Helsinki Times: Young players and Webster

I’ve decided two things. Firstly, I should write more football articles for Helsinki Times. And secondly, I’m going to start putting those HT football articles here. I’ll format them like they will appear in the paper, just for some local flavour from these crazy Finns. The first one is from this week’s edition:

Youngsters move abroad as Webster ruling shakes up transfer rules

Finnish football loses a lot of players to foreign clubs, but is all that set to change with the landmark Webster ruling?

29 February 2008


THE MOST striking thing about the January transfer window from a Finnish perspective was the number of teenagers who moved abroad for fairly substantial sums of money. They joined big clubs and will play in the youth teams, earning more money than they would in Finland and hopefully developing at a faster rate.

We’re talking about the likes of Lauri Dalla Valle, 16, who left Jippo and signed for Liverpool, FC KooTeePee’s Teemu Pukki, 17, who moved to Sevilla, and Tero Mäntylä, 16, who moved from TP-Seinäjoki to Portsmouth. KuPs’s 17 year-old midfielder Petteri Pannanen is currently on trial with Torino, who will doubtless track his progress over the 2008 season.

This movement is a consequence of the explosion in transfer fees for older footballers since the Bosman ruling, as rich clubs search further afield for the next generation of stars. It is a technique pioneered by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, saving millions of pounds by spotting and signing players like Gael Clichy, Ashley Cole and Cesc Fabregas when they were young and relatively inexpensive.

Stay in school

Young players in the national team’s youth set-up are advised to take care of their education and military service, but beyond that the Finnish FA expresses no preference. Teemu Pukki will finish high school at a Finnish school in Andalucia, while Mäntylä and Dalla Valle will continue their education in English. All three will return to Finland at a later date to complete their military service or obtain an exemption.

This kind of transfer does not raise as many objections from Finnish clubs as it would elsewhere. Finnish salaries are low for most professions in international comparison, so going abroad to better yourself is an accepted and even encouraged part of a young person’s development.

The financial aspect of these deals helps a great deal, of course. While the sums are never astronomical, the prestige of sending a player to a Premier League or Serie A club helps the Finnish team to attract young players. It would not be good for a club’s reputation to stand in the way of a player offered that kind of opportunity.

“We like to offer young players opportunities they wouldn’t get at other teams, so there was no point standing in his way when Sevilla came in for him,” says KooTeePee chairman Matti Koski when asked about the Pukki transfer. “The money is not a lot and we don’t have any expectation of transfer fees in our budget, so the revenue will go towards the youth teams.”

Webster ruling

Koski is frustrated at having to compete with the big city clubs who find it much easier to find wealthy sponsors, and his task will be made that much harder by a recent decision made by the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS).

Andy Webster broke his contract with Heart of Midlothian in August 2006, moving to Wigan Athletic. He argued that under European Union law, and FIFA’s Article 17, he should only pay the remaining value of his contract to compensate his former employer.

They disagreed, demanding £4.6m (€6,100,00) as a transfer fee under the tribunal system, but the case was finally resolved on 30 January with Webster ordered to pay just £150,000 (€200,000) to Hearts.

“Basically, Article 17 gives footballers the sort of employee rights that anyone else would expect in the workplace,” says Tony Higgins, a representative of the international players union Fifpro. “What it means is that any footballer can now serve notice on his club [in mid-contract] and move on to a new club.”

While Higgins believes the most affected players will be those at the very top, the consequences for the likes of Pukki, Mäntylä and Dalla Valle are unclear. Will the big clubs still find it beneficial to have so many foreign youngsters on their books when they don’t have a significant re-sale value?

A quick survey of officials at Finnish clubs revealed that very few had any knowledge of the ruling, much less a plan to deal with it. That will have to change in the coming months.

Ääritalo and Hämäläinen staying

The next post I’m gonna write won’t be about TPS, I promise, so hopefully you won’t get too bored. (I’m actually planning to write a “who’s who” of Turku football, but let’s see what that will develop into).

