Showing posts with label ajax. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ajax. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tulos: Things you may have missed

Some family friends of ours were visiting from Finland this week, the topic of social media popped up. They work for a online sports channel focusing on extreme sports, EpicTV, and were more than happy to talk about their experience. Essentially, Kirsti and Panu said that I should be looking to focus more on Facebook. Twitter is excellent for instant and current news, but hardly a place to catch up at your leisure. As such, I post and link to several stories which may be missed unless you're on at the time.

So I've decided to summarise the stories of interest with one blog post, I think the term is 'ICYMI'. Anyway, here's what has happened in the last couple of weeks. Future blogs will be shorter, covering perhaps a fortnight at most - the below covers most the year so far. Feedback, as always, is welcome!

Cricket scores in the Helsinki futsal third division...




Finland U21s reached the final of the Commonwealth Cup in Russia, losing 2-1 to South Africa. Their semi-final win over Turkmenistan saw two moments of bravado from the Finns. Moshtagh Yaghoubi and Dani Hatakka were involved, well worth remembering.

 


Finland played two internationals in Abu Dhabi - they defeated Sweden 1-0 and drew 0-0 with Yemen. The sides were mostly made up of Nordic based players, but outstanding performers in the Sweden game were Lukas Hradecky and Petteri Forsell, with a debut international goal for Roope Riski.

Former Chelsea youth player Nortei Nortey had a trial with Jaro, but failed to earn a contract.

The 2015 Liigacup began, wins for Ilves and Inter and a draw between IFK Mariehamn and HIFK. Make a note of the fixtures and results here.

The farce/saga over Veikkausliiga places rumbles on, as MYPA were denied a licence to play in the top division in 2015, Ilves promoted in their place. They have since applied to play in Ykkönen but have also appealed the decision. At the time of writing, this is still to be decided. KTP meanwhile took Honka's place - Honka will now play in Kakkonen going under the name of FC Esport Honka.

In the annual FIFPro tournament in Norway, Finland's team of free agents lost both of their matches on penalties against Ireland and Norway. Player of the tournament was former RoPS striker Aleksandr Kokko, who spoke about his desire to play abroad.

Finland defender Markus Halsti signed for MLS club DC United. He played in this season's Champions League for Malmö.


Despite several media reports of tedious speculation, Niklas Moisander confirmed that he would remain at the club until the end of the season, where he is likely to move to a Serie A club, possibly Lazio or Roma.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Competition - win a Jari Litmanen t-shirt by 8BitFootball

As part of a collaboration with the genius of 8bit-football.com, he has created an image of Finland and Ajax legend Jari Litmanen celebrating his goal against another European goal for Ajax.


For a chance to win a t-shirt featuring this image, we're running a competition.

To enter, just answer the following question:

Q: Who did Ajax defeat in the semi-final of the Champions League in 1995?

To enter, send an email to rich@escapetosuomi.com with your name, address, t-shirt size and preferred colour.
Entries must be received by 2359 on Monday 4th March 2013.
Winners will be chosen at random.

If you'd like to buy this top, or any other great merchandise featuring 8bitfootball designs, click here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kuningas Litmanen Part III - Barcelona, Liverpool and back to Ajax

Because of the timeline of the documentary, I've decided to separate the remainder of the film into club and country. This part will cover leaving Ajax, and the rest of his club career.

Back at Helsinki

After leaving Ajax, we see Jari being unveiled at HJK in Helsinki in 2011 - and news footage about his statue in Lahti being vandalised. The head had been damaged, while the base had been burned and cracked. Litmanen said it was getting harder, and that Lahti had been another chapter in the road.

The first of several clips of Jari in hospital follow, with a doctor discussing the results of an MRI scan on his left knee...

We return to his later Ajax days, the failure in the 1996 Champions League final (despite Jari scoring in the match, and converting in the shootout), and his only red card for Ajax, at Volendam in 1997.

Sent off (around 2:30)

The red card was so out of character that Danny Blind went round to Jari's house after the game to ask if anything was wrong at home... Jari said he'd run into space, and straight into a fist. The defender had been harassing him, and decided to knee him in the stomach. Team manager David Endt talked of how often Jari was kicked, that this was the only time he reacted - was the solitary red card a sign of his sportsmanship?

