Showing posts with label interview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label interview. Show all posts

Monday, April 04, 2016

Interview with HJK fan Aachi

In a slight change from my usual interview subjects, I've spoken to Arto "Aachi" Ihatsu, who is one of the most well known football fans in Finland, who follows HJK home and away. He has given some great and impassioned answers, well worth the wait.


As one of HJK's biggest fans, how did you get into supporting the club?
It all began on August 12, 2004, when I was twelve years old. I went to see HJK v Inter with my father. HJK lost the game 0-1, but I was hooked and I got a season ticket for the 2006 season. The first match was in Kotka, I had just turned 14 and it was my first away trip alone, although Klubi lost 2-1 (to KooTeePee) and I continued from there. As soon as I knew I was part of the fellow supporters, they became my a family.

What was it like being in an away end on your own in Kazakhstan?
I wasn't in there by myself, as two HJK senior supporters were there as well and I spent a lot of time with them. It was slightly scary when I was there moving about in the stadium by myself, such as when I went to get some beers, and also in the stand when the sound was coming from all directions and I was missing my fellow Klubipääty crowd. It was such a shame we didn't get into the group stage that we were supposed to end up in, but luckily there were still fans greeting us at the airport and supporting the team in a weak moment.

A photo posted by @akiriihilahti on

Have HJK looked after you (and other away travellers) on European trips?
Not really, I've done it myself and organised things including away tickets. Everything has always been sorted by ringing Markku Peltoniemi. For the Besiktas game in Turkey there was some confusion as I couldn't at first find him and get the tickets. I think Klubi should have a controlled amount of tickets at their office for each Euro away game to be sold, whether it be in Andorra in the first round or one of the group stage matches.

What job do you have which gives you such flexibility for travel? Do they enjoy seeing where you go?
I work at a port terminal. My boss is a keen HJK supporter as well as another colleague of mine who is also a member of the Klubi family. We take most of the match days off. You wouldn't necessarily always have the energy to go to every game but one of the perks of the job is being able to go to the games so I wouldn't change this for anything.


2015 saw HIFK return to Veikkausliiga - was the atmosphere at derby games the best you've been to in Finland?
Derby days have always had special atmosphere, whether it's a friendly being played in the hall or at the Sonera stadion, which is very special, especially for the players and the supporters.

What more can clubs do to make fans feel more involved in their clubs?
Perhaps a bit more involvement in the day to day business - co-operating to build a community between players, the staff (coaches etc) who are working at the club, along with the fans.

The image of you falling out of the stand in 2013 was shared all over the world - what exactly happened?
I was celebrating a goal scored against FC Lahti and I flew over the railing in style. Fortunately, I was sober so it didn't hurt too much!

Aachi taking a tumble (thanks to Mika Laakso for the photo)


Video of the HJK goal referenced above - go to 09:20 for the fall

How did you feel when HJK postponed the IFK Mariehamn game to play Liverpool last summer? Had you already booked travel?
It was really bad because everyone was waiting for that match in Åland. The news of the Liverpool game came while I was in Tallinn on a cruise - I was full of anger and the cruise was ruined. I genuinely think my blood pressure rose from zero to one hundred. I can honestly say I was pretty shocked. I think these matches should not take priority over competitive domestic matches, especially on a Saturday ahead of Mariehamn away. Fortunately we were away to IFK Mariehamn in the Suomen Cup two weeks later and the club sorted us out. When the league game was moved to October, only eleven fans made the trip, but it warmed the heart because it was HJK's first away win for months.

What do you think of HJK's chances in Veikkausliiga this year?
We have a truly superior team compared to last year, some extremely interesting names arriving such as (Anthony) Annan, (Alfredo) Morelos, (Vincent) Onovo, (Ivan) Tatomirovic and Medo will all be a big help for the coming season. We hope the results of each game go well, and the title is settled in before the start of the Europa League - we can focus on the end of autumn and spring, knowing the final is being played in Stockholm (Friends Arena). There is a possibility, at least in my imagination...

Which club would you most like to see HJK play in Europe? Or is there anywhere you wouldn't go?
I would love to see HJK play against Arsenal, they are my favourite team in England. I could never go to Dubai - there are only a few places where you can get alcohol, not in the stadiums...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Interview with Finland international Sebastian Strandvall

It's another interview on ETS, with a player who has taken a step into the (virtual) unknown. Former VPS captain Sebastian Strandvall, now of Rah Ahan in the Persian Gulf Pro League (Iran's top division), has taken time out to give some incredibe insight into life as a footballer, and as a person, in a very unique part of the world.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

How are you finding Iranian football? How did you end up in Iran?
Iranian football is all about passion and heart. That's the first thing that comes to my head. Perhaps not necessarily the same type of passion and energy as the lower British leagues. The passion here also includes doing beautiful and technical things. Otherwise comparing to Veikkausliiga, the tempo is very very high, at least at its best. You have little time on the ball and the technique and physique of the players is also good. What the Iranians lack the most is tactical knowledge. They clearly don't get the same tactical schooling as most European players get at a quite young age. This often leads to poor decision making, especially in attacking play. If you mess up a three v one counter attack in Europe, most likely you get slaughtered. But here that happens all the time and no one seems to care too much. Anyway, the Persian Gulf Pro League is a very good league compared to many European leagues. When you consider that Iran has around 80 million inhabitants and an absolutely huge interest in football, it's quite logical. 

