The Finnish season will be starting in a couple of weeks, and it’s about time to look at who the runners and riders might be. Veikkausliiga teams have had the usual turnover of players as some leave to seek their fortune in richer leagues or clubs and some return having tried their luck elsewhere. It seems like champions Tampere United will once again be the team to beat, having built a formidable squad and looking impressive in pre-season. Antti Pohja has returned from HJK, and will have a job winning over the fans, but if he hits form all (or at least some) will be forgiven. Tampere just released their accounts for last year and the Championship came at a price-they lost nearly 300,000EUR in 2006.
HJK will be right up there again, as they should be. It will be interesting to see how Kabba Samura integrates with the rest of the team, and if he lives up to the potential he showed in Championship Manager 2000-2001. I’m guessing not, as he’s in Finland, but it will be interesting all the same. Ghazi and Zeneli have re-signed and will be key to HJK’s hopes, as will the old warhorse Mika Nurmela.
In the rest of the league there have been some interesting dealings. MyPa have acquired a Togolese midfielder who went to the 2006 World Cup. Kuami Agboh isn’t one of the biggest names in world football, but he has cost a fair bit of money in Finnish terms and is what Americans might call MyPa’s ‘marquee player’. And he is already injured. In ten years at Auxerre he’s played 76 times, not counting loan spells. It seems to me he is the archetypal foreigner in Finland-he can either use this as a springboard for his career, like Marcus Gayle did at KuPs, or he could sink without trace, take the pay packet and enjoy his Finnish summer. We’ll see how it pans out.
Perhaps the biggest coup is TPS’s capture of Mixu Paatelainen as coach. There were rumours he would get a crack at one of the SPL clubs before he signed for TPS, but the lure of a Finnish summer was too strong. His presence probably ensured TPS managed to sign his brother, who used to have one of the finest mullets in Veikkausliiga. It was still intact when TPS were thrashed 4-0 at Pirkkahalli in February, but distressing publicity photos from the TPS website show young Mikko with an archetypal footballer’s do.
TPS should improve, with or without the mullet. Mixu doesn’t seem like the kind of man to come back for midtable mediocrity, but the budget can be very important in Finland so it might not be in his hands. Not just in terms of recruiting, but also hanging onto players throughout the season-the European transfer window is open for nearly half the Finnish season, and clubs can be devastated by raids from the big(ger) leagues.