha Malinen and RoPS. I'm probably going to laugh at my predictions when we do our recap in October, and that's what I love about Veikkausliiga!

What are you least excited for? Just hoping clubs keep their income and expenditure in balance. We've had more than enough bad news in that regard over the last few years. For example RoPS' financial situation is looking rather bleak, but I'm sure they have enough money in the bank to at least buy a calculator?

Name: Keke Mylläri
Twitter: @kekemyllari

Title Winners: Despite the heroics of IFK Mariehamn last year I cannot see another team achieving that success and beating Klubi to the title so I am going with a boring predictable HJK as title winners

Bottom 2: This is a really contentious category for me, my head says our JJK team may struggle my heart lives in hope that we can avoid the bottom 2. So I’ll go with my heart and predict a bottom 2 of PS Kemi and VPS

Player of the Year: I was really looking forward to seeing Mikael Soisalo tear it up in Veikkausliiga this season but as he is now plying his trade in the PL2 with Middleborough’s U23 squad I am going to go for another player who I have mentioned before in Robert Taylor. We in Jyvaskyla have known about Taylor for a long time and I think he can really make his mark on veikkausliiga this season with RoPS. Another player I am excited about is JJK striker Toni Tahvanainen, JJK will certainly need goals from him to stay in the League. 

Dark Horse: Going with SJK for this category, which may seem strange given they were champions not so long ago but they have gone through some well documented upheaval of late and so expectations are not as high as they once were. I can however see Sixten Bostrom getting it together and SJK possibly reaching their previous lofty heights.

Biggest Disappointment: This will have to be IFK Mariehamn’s title defence, their team has been decimated and I cannot see them mounting a serious defence which will be disappointing following the fairy tale of last season.

Most important signing: Saku Leppanen. Another selfish JJK prediction. Saku is home after some time with that yellow mob and will hopefully be the midfield general that JJK will need to help keep us in the league. 

Young Player of the Year: Fredrik Lassas, still only 20 it seems as though Freddi has been around for a while, he has attracted interest from Germany but is still with HIFK and I can see him really coming of age this season. 

Manager of the Year: Another I have previously mentioned but I think the enigma that is Shefki Kuqi can do good things at Inter. The man is certainly is a maverick but I can see him getting his act together this season and Inter doing Ok under his stewardship.

Most excited: A personal one this but I am most excited about JJK’s away game at Ilves. I’ll be in Finland in summer time and as always will take in as many fixtures as time allows and Ilves away is one I am certainly looking forward to. It will be my first visit to Tamela and I hope that Harjun Pojat will take some good numbers down and it will be good to go at it with some of my Niilon Pojat mates who I know from the National Team support! As always, I am also excited to see Finnish teams in European competition. Club loyalties go to one side when the Veikkausliiga is represented in Europe and I always support any Finnish team in Europe.

Least excited: the lack of a title race…. As I said I can’t see any particular club mounting a serious challenge to HJK, having said that who expected IFK Mariehamn to be crowned champions last season and we can live in hope of a meaningful title race! 

Your name:   Rich Nelson 
Twitter handle &/or website:  @escapetosuomi 

Title Winners:   HJK. Their closest rivals last season have weakened, while they have significantly strengthened. Players with lots of experience have come in, an apparent departure from recent experiments in signing up and coming prospects or mercenary journeymen. Keeping Morelos was vital, despite the significant financial outlay of around half a million Euros - either they'll sell him on for profit or keep him and potentially get 20-25 goals. Pirinen, Obilor and Patronen will be solid and consistent, with yellow card collector Lum Rexhepi now in Holland. See below for a look at the forwards...

Bottom two:  Kemi and JJK. Kemi were so reliant on goals from Billy Ions (now SJK) and Erik Törnros (now in Sweden) that it masked various issues at the back. Hard to see many of their new signings making a difference at either end, while their away form was awful, with their only two wins at the two teams below them, PK-35 and Inter. JJK won a tough Ykkonen division last year but haven't looked good in pre-season and again have made some very low-key signings. They do have some very experienced players which should at least provide some spirit, unlike the mutiny at Vantaa last season. Again I don't see many goals.

Player of the Year:   Mehmet Hetemaj. Strange how he hasn't been called up to the national team, carried SJK on his own through several games last season and has scored a few in the cup run already. Makes the team tick and vital in the spine of the side - too early to see how much changes on pitch with new manager but losing Riski (to Germany) and Matej Hradecky (season-long injury) will require his guile.

Dark Horse (Team that will do better than expected): KuPS showed both Jekyll and Hyde in the Suomen Cup. Scored goals for fun in the early games, then lost when they really needs to against bogey sides Ilves and Honka. Gbolahan Salami is a dangerous centre-forward but off-field issues may play a part in whether he stays focused. Sebastian Sorsa and Ville Saxman will provide a more professional head in the dressing room, with KuPS keen to blood plenty of youngsters. Otso Virtanen in goal is a great signing. Top three will be a push but they look a lot more prepared than under the previous regime.