I ended up here as a result of great agent work. Our plan was to find a good club in Central Europe, after having a good spring in Austria last year. But the small, yet badly timed ankle injury I suffered just before the end of the season, made us change our plans. We had some really good things going on but they fell apart when I wasn't 100% fit to play in the month of June. After none of these good offers in Europe succeeded, we slowly turned our focus to this side of the world. My agent is half German, half Iranian, so he had some contacts here. Then, after seeing me on videos, Rah Ahan's new owner really wanted me here and he even flew to Munich to meet with my agent. This gave me the signal that the club really wants me and also the plans for the club seemed interesting. In the end, things moved very quickly.

Seba in action in Iran

The culture in Iran is vastly different to Finland – what are the strangest customs you’ve encountered?
Of course there is the fact that you can't dress exactly the way you want, which is weird for us Europeans. But otherwise to be honest, I haven't experienced too many strange things at all. It can be very confusing though, with the Persian peoples politeness. There is a thing called "taroof" in Iran which basically means that you offer your help to anyone you meet, but with no intention of actually providing help... The person that is offered help is expected to decline several times. If you don't know that it's a matter of "taroof", you might think that you are actually going to get help or a favour from the person offering. Essentially, you get offered help but you don't actually get it. It's just a Persian cultural thing to always act politely. The most "dramatic" thing must have been when sheep have been sacrificed... A couple times at the training center and a couple times outside the hotel on the morning of a game, sheep have been sacrificed in order to keep bad spirits away...

Is it true that local women aren’t allowed to attend games? Does that make the atmosphere obviously different?
It is true yes. I think this will change in the future, as foreign women are already allowed in the stadiums. I'm sure that it will change at some point but it's very difficult to guess when it will happen. I wouldn't say the atmosphere is obviously different, but of course it would be nice if everyone who wants to could come and watch the games.

With Hans Backe now in charge of the Finnish national team, are you hoping to get back into the squad?
The Finnish national team has always been important to me, it will be my goal to be part of the squad for as long as I play at a professional level. The biggest reason I wanted to play outside Finland was that I felt I needed to play in a tougher league in order to claim a regular spot in the national team. Now when I play here, I feel like I'm better prepared to play international games, if the call-up would come. My head is already set to a quicker and more technical level of football, with little time on the ball. So yes, I'm hoping that I will get a chance with Hans Backe and I'm also confident I will get my chance at some point if I continue playing well here. There are quite a few international friendlies scheduled before the World Cup qualifiers start, so I'm sure I will be given a chance to take a spot on the team.

Photo via YLE

Your old club VPS had a slow start to 2015 but recovered well – how easy is it to follow their progress from abroad?
Yes they had a really bad season, close to catastrophic but luckily they managed to stay in the league. It doesn't really matter if you have a bad season, as long as you learn from your mistakes and try not to make them again. I follow their progress as best as I can. The Internet is very slow in Iran but it still gives me a chance to follow the progress. I read updates on different sites and also I'm still in touch with both players and staff of the teams. With the new stadium in Vaasa coming, I really hope the club will try to step it up once again and achieve a lot of success in the future.

How do you think Veikkausliiga football compares to that in Iran or Austria?
The biggest difference is in tempo. In the Austrian Erste Liga, the quality was not the best but it was a very physical style of play with quick attacks and a lot of running up and down. It was developing in the sense that I improved my ability to win duels and tackles. Also I learned how to think faster, since you really had to do that, otherwise you would get tackled for sure. Erste Liga compares to the lower English divisons, while Austrian Bundesliga also is physical, but a lot more technique and composed tactical playing. Not so much up and down all the time. I would really have liked to play in that league, since I feel it would be a really suitable league for me, and also for other typical Finnish players. In Iran the tempo is again a little higher, at least against the better teams in the league. Technical and fast guys with incredible passion and will. The Iranians have a lot to learn tactically, but for now they compromise the lack of tactical knowledge with passion and spirit. In Finland we need to develop and try to make the tempo of the games a lot higher, then we can get closer to other leagues.

Has your move abroad broadened your horizons? Would you encourage young Finns to travel away from the traditionally big leagues?
Absolutely. You need to know that the league you are about to go to is not completely shit, so to speak... But the leagues in both East and West are constantly improving. The NASL in North America for example, I would guess that's a league that is constantly getting better now since the MLS is also doing so well. Also in the East with leagues like China signing big names. Therefore I can imagine that other leagues in Asia are also going to improve. I honestly think that you don't have much to lose. A footballing career is short but if you don't like a place, I'm certain that no one will force you to stay. So if you get an opportunity, I definitely think you should try.

Photo via Veikkausliiga

What is the biggest thing you miss about Finland?
The people. My fiancé, my family and my friends. I can live without all the other lovely things that Finland offers for some time, like sauna and rye bread. I can enjoy those things when I come back. But the people I miss for sure, especially my fiancé, even though she has visited me for a total of almost two months over here.

Which player did you grow up idolising? And is there a player in the world you enjoy watching most?
Eric Cantona and David Beckham. But also of course Jari Litmanen. After 1994, Tomas Brolin from Sweden. Schweinsteiger is a favourite at the moment. But I also try to watch other players who play in my position, especially Modric, Rakitic and Thomas Müller. 