TPS today announced that Algerian playmaker Hamza Aït Ouamar has signed a contract until the end of season 2009. He has been on trial for a month or so and played a few Liigacup fixtures. He is good with the ball and looks like a decent playmaker, but I am not sure how good exactly he is. He has been OK, but not a magician. However, a playmaker is exactly what they need; last year TPS lost twice to Tampere United and I reckon it was mainly because there was no real playmaker and TamU won control of the midfield. Riku Riski (b. 1989) is an option, but I think he’s a bit too young to be a first team regular as a playmaker. I think he will remain a super-sub for the next couple of seasons.

Simo Valakari also extended his contract all the way to 2010. I am pleased with that, he is an excellent defensive midfielder. The contract took me by surprise, I thought he would end his career playing for a Helsinki team, since he is from Helsinki and still lives there (!). Of course, playing in Helsinki is not a foregone conclusion but Simo will be 37 by the time his contract expires so he might just end his career playing for TPS.

What I was most delighted with, however, was the news of Kasper Hämäläinen signing a new three-year deal. Earlier on, Mika Ääritalo signed a new deal as well. It is unlikely that either one should play for TPS for the entire durations of their contracts, but everyone in Finnish football will benefit for them staying for 1-2 more years: quality players will attract crowds, TPS get a decent transfer fee when the guys leave and first and foremost, Veikkausliiga looks more and more like an attractive league. Finns do not value the league too highly, but given time, with players like this, the attitudes will change.

Of course, sometimes it is more beneficial for a player to leave Finland for some bigger club at an early age. I wish there was more Finnish clubs who could hold on to their players. That would require improvement in training facilities and development in pretty much everything, but once these players stay in their Finnish clubs until they are 20+, the Finnish league will be much better.

Veikkausliiga now seems to be packed with young Finnish talents. TamU have Petrescu, HJK have Taulo, Minkenen and Sumusalo, TPS have Lehtovaara, Hämäläinen and Ääritalo…And there’s more to come, I hope. With players like these, the league has something to promote.

Japanese Non-league Football Yearbook 2008

Over at Japanese Non-league Football News, they’ve been very busy indeed. Feverishly working away between Omiya Ardija games, they have managed to produce the excellent Japanese Non-league Football Yearbook 2008.

It’s available to print or download free of charge, is 138 pages long and contains over 100 pictures. Very highly recommended, hearty congratulations to all involved in it.

TPS going international with their tickets

I’m new to the blog. I live in Turku, so I will probably be writing about what’s happening around here. Of course I’m interested in the national team as well as the domestic leagues, so it’s not going to be just Turku I’m writing about. Anyway, feedback is very much appreciated, especially in the beginning.

The news around here today is that TPS are renewing their ticket selling. Last year TPS had crowds of 5293 on average, and according to chairman Petri Jakonen the ticket selling system got jammed before several fixtures.

Futis 011

TPS fans should have an easier time getting hold of tickets next season

TPS will be the first in Finland, I believe, to introduce a system common to numerous English, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian clubs. Season tickets are now available only on the internet or at the club’s office. Tickets for individual fixtures are available only on the net and at the stadium on matchdays.

It is interesting to see if it works or not. Finns just love showing up 15 minutes before kick-off and standing in a long queue to get their tickets. People still take it for granted that tickets are available just before kick-off, so they won’t necessarily bother printing their tickets at home. As it is no more possible to buy a ticket at the local grocery store, it might be that the queues are even longer before the first few home fixtures of the season.

However, the system has advantages to it; if only people learn to print their tickets in advance, they can walk right in the stadium with no queuing. Besides, you get to pick your seat yourself, so you only have yourself to blame if you don’t enjoy the view.

W ith the “boom” going strong (the fan block now has almost 90 season tickets ordered, with the only way of promotion being word of mouth), selling tickets on the net is an idea worth trying. Hopefully there’s gonna be more people spending their time queuing up for beer inside the stadium instead of tickets.

Reasons to be cheerful? Honka swap Porokara for Vuorinen

Hongankolistajat, FC Honka supporters

My uneducated guess (I haven’t seen them play yet) is that Honka are going to be great this season. They were leading the league in 2006 until they sold Vuorinen for a big pile of money, now they have him back they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Losing Porokara is a blow, but he can be a bit inconsistent and it’s better to have Vuorinen scoring ugly goals than Porokara setting up beautiful misses.