Biggest Disappointment:    IFK Mariehamn. To be expected - losing Viitala, Assis and Orgill after winning the title was likely but painful nonetheless. Don't know enough about the replacements yet - pre-season has been tough and it will be hard to replicate the atmosphere of last season, the buzz and anticipation was clearly running through the side. They were lucky to keep key players at the back fit, although at least the (best performing) defence remains largely untouched... If disappointment is a (probable) top half finish.

Most important signing of the year:  Timo Furuholm. Well established goal-scorer returns to Inter where he won all domestic trophies... Timo and Njazi Kuqi up front will be a nightmare for defenders, although Kuqi Jr spent plenty of last season out with suspension. Still only 29.

Young Player of the Season (22 or younger):   Alfredo Morelos. Shone in a mediocre HJK side last season, and this year will be ably supported with a more solid team which should both remove the pressure from him and also provide more opportunities. No longer a surprise, but he showed a range of goalscoring last season which will at least keep opposition on their toes, and will now have a chance to be more creative to assist his able teammates.     

Manager of the Year:   Jani Honkavaara. Struggled to inspire HIFK last season but perhaps his replacement will find similar issues. KuPS gave the impression that they were treading water under Marko Rajamäki and again needed some new ideas. There is a promising group of young players at the club who will benefit from older heads in the dressing room. Only recently became a full-time football manager, having previously combined it with work as a teacher.  

What are you most excited for in this season?:   HJK's forward line clicking. Morelos. Atom Tanaka returning from injury. Mosa Yaghoubi back in Finland. Demba Savage. Evans Mensah. Atom's injury last season left a huge creative hole, and he has already shown glimpses of his vision and passing in pre-season. Yaghoubi is less subtle but equally effective. If Savage can remain fit, he provides both goals and assists as well as plenty of experience. Mensah could prove fierce competition for Morelos in the goalscoring charts and is only 19.

What are you least excited for?:   Poor showing in European club competitions - only HJK presently look set to have a decent run in Europe, but it's hard to gauge relative strength against other nations until afterwards. Other than their group stage appearance in 2014, there has been little to shout about from any side other than perhaps KuPS in 2012. Mariehamn will be unseeded in their Champions League draw and face an uphill battle, without the safety net of a Europa League spot.

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!


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 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

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

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....

Monday, October 24, 2016

IFK Mariehamn - Finnish champions

In many ways, 2016 was a pretty typical year in Veikkausliiga. Points deductions for financial mis-management (PK-35 Vantaa), wins annulled due to incorrect paperwork (SJK) and police overreactions to football fans (too many to list).

But for IFK Mariehamn, from the autonomous Åland Islands, lifted their first league title - just one year after their only major honour (the 2015 Suomen Cup). Champions League football is now on the menu, IFK will enter next season's competition at the second qualifying round. They clinched the title with a 2-1 win at home to Ilves, scoring the opener after just 52 seconds.

Their season was based primarily on a solid defence - keeping 18 clean sheets in their 33 matches with keeper Viitala and defender Kojola playing in every match. Albin Granlund received his first call-up to the Finland squad thanks to his performances, while captain Jani Lyyski was superb, weighing in with five goals as well.

Up front, the main source of goals (12) came from Jamaican striker Dever Orgill, who has already confirmed that he'll be leaving in the winter. Diego Assis, scorer of the winning goal on Sunday, has also hinted at his own departure but the two of those have been at the core of Mariehamn's attack for the last three seasons. They will be missed.

Mariehamn itself is a small town, with a population of just 11,000 people. To put it in perspective, that's the same population of the local area I work in (Kew in South-West London) and roughly the number of people in each of the 624 electoral wards of London. Åland issues it's own stamps, it's in demilitarised zone and even Vladimir Putin owns land there, to the bemusement of locals. 4335 people squeezed into the Wiklöf Holding Arena on Sunday to witness the title decider - over a third of the population of the town. 
Over the winter, I'll be speaking to various people involved in the club to get a richer picture of the magnificent achievement. I'm sure there are a number of sore heads this morning - all well deserved.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Matsipäivä - a Finnish football photo book

Nine Finnish football photographers have joined forces to compile and showcase their most beautiful and interesting photographs. Matsipäivä (the Finnish word for "matchday") is a confession of love for Finnish football.

Football is the most beautiful sport. A photograph can capture the endless layers, to tell you all about a single moment, a single player, one team or the nature of the entire event. It can act as an interpreter of emotions when catastrophe strikes, and at the time of redemption, as evidence of an immortal genius hero moment or a villainous twist.

But how do you capture Finnish football? How to preserve the passion and longing? Matsipäivä presents images from lower leagues up to Veikkausliiga, as well as the Finland national team in one volume.

The book will present the photographs of Mari Hietala, Olli Jantunen, Niko Karumaa, Teemu Kvist, Riku Laukkanen, Petteri Lehtonen, Matti Savolainen, Jaakko Stenroos and Joppe Survonen.

The project is being crowdfunded, with some good benefits for donors. If the project is funded, contributions can be rewarded with copies of the book, along with poster sized prints of a selection of the photographs included in the books. 

You can contribute to Matsipäivä by clicking on this link -

The group can also be reached on the usual social media channels:
Twitter - @matsipaiva
Instagram - @matsipaiva