Your brother Matias is a world champion skier – were you ever keen to get into winter sports?
I actually used to compete in cross country skiing myself. It kind of goes in the family... Our parents allowed us to try every sport we wanted to. I was pretty good at skiing and I have a lot of medals from when I was young. But around the ages of 14-15, when the other boys started to train harder and get better, I fell behind and quit, because I never really liked the training. I just competed. But the technique is still there and nowadays I enjoy going for a ski when I have the time. Anyway, my number one winter sport was ice hockey. I used to play until I was 16-17 and I was pretty good at that too. At first I considered quitting football and going all in with the hockey, but I changed my mind after some coaches told me I would make the youth national team in football if I'd just quit ice hockey. My first call-up to a national team didn't happen until the age of 21, but I am still very happy with my choice.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

My thanks again to Sebastian for a superb set of answers, this already ranks very high on my list of favourites!

As always, any suggestions for future interviews or help in contacting interesting people, let me know on the usual channels...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Interview with Finland U19 international Kaisa Collin

Time for another interview, this time my friend Henry Hakamäki has joined in again by speaking to HJK's Kaisa Collin, who also plays for Finland's U19 girls side. Thanks again to both.

What first got you interested in football? What made you decide to become a professional?
I got interested in football already in kindergarten. I liked to score goals and humiliate opponents with fancy skills... The only thing that has ever really interested me is football. School or work does not make me happy, football makes me happy and I want to be happy.

Kaisa (#10) in international action - photo via Tapio Tuomela

Who is the player that you've always wanted to be like?  Who was the player you loved watching the most?  And who is the best player you've ever played with or against?
I've always wanted to be like Zlatan. Of course I love to watch Zlatan, but also Ronaldinho is one of my favourites to watch. The best player who I have ever played with is Minna Meriluoto. Minna is a great leader, an unbelievable goalkeeper and also a good person who really cares about her team.

How does playing in Finland specifically affect how you play the sport? What would you like to be different?
In Finland, our season is from April to October because of the weather. Women's football is not very appreciated so we don't have a lot of audience in our games. I would change the women’s season from summer to winter to get more respect for women's football and to get more fans to come! It would also be nice if women in Finland could get more money for playing football.

What's the best advice you have for your career, and who gave it?
Maybe when my good friend, and also a very good footballer, Olga Ahtinen, said to me "Don't ever change your personality, because that is your strength in football".


What part of your personality would be your biggest strength for football?
I’d probably say my self-confidence.

What does it feel like to represent Finland for football? How important is it for you to represent the country?
It's great to represent Finland in football, I am really proud to be part of the youth national team. The first time I played for the youth national team, it was exciting and also great because I had so many good players around me. Playing for the national team is very important for me. This spring, we have qualifiers for the U19 European Championships in Holland, and that has been one of my biggest goals for two years. Some day I also want to play for the senior women's national team.

How is playing for Finland different than playing for your club?
In the club, we work everyday together, but in the national team we do not have a lot of days together. National team is maybe more professional than club.


What's your goal for Euros coming up, personally, and what is the goal for the team?
Well, the team goal is of course to win qualifiers and then have success in the finals. My personal goal is to help the team on the field and I want to be one of the best goalscorers at the Euros.

Is there any part of your game that you want to improve during the Euros?
During the winter, I have worked a lot on my physicality, and I hope that in the Euros I am physically at the international level.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks again to Henry and to Kaisa, as always it's very much appreciated.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Interview with Finland midfielder Kasper Hämäläinen

In the latest ETS interview, I spoke with Finland's Kasper Hämäläinen, who recently caused controversy in Poland by moving from Lech Poznań to their fierce rivals Legia Warsaw. Many thanks to Kappe for his replies.




Congratulations on your move to Legia – did you find it difficult to move to a rival club? Has some of the reaction been a surprise?
Thank you. I knew exactly how much rivalry they have between these two clubs and I had to give serious thought before I signed for Legia. I knew there would be some kind of reaction and I was prepared for it, so it didn't come as a surprise for me.

Did you have offers from clubs in any other countries?
I had few options from different countries but as a whole package, Legia's offer suited us the best...

You’ve got a league title medal with Lech, is that the best achievement of your career so far?
After winning two silver medals, to win the league title was something extraordinary. It was my first league title and the feeling was unbelieveable. I hope that wasn't my only league title! Yes, that's my best achievement of my career so far.

What was the atmosphere like at Lech? Did the fans celebrating backwards seem strange at first?
Lech Poznan is known for its good atmosphere and for the fan culture. So I got to know it really quickly and there was a lot of noise. I knew about the "Lech Poznan dance" so it didn't come as a shock for me but still to experience that with my own eyes was something special.


Now that Hans Backe has taken over the Finland job, have you spoken to him about the future?
I spoke with him after our last qualification game against Northern Ireland and we had a good chat. Quite short, but still a little chat. He wanted to know if I'm still eager to play for the national team and I said of course I am.

Do you think the side could qualify for a major tournament in the near future?
Absolutely. We just need a little bit of luck and a good start to the campaign. Just look how Iceland managed to win their group. Everything is possible. We must believe.

As yet another TPS graduate, do you think you’ll ever return to play there?
It depends a little bit where I'm going to settle down after my journey abroad... If it is Turku, then of course I would like to play there.


You played a lot of Veikkausliiga games before moving abroad, would you recommend that to youngsters who get offers at a young age?
I was actually quite old when I moved from Veikkausliiga to Sweden. But I had some serious injuries and my development halted for a moment so I was sort of a late bloomer. But my advise is to stay and play in Veikkausliiga for a few years and then move forward. Don't rush with anything but still try to keep yourself motivated for wanting to move to one of the bigger leagues.