Jari talks of his final days at Ajax being littered with injury. He may stay fit for a month, then be out for a month. Ronald de Boer called him the glass man, and recalls a time when Jari played a rare ninety minutes, then hurt his back getting into his Corvette. Louis van Gaal was of the opinion that Jari wasn't mentally strong during injury. Jari himself mentioned how constantly playing 2 games a week was crazy, and needed pain relief to focus more on games.
Jari receives treatment

Physio Jari-Pekka Keurulainen reckons Jari's right ankle should have been operated on in the 1990s, but it wasn't done until 2006. Jari's first operation was in 1984, yet he still carried on playing football with a cast on his right leg. Tommi Kautonen was told that it was fine, and laughs at Jari's insistance on playing on with it.

Ronald de Boer and Edwin van der Sar joked about how often Jari spent in the physio room, so much that he had his own bed - even the Ajax physio Pim van Dord joined in, saying there was one bed he wouldn't allow anyone else to use.

So Jari's final home game (also the final match of Danny Blind and van der Sar) was at home to RKC Waalwijk on May 16th 1999. A 2-0 victory, sealed with Litmanen tapping the ball into an empty net. At the final whistle, the three departing players were in tears, and Jari gave the crowd an emotional speech, thanking the fans for their wonderful support. David Endt had to withdraw himself to the dressing room in tears.


 Saying farewell

Jari described the changing of Ajax, that most of his former colleagues had left, and was left with a decision - sign a new deal and never leave, or see something else.

And so we see Jari in the Nou Camp, Barcelona...


Surveying his former stomping ground

At the Barcelona training ground, Jari is reunited with former team-mates (and current Barcelona starts) Carles Puyol and Xavi. Jari said he'd seen the Spanish league, and Barcelona as one of the biggest clubs in the world (remember Jari had trained with the club in 1992, see part 1). The coach Louis van Gaal wanted him, and he knew several of the players from Holland, as van Gaal had brought with him several Dutch players (Reiziger, both de Boer brothers, Cocu, Kluivert, Bogarde, Zenden).

Inside the Nou Camp, Litmanen uses his hometown of Lahti as a point of reference - Lahti's population was around 100,000, only slightly larger than the capacity of the stadium. He walks along the turf, commenting on the perfect pitch.

Carles Puyol said they knew of him previously, such a skilled player at Ajax. He even said he blew fire into the team. Xavi talks of being an 18-19 year old beginner, finding life under van Gaal difficult. Jari became a friend, always helping and becoming encouraging. Van Gaal suggested to Xavi to watch Jari play and practise, to learn his control and making space.

Carles Puyol                                          Xavi

Puyol recalls Jari staying after training to practise his shooting, Xavi remembered how he'd line up 7-8 balls and shoot them all into the net. Then the talk of saunas... Xavi remembered Jari having a sauna every day, walking in naked but for his football boots, advising how they mould to the foot better... Even Jari's cobbler back in Lahti remembers getting a bag of boots from Barcelona. Jari had a particular requirement for stud placement at the rear of the boot for more support, and he trusted Tuomo Rokka.

Back to Jari on the pitch, he admits not scoring many goals, but a special one from a Kluivert pass. He said there were 3 to 4 internationals in each position, and when fit he'd need to compete with them, but the first season was difficult with injuries.

A candid van Gaal admits that Jari found it hard, the system was set for him with two number 10s, but the pace of Spain compared to Holland didn't help. Van Gaal was replaced by Llorenç Serra Ferrer, and Jari was told he'd need a new club. Then teammate Marc Overmars said it was due to the club having no structure on or off the pitch. In January 2001 Jari moved to the club he supported as a boy...

"We always touch the sign"

Litmanen was signed by Gerard Houllier in the season Liverpool won three trophies (FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup). Jari admitted that as boy he had supported Liverpool, and that this was the third time they had tried to sign him. We also hear Jari speak English for the first time, at the first press conference, talking of his favourite players being Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish as they'd played in his position.

He chose to wear the number 37 shirt (3+7 = 10), as Smicer had the famous 7 shirt, and Michael Owen had the number 10 jersey. His new boss enthused about Jari's different qualities, and how they'd compliment his current strikers (Owen, Robbie Fowler, Emile Heskey).

Current Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was in the squad when Jari arrived, and like Xavi was full of praise for Litmanen's way with younger players, being supportive. But it was his skill in training that amazed Gerrard, his movement and skill a class apart.

The heavy Scouse accent required subtitles

We see some footage of Jari scoring his first Liverpool goal, a penalty at Sunderland, while Edwin van der Sar recalls how he misjudged a bounce while playing for Fulham at Craven Cottage, and Litmanen beat him and rolled the ball into an open goal, although he was hoping that the producers of the DVD wouldn't find footage of the goal. 