Ladbrokes are currently offering Honka at 11.00 for the title, which might be worth a pound or two each way.

I haven’t yet talked about Haka, but they’ve been unimpressive in the two games I’ve seen so far. In the first they benefited from a KooTeePee sending off, and in the second they got done by Lahti in a smash and grab raid. They still have Cheyne Fowler, contrary to my earlier ‘news’, because Avellino do not want to commit to signing him until their Serie B future is secured. Once they’re safe they will open negotiations, until then Fowler will stay at Haka.

Marta and Umeå IK come to Finland

Pre-season friendlies are well underway now, and there seems to be a glut of trans-bothnian fixtures this week. TPS drew 0-0 with AIK Solna today, but the bigger and more interesting story is the arrival of Umeå IK in Vaasa. They played a friendly against FC Sport yesterday at Botniahalli, winning 11-0, but the story followed by all the major Finnish media outlets was Marta.

There wasn’t really much point to the questions she was asked in her press conference, but we established that her Swedish is good, she has wanted to be the best player in the world all her life, and she trains very hard. Marta the superstar was approached as part of a promotional exercise for the women’s game, and Hanna Ljungberg – pretty much a legend in her own right – was sat around like a spare part in the Pohjolainen video.

She didn’t even get on the news in YLE’s report. Seemed a bit odd, really – Marta is amazing, but we could ask about the team, and the Swedish national side, who will of course be in Finland for the European Championships in 2009. It seemed like an opportunity to build name recognition that will be vital in shifting tickets in a year’s time.

Ljungberg, you may remember, was scouted by Perugia when they wanted to be the first side to field a woman in a men’s team. LA Galaxy have since approached Marta with the same aim, but for now she will stay in Sweden and earn around €10,000 a month after signing a contract for 2008.

I won’t even attempt the usual comparisons between the game in Sweden and Finland as I didn’t see the game and the gulf should be apparent from the scoreline and the wages already mentioned. No players at Finnish women’s teams are professional so if they want to earn a living from football they move abroad, and most of the national team are based outside Finland.

I found a fantastic English language resource while researching this post, the Damallsvenskan blog. Highly recommended.

Finnish football grounds

I’ve updated the ‘Finnish football grounds’ tab with some brilliant photos of Hietalahti. I’ve done some of Tammela and already have some of the Olympic Stadium and Finnair Stadium, but it’d be great to have photos of all the grounds in Finland.

In particular I’d like the Arto Tulsa Areena, Veritas, KuPs’ ground, Tehtaan Kenttä and MyPa’s stadium. Any and all others are welcome though, I will try to include them. You can add them to the ‘Finnish football’ group on flickr if you don’t mind me using them for the blog. Any trivia about football grounds in Finland will also be gratefully received.

Kosovar Finns: panic over?

Gramsci’s Kingdom has an excellent post on the politics of international football federation membership applications and their effect on Kosovo. In short: if you opt for Kosovo, you’ll probably never get the chance to play competitive games against the big countries.

The rules changed after Spain effectively vetoed Gibralter’s application, and now you need UN membership to become a UEFA member. Russia will almost certainly veto Kosovo’s UN application. And to join FIFA you need two years’ membership of a member confederation, so unless Kosovo ‘does an Israel’ and joins CONCACAF, they won’t be playing full internationals.

Kosovo start recruiting

Newly independent Kosovo is going to want everything other nations have, including a national football team. They will now look to recruit players who might even have played for other countries, if they can secure agreements with the applicable federations.

Players affected in Finland are Mehmet Hetemaj, Perparim Hetemaj,  Erfan Zeneli, Njazi Kuqi and Shefki Kuqi (not an exhaustive list). Perparim was on the news tonight saying that he hasn’t made his mind up yet, and whatever he decides to do he will feel like he is betraying someone.