What was the experience like of playing in the 2003 U17 World Championships? How did it prepare you for senior football?
Back then I didn't really realize how big that was. I just played for fun and didn't think about it so much. It was a really nice experience for me and I'm sure it has helped me a lot later on.



Some footballers play video games to unwind, some make music, how do you relax away from football?
Well now we have a little baby so most of the attention goes to him... So I'm quite busy at home! But if I have time, I like to go and hit some golf balls or just go for a walk with my dog.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Interview with Finland futsal captain Panu Autio

In the latest ETS interview, I spoke to the captain of the Finnish futsal national team Panu Autio. Some very in depth answers, thanks again Panu. I'll also add that the interview was done in Finnish in order to get the full breadth of answers.

You’ve played both football and futsal at high levels – which is harder?
Personally football is a lot more difficult for me because the ball bounces more, the pitch is bigger and there are more players. Futsal is a simpler game, where decision making means the basic principles of the game are more pronounced in relation to physics for instance. Futsal is more wholesome. Attention is more focused on small details of the game and the conducting those with skill is the thing that makes the difference.



How did you get into futsal?
I played football for FC Espoo and my fellow player Janne "Boogie" Laine got me to go along. "Boogie" was the captain of the national team at that time, as well as the GFT player coach. When I got the hang of it, I realised futsal was the perfect fit for me. You could say it was love at first sight!

Do you think that more professional footballers should try futsal during winter?
It is fun and it gives you new points of view on the game. On the futsal pitch, you learn technical tools in a smaller space such as using the soles of your feet, protecting the ball and a lower playing stance. So why not? I am fairly convinced that one reason why Brazilian and Spanish footballers have a better understanding of the game than Finns is partly because they have played futsal as kids.

You and Pekka Sihvola spent time playing in South America, what did you learn from it?
I learned about how many different footballing cultures there are in the world. I learned how to work in a different changing room and how it is to show yourself to a completely strange foreign team where other players are completing with you for the same work and game opportunities. I also learned Spanish.



As you’re also working with JPY (Finland's player union), what are the biggest challenges facing young footballers?
I currently work for JPY as a Contact Manager. To work as a professional footballer is challenging in Finland and wages (that were never that high to begin with) have come down in the last couple of years. Compared with other countries, in Finland the status of a professional footballer in society's hierarchy is lower than in other countries. Here even the cleaner of the stadium often earns more than the youngest players in the league. It is an absurd situation and explaining it to a Spaniard, an Italian or a German might be difficult. A different career path may therefore seem an easier and smarter choice. On the other hand, because of these reasons, you can say that in Finland the top footballers are working with total commitment.

What role can sport play in helping integrate refugees and immigrants?
This is a big question. Sport, and football in particular, is probably the best way to help refugees into the Finnish society. Football is a universal language and on the pitch everyone is equal in front of the game. We already have so many positive stories of players who have risen to key roles in our national teams. U21 national team captain Mosa Yaghoubi for example is a brilliant example that we can be proud of here in Finland. If football becomes important in the refugee question, this can also help the popularity of the game in Finland. The player organisation has for several years organised a "Football Belongs to Everyone" campaign that concludes with a national championship tournament between the reception centres.



Do you think futsal can become as pivotal as street football in developing talent?
Futsal is very similar to street football. Making distinctions between the street game, football and futsal is extremely difficult and often quite unnecessary. In Finland the street, park and yard footballing culture is fairly non-existent. I believe that futsal could bridge this gap in Finnish football and sports culture. I especially hope that futsal tournaments at different levels could become more common in Finland.

In recent years, futsal has become more popular – what will happen next?
The growth in popularity will most likely continue for a while. The Finnish national team is the Nordic Cup and the Baltic Cup champions so we could act as a kind of pathfinder for other Northern European countries. I also hope that futsal is more actively chosen in the school sports curriculum. Afterwards I would like to see Finnish futsal leagues getting more professional and the media get increasingly interested alongside it.

How much support do you get from Palloliitto (Finnish football association) for resources and facilities?
Palloliitto does a lot of good work for futsal and they have understood futsal's value and potential. Of course there is always room for improvement. For instance when it comes to conditions, Palloliitto could take a more active stance with the public sector and ensure that all towns have enough safe futsal pitches for the players. In Finland there isn't a single outdoors futsal pitch for example.


Could Finland qualify for a major futsal tournament soon?
That is the dream and we strongly believe in it. The last couple of qualifiers under Mićo Martić have been extremely close. In the next Euro qualifiers our team will be strong and we will be tactically more mature than before. We also hope that more than one individual national team player gets a chance to play professionally in the top leagues in Europe. That would make us even more prepared to play against the best countries in the world.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Interview with Finland U21 forward Vahid Hambo

The latest interview for the site is with Finland U21 striker Vahid Hambo, who in summer 2015 signed for English Championship club Brighton and Hove Albion. At the time of writing this, Brighton are top of the table and still unbeaten. Vahid started 2015 in scintillating form to earn his big move. Thanks again to Vahid for his time, you can follow him on Twitter here.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Brighton have made a great start to the season, what is the atmosphere like at the club?
We are still top of the Championship and unbeaten this season, and that's always good. I think everybody has developed a strong winning mentality, so people at the club will be very disappointed if Brighton doesn't finish in the top three places this season.