Jari spoke about the difficulties he found at Liverpool with the management. Houllier became ill, and was replaced for a number of months by assistant Phil Thompson. Jari was playing well at the time, and used the English saying "Never change a winning team". But Thompson did, and tolf Jari he wouldn't be playing much again. Even when Houillier returned, Jari found appearances hard to come by.

Highlights of Liverpool v Roma, 2001/02 

There's footage of a match between England and Finland at Anfield in 2001, where Jari broke his arm after a challenge with Rio Ferdinand (we'll cover this match in part 4), but it was here where his inury problems started at Liverpool.

Gerrard wishes Jari had stayed longer, to offer more to the club, and he was frustrated that Jari would sit unused on the bench, as he could create things from nothing. Sami Hyypiä was also surprised his compatriot didn't feature, as Jari was the best player in training and 5-a-side matches. Finland goalkeeper Antti Niemi recalls reading FourFourTwo magazine, where the president of a Liverpool supporter club said he wished Jari would leave the club, if only so that other people would get to enjoy watching him play.

So Jari came to the end of his Liverpool days in 2002 - so he decided to return to Ajax. But it wasn't straight-forward - he said he was offered a laughable contract, but thought it wasn't about the money. But the negotiations hurt his pride, and he eventually decided to go anyway.

In his second spell at Ajax

But quite simply, the move didn't go very well. Ajax weren't the club they were in the mid 90s, and some of the younger players didn't take Jari seriously, despite him being the first for training, and the last to leave. David Endt randomly names two players in particular "let's call them Wesley and Rafael" as laughing at him behind his back. Conveniently it was as Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart were celebrating a goal which Litmanen assisted.


The only then-player to give good feedback on camera was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then a raw 18 year old who had signed from Malmo. Zlatan (in English) said "He played behind me, he helped a lot and helped me improve. He was a quality player, easy to play with him and the combination was fantastic."


Zlatan played with Jari for Ajax


Endt described Zlatan as hungry to win and improve himself, he was big and wanted to show the world how good he was, but he had a small heart. Jari explains that the end of his second spell was very one-sided, he had no input and in 2004 he was released.


Antti Niemi remembers an international for Finland in Amsterdam, where their coach was halted by 500 Ajax fans trying to say farewell to their hero. They had flares, signs and it was a fantastic, emotional moment.


The rest of his club career is somewhat glossed over. He signed for FC Lahti in 2004, and quickly moved to German side Hansa Rostock in January 2005, who had fifteen games to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga. Despite his arrival, Rostock were relegated, but teammate Marcus Allbäck remembers Jari's enthusiasm, "he played with the football like a small child plays with a favourite toy".

Rostock against Bayern Munich

It was at Rostock that Jari received one of the strangest injuries - in the dressing room after a game, he asked someone to open a bottle of drink for him. An unnamed teammate attempted it with a snuff box, and the cap of the bottle went straight into Jari's eye. Even now he has problems seeing in bright sunlight.

The rest of his club career gets glossed over. A spell at Malmo gets a brief mention, but no mention of his spell with Fulham (0 matches), and nothing additional about his return to Lahti or HJK.

So that's the end of the club part of the DVD. We'll return soon with the final part of the summary, about his international career.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Kuningas Litmanen Part II - Ajax

So the Litmanen story moves onto Amsterdam, and Ajax. Most of the interviews in this section, apart from those with Jari himself, are in English.

Ajax scout Ton Pronk was at the Suomen Cup final in 1992, and saw Jari. He describes the final as a "bad, bad, bad game" but he felt in his heart that Litmanen had the qualities that Ajax looks for, that he was the man. It was his preparations for the game that made him stand out initially, and he went off to Amsterdam... Where he was met by Ton, who took him straight to pre-season training, and this is where Louis van Gaal takes over.

Jari's first Ajax coach Louis van Gaal

Initially van Gaal wasn't impressed - Pronk had said he was at the right level, and had to convince van Gaal that Jari deserved to stay for the rest of the week, and Danny Blind describes how it was only a spate of injuries that meant Litmanen would get a fair go. It was only in small exercises that Jari first shone, the coach spoke glowingly about Litmanen's first touch, his ability to find space. He knew he'd make a perfect number 10, and fielded him in that position against an amateur side. Jari scored four goals.

Pronk smiles when van Gaal told him he was right after all...