It’s a first test for Baxter, as he is now well aware of Hetemaj and will have to decide how far he pushes things. Hetemaj has not played for the national side yet, and the fact that he hasn’t immediately declared for Kosovo suggests that this is a difficult decision for him and inclusion in a Finland squad would probably tip the balance.

I’m sure Baxter will be watching Apollon Kalamarias in the near future, all the more so as he has seen at close quarters how the Swedish FA managed to alienate Zlatan Muslimovic.

Transfer news

Roni Porokara has signed a three year contract with Sixten Boström’s Örebro, leaving Honka with a ‘very good deal’ according to their manager. He will take his place in Allsvenskan a year late, for my money, but he has pace and skill and certainly has the ability to succeed on a bigger stage.

Boström, incidentally, was in Finland this week for other reasons to which I should probably dedicate a full post sometime in the near future.

Chris James has signed for TamU, giving new options in midfield that are sorely needed on the evidence of the MyPa game last Friday. He’s 20 years old, from New Zealand and is listed in wikipedia as an ‘attacking midfielder’. He played the last 25 minutes of TamU’s 2-1 defeat in Turku yesterday, coming on for Henri Scheweleff. I was unconvinced by Sheweleff against MyPa, he looks more like a traditional winger than a TamU player who can move the ball on quickly. It will be very interesting to see how Hjelm manages this transition with the players he has brought in.

The other New Zealander in Finland at the moment is Adrian Webster. He is indeed a feisty character, and this was in evidence at Pirkahalli as he niggled the TamU midfielders, at one point yelling ‘fucking hit him!’ as his team mate went into a challenge. I like players like that, but he’s going to get some stick from Finnish referees. If Adrian (or Chris) stumbles across this blog, I can only pass on Keith Armstrong’s words of wisdom. The erstwhile Haka and HJK coach learnt Finnish after noticing that referees booked him if he swore in English, but not if he said something similar in Finnish. Adrian and Chris: it’s worth learning a little bit so that you can integrate quickly.

‘Jumalautta!’ is probably the worst Finnish swear word. It literally means ‘God help me’, but it sounds great when you express exasperation. In our own ‘fuck’-centric swearing universe, it would lack any impact, but it is pleasingly emphatic. use when a pass goes astray or you want to express disapproval at a referee’s decision.

‘Vittu’ is the Finnish equivalent of ‘cunt’, but cannot be used in the same way. You can’t call someone ‘a right vittu’, but you can tell them to fuck off in two ways. ‘Haista vittu’ literally means ‘smell the cunt’ and to my mind carries slightly dodgy misogynistic and adolescent overtones, whereas ‘painu vittu pois!’ is more of a ‘get the fuck out of here’ type thing.

‘Rauha!’ translates as ‘time!’ in English footballspeak, although literally it means ‘peace’. No swearing there, but if you shout it a lot you’ll fit right in. This is the key, to ensure that you don’t stick out and that you make an effort to insult people in their own language. You will fail, pronounce things wrongly, and they will patronisingly pat you on the head, but then they might look more favourably on your next two footed lunge if you haven’t been chuntering away in English all game.

I am a poor Finnish teacher, but I’m sure your team mates and our readers will be able to add more words and phrases.

One last bit of transfer news. Tero Mäntylä, a 16 year old midfielder from Seinäjoki, has signed for Portsmouth. I’d never heard of him either. he’s played over thirty games for Finland’s youth sides, and will join Dalla Valle and Pukki in Finland’s foreign legion. Of the three, Pukki is far and away the best player, having led his side in Veikkausliiga for pretty much a whole season. Dalla Valle was only training with Jippo’s senior squad, not participating much in games, and Mäntylä….. well, I know nothing about him and he could very easily be a great player. Impossible to say at this stage though, which is why it’s ridiculous for Portsmouth to be paying all this money for him.

The word is that Simon Skrabb is the next Finnish talent on the way to England, and he’s only 14. He plays for Jaro and is apparently heading to Liverpool, having been there a couple of times already. Liverpool seem to be showing a lot of interest in Finnish talent, and their academy coach Steve Hollis is working pretty hard to pronounce everything properly on his trip to Joensuu just now.