What are your personal ambitions for the season?
I had a long ankle injury at the start of the season, then I was fit for two weeks and played in one under-21 game. Unfortunately I now have a knee injury (torn meniscus) and will be out for another two months... So we will see again after that.


You earned the nickname “Finnish Zlatan” before your move – what do you think of that name?
Haha it's funny, but I don't take any pressure from it - because there is only one Zlatan!

Has having (Finland goalkeeper) Niki Mäenpää at the club helped you settle in?
The club have helped me a lot. I now see Niki almost everyday at training ground. If I need something, I can always ask Niki.

Brighton has a reputation for being a very liberal place to live – what’s your favourite part of the city?
I'm living in Hove, around 15 minutes walk to the town centre, and only two minutes from the sea front. I don't have a favourite place yet, but I love being close to the sea.


What was the best experience of playing for Sampdoria’s academy side?
I don't know, probably everything! I learnt a lot about how strikers should move in the box and during the game. That was maybe the biggest thing. But also playing against the best young Italian players, that is where you see the level of play compared to Finland.

There was some talk of Bosnia showing interest in your career (Vahid's parents are from Bosnia, he was born in Finland) – is it something you’ve considered?
Yes of course, but I've always played for Finland, and I've never had any proper contact from Bosnia so there's nothing to think about at the moment...

Who was your footballing idol growing up?
When I was younger, I liked to watch Ronaldinho. But at the moment, I don't really have an idol.


Brighton re-signed Bobby Zamora in the summer, has he taught you anything yet?
I haven't really trained with him because of my injuries, but you can see in him that he has a lot of experience and is such a good professional. He has already scored a lot of important goals for us.

Have you had any Brighton Rock yet?
Haha no I haven't, yet!

My thanks again to Vahid - coming soon, an interview with Finland's futsal captain Panu Autio, once I get round to translating...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interview with Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky

The latest ETS q&a is with Finland and Eintracht Frankfurth goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, who has been generous enough to give some fantastic answers. He joins a growing list of big names, click on the interviews tab along the top of the page for more. Thanks again Luke for your time!

Finland’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign ended strongly but you just missed out. How is the mood in the camp ahead of the World Cup qualifiers?
I believe every team needs to go through a tough time to grow together, so the way we came back after the four consecutive defeats; and the change of the coach indicates our strong mentality. So the mood is optimistic and we have no reason to believe that we can't qualify next time.


Lukas celebrating the win over Greece in September 2015

There has been a long tradition of great keepers from Finland, what’s the secret?
I've no idea actually, maybe it's an easier position to develop talent more than for the outfield players. More and more clubs have a goalkeeper coach available, which means three or four keepers have a coach to themselves, so compare that to outfield players and the ratio and effectiveness of personal coaching is not so big. Wow, this was actually a pretty deep answer by me! But it all starts and ends with the personal desire to make it within each keeper, maybe Finns are crazy enough to want to be keepers...

Which goalkeeper was your idol when you were growing up?
It has kind of changed, as a younger kid and a keeper I saw the keepers differently to how I do now. Now I actually analyse while watching a game and see if they are making a mistake or something worth learning. But if I have to mention Jose Luis Chilavert's freekick taking, which was one of my first memories and the keeper I started to idolise. Then came Casillas, Buffon and the others, now I'm with Neuer ;) 


In the book about Robert Enke (A Life Too Short by Ronald Reng), there was a lot of mentions about the friendly rivalry between keepers in one team – how do you try to help the kids learn?
I've never actually read the book, don't know why. Some of my friends who read it recommended that I not read it, so I never did. But to answer your question, it's seen to be universal. I mean the thing they call the "goalkeepers' union", you fight for the same position and you're almost best friends on the team, that might be paradoxical to believe for many people; but that's how it is here as well. I always tell everybody that you don't want to succeed at somebody else's expense, if and when you get the chance and take it, then you've made it on your own. Lot of work has to be put in to even get a chance as a goalkeeper, I learned that during my first three years in Esbjerg when I was mostly on the bench. 

Now you’re at Eintracht Frankfurt, what is the biggest difference between Danish and German football? 
Different clubs might play different styles within a league as well, but it feels like most teams here want to be better offensively than defensively, when in Denmark it was usually the opposite. No wonder they score more goals in Bundesliga, and I only have one poor clean sheet in nine games, madness! 

Your brothers (Tomas at RoPS and Matej at TPS) are also doing well at their clubs, is there any more Hradecky talent to come?
Most definitely, there must be something useful in our blood sportswise. We used to play everything together, hockey, floorball, volleyball, tennis, you name it. The pride of not losing has developed our talent, just ask our mother how many things the loser always broke around the house. When I was growing up, Tomas had to find a new way to beat me and the same applies for Matej, who I rate the most game-intelligent and talented in our family, because he was the youngest and had the "roughest" patch. 

Some footballers play Xbox, some make music, what are your hobbies?
I don't even own a PlayStation or anything like that, definitely not my thing. I watch a lot of movies and TV series, they're a great way to relax your body and mind. 


Luke celebrating winning the Danish Cup with Esbjerg in 2013 (photo via Liselotte Sabroe)

With Slovakia (Lukas was born in Bratislava) qualifying for the Euros, do you follow their progress at all?
I do! I'm happy to see how well they're doing, but I'm merely a fan, if there ever had to be a choice to make, I hadn't even considered playing for Slovakia. In football, I really only care and feel for Finland, our system produced me and made me the player who I am. 