Jari vs Portsmouth, Lahti 1993

Jari was happy to play as a number 10, but his expectations were managed, he was told he wouldn't play much because of Dennis Bergkamp. In a Finnish news clip, he was asked why he left MYPA, where he said it was for footballing reasons.

Litmanen arrives at Ajax's very modern looking training ground in February 2012, and meets some old friends. Coach Frank de Boer and director of football Marc Overmars both receive warm embraces, before journalist David Endt talks about Jari being seen as a rather unspectacular signing.

Captain Danny Blind remembers a young Jari

Danny Blind joins us, reminding that he and Frank Rijkaard were the elder statesmen of the team being in their early 30s, while the rest of the squad were in their late teens and early 20s. But he saw it their responsibility to help the younger foreign players settle in. Jari agrees, saying that he didn't feel like an outsider, and that as they all had one goal, it made life a lot easier.

Van Gaal eulogised that Litmanen's skill helped him settle, and that he was so open to learn from the coaches and players that it was only a matter of time. He had already started learning from Dennis Bergkamp, who was due to move to Spain in 1993.

Dennis himself speaks about the special position of 'shadow striker' that he had made his own. He knew Ajax were looking for other players to replace him, and initially Dan Petersen was the more likely candidate.

Jari's predecessor Dennis Bergkamp

Blind talks of van Gaal's early preference for Petersen, until the moment Jari got a run in the team. The coach himself had assumed that Litmanen was more of an attacking midfielder than a second forward, but his vision and awareness of space set him apart, plus he would defend more than Bergkamp...

Dennis left for Inter Milan in 1993, not Spain, and the captain described it as the beginning of a fantastic period for the club and for Jari. We see some clips of Jari lifting some trophies in his early days, the Dutch Super Cup in 1993 and 94, and the Eredivisie in 1994 as well.

 At the old Ajax stadium

We return to Jari walking around Ajax's then home, the Olympisch Stadion. He talks of his finest games being played in this ground, and his first great goal, a solo effort against PSV Eindhoven (below). Jari ended that season as top scorer with 26 goals, and was voted Footballer of the Year, an honour he prized.

 
Jari's first great goal for Ajax

He was happy with the style of football that Ajax played, just like Barcelona but not quite at the same level. It was a team of individuals, which emphasised his own skills of moving between the lines. Van Gaal was pleased that he had developed Jari more, that he was always open for the next pass. Litmanen reckons that Ajax (and the coach) improved him by 10-15%, as he feels like Finland had taught him the basics.

Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar remembered how keen Litmanen was to stay behind after training, with Marc Overmars and Edgar Davids, crossing and shooting at the keeper. His other former team-mates join in, Ronald de Boer was surprised by his determination, and Blind impressed with his focus and shooting techniques.

Not a bad couple of players

Overmars however gently mocked Litmanen's stretching techniques, using tubes to stretch with. Frank de Boer joins in, laughing at how Jari would even stretch in the bathroom for ages, but how he learnt the Dutch sense of humour. Van der Sar smiled when thinking of how he took it to the extreme.

An old interview with Rijkaard is shown from 1994, where he talks of Jari being their strongest player, and the main attraction. Van Gaal talks of the marvellous season, all the goals. Sami Hyypiä returns, and remembers when he played for Willem II, and how Litmanen destroyed them on the day they clinched the title - go too near him and he drops further back, or give him space and he'll play the killer pass.

Jari and Jari and Jari and Jari and Jari...

A chat with a rather eccentric Dutch man reveals how his pregnant girlfriend may call their child Jari, and then we find an interesting fact - since the mid-1990s, there had been 1587 boys born in Holland called Jari... The photo above shows the original with some of his namesakes. Even van der Sar's sister had a cat called Jari.

So to his greatest triumph, the 1994-95 European Cup. The first footage we see is from the group stage clash against the holders AC Milan. Jari and Rijkaard dominated, and we see Jari score from an Overmars cross, while van der Sar talked happily about wanting to swap shirts with their opponents.

Highlights of Ajax 2-0 Milan

Jari remembers winning both group games against Milan, both 2-0, and that he scored in both games. He scored a goal which was deemed strange by David Endt, by the way he narrowed the angle... But Jari used his early days as an ice hockey player, by committing the goalkeeper and putting it into the opposite corner.

The next real footage concentrates on Ajax's semi-final victory over Bayern Munich. The first leg in Bavaria finished 0-0, but the second leg was what Endt describes as one of Litmanen's finest. Ronald de Boer reckons that this Ajax team were the best in the world of that period, and this game would help that claim. After scoring the first goal, Jari was under a huge pile of players, and could only recognise himself from the boots.