Manuel Neuer has shown that goalkeepers to be as talented as an outfielders – would you fancy playing in midfield?
No way! Too much running. The beauty of being a goalkeeper is for me to be versatile, and I'm proud and happy that I can play with my feet and be more part of the game than some other keepers. Football is the sport where I'm the worst in the outfield, I always played outfield in every other sports tournament back in school. Strange. 

Do you think you’ll ever return to TPS?
If it's only up to me then yes, most definitely. Right now I can only imagine living in Turku after my career. It would be great to play for the team and city that raised me. For me it's a haven with all the good memories, friends and family. That's where I feel home. 


Luke visiting TPS (photo via TPStv.fi)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Many thanks again Luke, good luck for the future. Watch this space for more interviews!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Interview with Finland midfielder Perparim Hetemaj

Apologies for the recent lack of posts, it appears the Rugby World Cup is having a serious impact beyond the oval ball as well... Anyway, here is the latest interview, with Finland and Chievo midfielder Perpa Hetemaj. Enjoy and share etc.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chievo have made a good start to the season, your goal against Juventus has been a highlight. What are the team's goals for 2015/16?
The team’s goal is the same as always, that is staying in the division, though the start of the season has been really good and now we’re trying to get the points we need as quickly as possible to ensure staying up, then we can think about other things!



As for Finland, there is still a chance of qualifying for a Euro 2016 play-off - what was the mood of the squad like after the Faroe Islands match?
Qualification isn’t in our hands, but we are going out to win the next two games and then we can see where we are! There’s always a great atmosphere when you win a match, though after a game you can’t hang around for too long as everyone goes their separate ways, getting showered and changed before heading home because you usually have an early flight back to your club's training.

You took centre stage with the Pohjoiskaarre megaphone after the match (not for the first time) - what is the bond like between the players and the fans?
The fans are important to us and after a match, it’s fun for the whole team to celebrate with the fans, and I think they also enjoy that! We have a great relationship with them. There’s a great atmosphere in Pohjoiskaarre (North end) and you can feel the support from the pitch!


Your brother Mehmet has returned to play in Finland this season with SJK and is doing very well - do you think you'll play for a Finnish club again?
Yes, my brother is a very good player and I will be glad if he wins the Finnish Championship with SJK. He has had a good season, as have SJK in general. I have been able to see SJK from close-up; they’re doing good work with their feet on the ground and a step-by-step attitude. It’s a shame my brother hasn’t had the chance to play in the Finnish national team because he’s a good player.

I would like to finish my career in Finland; I was raised by Klubi (HJK) – I have never represented any other team in Finland so the ideal option would be to finish my career with HJK where I started my footballing career. I would like to win the Finnish Championship wearing the HJK jersey – I’ve yet to get that medal!

With big name players moving to the Middle East, USA, China etc, would you like to play outside Europe?
I would rather not go to China or the Middle East, but I would be interested in playing in MLS, Australia or Japan at some point… Of those countries, I’d most like to go to Japan.

The new Finland manager (Hans Backe) starts in January, what new ideas do you hope he'll bring to the squad?
I don’t know this coach, but what I have heard has been positive and he knows his stuff! We have two more matches with Rive (Kanerva), Nurre (Nurmela) and Tintin (Johansson), so we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves.

Your recent tweet about Finland being a welcoming place for refugees was very well received, were you surprised at such a positive reaction?
I really only use Twitter to read UFC news, I hardly ever tweet, but I wanted to put out that tweet because it is a feeling that many former refugees have. But as to whether I was surprised – yes I was.


Kosovo played some friendly international matches in 2014, did they ask if you would play?
I have spoken with the coach of the Kosovo national team, but we have decided not to comment on this in public.

Who has been the best player you've played against in Serie A, and why?
It’s hard for me to say who has been the best, there are a lot of good players and a lot of annoying players…



Eero Markkanen told me that he'd like a rematch of the wrestling match you won last year - do you accept the challenge?
I have read that Eero put on 16-18 kilos since the last wrestling match. I could consider a rematch against him if he put on another 16-18 kilos! Seriously speaking, I don’t think Eero has much of a chance against me. Petteri Forsell has asked a few times about a wrestling match, but he is such a nice guy that I don’t want to make him angry at me after he loses!


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks again Perpa for your time, I wish you the best for the coming matches. There are a few more interviews in the pipeline, hoping to get them on soon. Assuming the rugby finishes at some point.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Interview with RoPS manager Juha Malinen

In the latest interview for ETS, I spoke to RoPS manager Juha Malinen about his views on various aspects of Finnish football and beyond.

Juha Malinen

RoPS are exceeding everyone's expectations in Veikkausliiga this year. What key changes have you made to get such good results?
It's not because of changes, but long-term work. In this case, one and a half years. Last year I had the opportunity to exchange half of the players, so change in these areas. Of course, after the beginning of the season there have been minor adjustments, but before the team had already shown its skills by reaching the League Cup final.

You recently expressed an interest in the Finland manager job - what system do you think would get the best out of These players?
In my view, it's not fair to begin an election campaign in the media. One reporter asked me to apply, and I decided to answer honestly, and a small media campaign was born, It does not mean that I would like to start doing my tactical plans publicly.

Are there any teams in the world who you look to for inspiration? Which is the best team you've ever seen?
Teams who, on their day, can surprise, or do something exceptionally well. There have been many over the years. Ajax, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, ​​Bayern Munich, Dortmund, All of these have had their time. I am not a fan of comparing teams. Comparison between the different teams over the years are a romantics job.

Juha's Eleven

How would you describe the style of play of your teams use? Do you have a "philosophy"?
Goal-oriented, ambitious, willing to develop, intellectual resources are all important. I also hope that the right kind of precision to be found, because that's what makes the difference! Every coach always wants the best, but the skill is governed in the head. Sure, I will try to adjust the team to meet different challenges.

How did you find working in Kazakhstan? Would you like to manage abroad again one day?
It was colourful, because the area is very Russian, but located in Asia, China is a neighbour and the people would like to be part of Europe, a cultural shambles. A lot of great memories, a lot of quirky things. But a man can handle it, if you know how to be your own person. Recently I received a message from my former boss where I got good feedback and a proposal to meet again somewhere.

What are the most notice things you'd recommend to someone who wants to be a football manager?
Young people should start at the grassroots level. Educate yourself, tour the clubs and the world. Inquire about everything and be curious. At the same time, visualise every position to expand and begin to develop your philosophy. Be brave and true to yourself, but be aware that sometimes you're certainly wrong!

You've managed players from many different countries - how do you communicate your instructions?
At one stage I figured that I've coached or had a beer with almost one hundred different nationalities. The first time I started using English as a second language in training was with MyPa in 1999, and with the exception of a couple of seasons, I've done it ever since. Sometimes I take a smaller language group apart and discussed matters in greater detail and then check between them, to make sure things are understood.

Juha the teacher - photo via Veli-Jukka Mustajärvi

Is there anything about modern football that has changed for the worse?
At the top level, wages are already quite unimaginable. Of course I do not want to take anything away from anyone, but if a footballer in their twenties has a weekly wage better than a highly qualified professional person earns in a year, there are some certainly issues and risks to arise.

Do you think social media is a good way for players and fans to talk to each other?
Of course, but there are limits. We must be able to remember the difference between online and real life, and that all social media posts can be misinterpreted.

Faith Obilor has been one of the best defenders in Finland this year - do you think they can play at the top level?
I know he can! Obi is physically at a very good standard. He wants to learn all the time and is therefore a good man. He can still learn more skill and tactics and therefore it would be fantastic if there was a team and a coach in a harder league for him more to harness. The most important part in a player's development is that the environment provides a good challenge all the time.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

I'd like to thank Mr Malinen for his time and honesty, some interesting views. I'm still looking for people from a variety of different backgrounds to interview, any recommendations welcome!

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Interview with PK-35 Vantaa's Shefki Kuqi (video)

In the latest ETS interview, PK-35 have again been one step ahead of the game and recorded the answers - this time it's manager Shefki Kuqi answering the question. Kuqi has been one of the most popular foreign imports to Britain, playing for numerous clubs. Here he talks with great love for Ipswich Town, some of the managers he has worked for, the situation of Kosovo (his birthplace) and his opinions on Finnish football.





My thanks again to Samu at the football club, and of course Shefki for giving up some of his valuable time. Wish them well for 2015.

As ever, if you have any feedback or suggestions, let me know.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Interview with PK-35 Vantaa's Pablo Couñago (video)

It's been a while since my last interview, so here is another - with a twist. I sent some questions to PK-35 striker Pablo Couñago, formerly of Ipswich Town and Crystal Palace. With many thanks to Samu Liski at the club, he has made a video of Pablo's answers for you to see. I'll write the answers up at some point, but for now, sit back and enjoy.


Makes me feel a little bad about the Roy Keane question, sounds like that's about it for the subject - thanks Pablo for taking the time. Also, thanks again to Samu, while we also have an interview with Pablo's manager Shefki Kuqi in the works...

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Interview with Veikkausliiga's Risto Oksanen

With the 2015 Veikkausliiga (Finnish Premier Division) officially launching today, ahead of the first round of fixtures on April 12th, I had a chat with the league's marketing executive Risto Oksanen about the league and it's aims and goals.


How important was it for the Veikkausliiga to secure a broadcasting deal with ISTV and YLE?
Broadcasting on YLE has been our long term strategy. We understand the power of free-to-air TV in increasing the popularity of the Finnish football. YLE Futiskierros is totally new way to watch football, with the possibility of seeing all of the important events from each match, which then widens the target group to the whole of Finland. The broadcast is more entertaining even for people who are less interested in football. On the other end, ISTV (Ilta-Sanomat TV, who will stream each game online to subscribers) offers the chance for supporters and hardcore fans to follow every match of their own club.
 
What challenges do the Veikkausliiga face to attract new fans, faced with the wider appeal of domestic football from England, Spain or Germany?
One challenge is that Finlandhasn’t been able to raise international interest towards Veikkausliiga. We have only a few internationally known active players. After Sami Hyypiä and Jari Litmanen, we haven’t had many players with star status. The clear strength for Veikkausliiga is that it is played in summer, when most of European leagues are on break. For people who want to watch football, Veikkausliiga can be great alternative. Betting is also raising the interest towards Nordic football in summer.


What are the Veikkausliiga’s goals in foreign markets?
So far our goals have been in domestic markets. The international markets have been considered more of a bonus, so we don’t have fixed goals for this.
 
There have been various suggestions for changes to the league structure – does the relegation play-off aim to make things more interesting?
There are cons and pros with relegation play-offs. Definitely the matches will be interesting with a lot at stake and its important to have our doors open for strong first division clubs.  On the other hand, the matches will be played in autumn when the conditions might be terrible for football in many cities. Any short term injuries might have a fatal impact for a club's prospects.