But the real classy goal was to come, and it wasn't even scored by Jari (although he was involved). Overmars cut in from the right, rolled the ball along the edge of the box towards Litmanen. But he stepped over the ball, fooling the defender, while Finidi George strode forward and struck a beauty into the top right corner. Ajax went onto win the match, and the tie, 5-2, and reach the final where they'd face Milan again, in Vienna.

Highlights of Ajax 5-2 Bayern Munich

David Endt tells us that while Jari was ultimately happy to win the cup (come on, you all know how it ends), his biggest regret was that he couldn't put his stamp on the final. A temperature and some allergy problems meant he played below his usual standards, and was replaced by the match-winner Patrick Kluivert after seventy minutes, while Van Gaal said he knew it was a close game.

Highlights of the 1995 European Cup final

After the match, Jari sat proudly with the trophy while he was interviewed, and said it was the highlight of his football career. The three years had been a fantastic time, but that he believed that it wasn't the end.

With the Big Cup

We re-join Jari in 2012 as he looks at the jersey he wore in the final, along with the associated trinkets. It felt wonderful then, and looking back it was a highlight. If he had to choose one moment from his career, that would be it.

Jari's shirt from the 1995 final

The next scene is on the canals of Amsterdam, with seemingly the entire city celebrating the triumph. He admits it's nothing like anything in Finland, and the triumph crowned an unbelievable year. We see Jari presented with that year's Intercontinental Cup, won against Gremio in Japan in front of 47,000.

We see a clip of Litmanen receiving his silver medal in 1996. Despite scoring in the final, and in the penalty shootout, Juventus won the cup with big ears. Not a lot was said about this game... Although the general vibe was that it was a huge disappointment.

Runner-up in 1996

We meet some die-hard Ajax fans, with huge Litmanen jersey collections, including their efforts to get to Lahti in 2010 to get his latest Jersey. Even more people show off some tattoos of their hero... A Finn living in Amsterdam used him as her inspiration to recover from a serious illness, and she lived to tell the tale.

So the Ajax spell ends, and fast-forwards to 2011 and his return to Helsinki. The strange time line of the DVD means that I'll probably look to cover his time at Barcelona and Liverpool next. See you soon, in the meantime here is a clip of Jari Litmanen's top 10 Ajax goals.

Jari's top 10 Ajax goals

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.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Far-flung Finns - Niklas Moisander

Part three in the series of Finns playing elsewhere features defender 27-year-old Niklas Moisander, currently turning out for Dutch giants Ajax.

This past week has seen Ajax eliminated from Group D of the Champions League, and one fewer Finn involved in UEFA's premier tournament in the new year - only Teemu Pukki of Schalke is likely to still be involved by February. They are still ahead of Manchester City in the race for the Europa League, but with a final game away to Real Madrid, it's nowhere near certain (however City have to travel to Dortmund).

 Niklas attempts to endear himself to Arsenal fans

Moisander was a slightly surprising transfer in August 2012, returning to a club where he failed to make an appearance in a three year spell there from 2003-06. Ajax had sold Jan Vertonghen to Tottenham, and needed a replacement. The Finn had been doing well for AZ Alkmaar, winning the league title in 2009, so one imagines that he must have been promised regular games.

But things aren't going smoothly so far, Moisander was sent off in the match at Feyenoord, where Dutch tactics blog 11tegen11 identified Niklas as almost a sure thing for a booking in that Feyenoord match, and in nine league games has three yellows and that red. Ajax are currently fourth in the Eredivisie table, nine points behind leaders PSV. Despite their attacking talents of Eriksen, Fischer and de Jong, Ajax have conceded 16 goals in 13 matches.

In an interview with Mijnvoetbaltalent.nl (in Dutch after re-signing, Niklas talks of the struggles of his first spell at the club, but praises how he developed as a player, and plans to become an example to the younger players at the club.

Frank de Boer and Marc Overmars show off their new signing

Having left Finland at such a young age (he only played 17 matches for TPS), he seems very settled in Holland - although he has been linked with Newcastle United in England. He's getting more games at Ajax, more exposure, and European football - he even scored against Man City and Real Madrid.

His thirty Finland caps seems a small figure, but having only made his debut in 2008, is now the captain and looks set to be a regular fixture. But he has work to do at Ajax, and such a transient team needs stability to try to and defend their title.

On international duty vs Hungary in 2010