What they're all playing for

How does the fixture planning take fan groups into account, relating to travel and pricing?
We are trying to consider all aspects of fixture schedules and listen to the clubs when planning our match programme. Even though we are trying to optimise the matches into right places, the result is always a compromise between groups.

Do many foreign firms enquire about marketing with Veikkausliiga? How would such firms benefit?

There would definitely be room for more sponsors. The targets differ from sponsor to sponsor, but they all are related with their target group and how to have positive impact to those people. In customer products and services, the best results can be achieved if the brand can share the feeling and emotions with the fans. It’s should not be short-term, one way advertising. It should be long-term participating at all levels. At the end of the day, the results will be evaluated in business terms. Increased exposure is important for Veikkausliiga’s sponsors and also for the main sponsors at club level. It supports our common targets.

HJK’s Europa League campaign last year and move into Japanese markets has increased their profile internationally – do Veikkausliiga work with other clubs to provide advice and infrastructure?
Veikkausliiga is an organisation for the domestic market, therefore our main focus is here in Finland. Of course we do our best to help our clubs with any international issues. Teams are also sharing their foreign experiences with each other, which is encouraging. 

Risto

After Honka and MYPA’s financial problems, are there any safeguards to help other clubs with similar issues?
Veikkausliiga is an association, formed by top league teams. Decisions are made with one vote for each club. The board decides everything in Veikkausliiga. We try to prevent the problems with our licensing system, ensuring that a club entering Veikkausliiga must be able to meet the various demands of a Veikkausliiga season.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Interview with JPY's Tero Koskela

The latest interview for ETS is with Tero Koskela, who works for the Finnish player's union JPY (Jalkapallon Pelaajayhdistys). The work that the JPY do is crucial to maintain confidence and the integrity of the sport in Finland, and they do a fine job of it. 


What is your role with the JPY? 
Well, my title is an account manager but I'm doing everything what is needed to do in our small organisation. We only have two full time employees so we have a lots of tasks to do and of course we try to serve all of our 1200 members. At the moment, I'm focusing more on meeting and educating players. For us it is important to physically be where the players are, in the locker room. When they let us to come to their “holy place”, we know we have earned their trust.

What are the challenges that the JPY now and in the future? 
For our organization, we should get one or two employees more but that´s more of an economic issue. When it comes to the individuals (players) we need be active in open discussion about what kind of status the professional players have in our society. Our players doesn’t earn big money so they should have the same employee benefits that normal workers have. We still have too many players whose insurance doesn’t cover much if a bad injury happens.

The JPY appear to be very forward thinking with the match fixing app, the player CV database etc. Are there many more projects in the pipeline?
Of course we are open to any new ideas, but at the moment implementing these projects to our members takes big part of our time.


SJK's Juho Lähde talks about the match-fixing app

In England there is a lot of talk about young players earning big money and not perhaps having the hunger to succeed that those from Africa or South America - do you see changes in motivation for young Finns?
Big money is really not a big problem for young Finns. Earnings are often below the poverty line so being a footballer it is not very desired profession. At the same time, we have very high level of school education which ensures that everyone could retrain for another profession. We need to make our domestic football more interesting so that we do not lose our young talents to foreign leagues.

What support services do the JPY provide to foreign players moving to Finland?
We are giving them the Welcome to Finland magazine, where they can read some important facts in our culture and how the things are done here in Finland. We have a good relationship with some foreign players who have been here for a number of years and they are ready to help us if needed.

The Welcome to Finland magazine

The FIFPro tournaments in Oslo provide an excellent opportunity for free agents to try to earn new deals - do you get a lot of players trying to get involved?
In this economic climate it has become a lot more interesting for free agents. Teams in Finland often drag out their contract negotiations to sign players who participate in these FIFPro tournaments. This is one of the important services we need to develop, to help our unemployed players to find a club and give them chance to train professionally.  


After the match-fixing problems at RoPS in the past, and the large betting interest in Finnish football, has the JPY app made a big difference?
Awareness around the match-fixing issue is the best thing that has happened. We have been able to give players a thorough education through this application and to discuss openly about the risks surrounding match fixing. 
 
With MYPA and Honka having such public financial problems, what could clubs do differently/better to support players? 
These two cases have similar problems. The players have been unaware of the situation because the club´s internal communications have been very poor. Telling the truth might not have saved the clubs, but it could have helped the players prepare for what is coming and maybe give them more time to change their plans.

Various Finnish clubs have been working with JYP to promote anti-racism and anti-discrimination campaigns - which countries do you think have done well with this? 
In Scandinavia, Denmark and Norway have done a lot of really good work to promote this issue. I also have a feeling that in England, they do quite a lot of work through the Show Racism the Red Card campaign. I haven’t met any player who doesn’t support this. 

JJK players show racism the red card last week

Some players I've met talk passionately about education and having a qualification to "fall back on" - is this a culture that's promoted to young players?
This is very important for our players. Players can’t live on their savings when they finish their career, if they've been playing in a big football country that´s a totally different situation. I don’t think it's necessary for a young player whose goal is to play abroad but when they see that the Finnish Premier League is the highest level where they are playing, then it's important to have a Plan B.

----------------------------------------------------------

Many thanks again to Tero for his answers. You can follow the JPY on Twitter and Facebook, while Tero is also on Twitter here.