Toni Lehtinen signs for Levadiakos

Former FC Haka striker Toni Lehtinen has signed for Levadiakos, according to the Greek daily Sportday. His contract will run until the end of the 2009-2010 season, with an option for a further year, and he will earn around €80,000 a year.

Lehtinen has been at Haka since 2003, and has played 104 league games, scoring 39 goals. He has been on trial at VFL Bochum and Eintracht Braunschweig in recent years. He has been on the fringes of the national squad, but needs a good season if he is to have any hope of forcing his way into the reckoning, especially after Niklas Tarvajärvi’s solid performance against Switzerland last night.

Levadiokos are a lower ranking Greek club who usually have a relegation battle of some kind or another. They represent the small town of Levedeia in the Greek Super League, and their budget is pretty meagre, so Lehtinen’s wages represent ‘respectable money’, according to FIF’s friends in Greece. lehtinen has experience of playing abroad before, but having visited both Greece and Lehtinen’s previous location – Peterborough – I can safely say they don’t have much in common.

Levadiokos’s strikers include the veteran Albanian Alban Bushi, 32 year old Eduardo Bustos Montoya, Patrick Dimbala from DR Congo and Greek youngster Stelios Vasiliou. None of them have made it out of single figures in the Greek league before, and it might be difficult to do so at a smaller club, in a new league. In any event, Lehtinen will have to knuckle down and show his worth to more senior players, after being the number one striker at Haka for so long. His pace might be an asset the club will look to utilise.

Mika Ojala and Wilhelm Ingves on trial at Heerenveen

These are two of the brighter young stars of Veikkausliiga, and they’re both heading over to Trond Sollien‘s little Nordic colony in Eredivisie. I spoke to Ojala’s coach Job Dragtsma this week, and he understandably feels that it would be a little early for Ojala to leave Inter Turku, but of course it’s a possibility with the kind of highlight reel Ojala’s agent can put together. He scores some blinding goals.

Wilhelm Ingves is two years younger, was playing in the Third division two years ago for Lemlands IF, and has been on trial at Ascoli this summer. He plays for what looks to be an exciting Finnish under-19 squad, including Teemu Pukki of Sevilla. David Eriksson from IFK Mariehamn fan site Green Mean Machine caught up with him this week, and has kindly allowed me to translate the interview and post it here.

You’re going to Holland and Heerenveen on trial. How did that come about?

A Finnish scout watched the game against Turkey in the autumn, and he’s the scout for a Dutch agent. They want to draw up a contract with me, but I want to see what they can sort out first, before I decide anything. That’s how it came about.

Great! When do you leave?

I leave on Monday the 17th, and will stay for one week.

Are you going on your own?

No, Mika Ojala from Inter is going too. So I can train in Finnish again.

Yeah, it’s nice to have someone to travel with. What do you know about Heerenveen?

That (Kalmar FF midfielder) Viktor Elm is going there (in January) and that Mika Väyrynen plays there. And that they have blue and white striped shirts with little hearts dotted around.

Yeah, just now they have seven Nodic players, including the aforementioned Elm and Väyrynen. Moreover, they have a Nordic coach. Nordic players enjoy it there, and the club has a good eye for spotting them. Do you think that’s why Heerenveen showed an interest in you?

It could be that they scout more in Scandinavia that other clubs, and therefore have a reputation for handling us well. It’ll be fun to meet the coach, he has a good reputation from what I’ve heard.

If Heerenveen offered you a contract, how close to a move would you be?

There are a lot of factors at play. I have some school left, and high school graduation exams begin next spring. So I’d have to sort that out somehow. Then if the city, club and players are alright, it’d be fun to try out the professional game. It would also depend on what they offer in their contract.

So if nothing comes out of this with Heerenveen, there’ll be no panic for you?

No, there won’t be, I still have a year left. And in one year I will be finished with all my studies, which will be nice to have out of the way.

You’re not wrong there! So staying at IFK for next season wouldn’t be strange for you then? Or are there other clubs you’ve heard from?

I’d gladly play for IFK next season, just now I’m the only striker in the squad with a contract so it’s also quite appealing to do that. Nobody else has been in contact with me, but IS Veikkaaja (Finnish weekly sports magazine published by Finland’s largest tabloid, that has a lot of transfer news and rumours and this week said that Ingves was on his way to Ascoli for another trial) might know more than me.

Hehe…. If you have nothing to add, then we’ll say thank you for your time and wish you good luck in Holland!

Thanks a lot. I should say that I often read your site. The previews are good, I must say.

Thanks, and good luck….. if you go, bring us back a big bag of money!

Haha, I’ll do what I can. But that’s mostly up to (IFK Mariehamn club director Peter) Matsson.

Lasha Chkaidze’s story

Lasha Chkaidze came to Finland two years ago, after a lengthy career including international caps and over 200 games in the Georgian top flight. He’s been something of a phenomenon in Kajaani, lighting up matches in Kolmonen with his class and composure, so I got in touch to see how he’s enjoyed his time in Finland.

Your career in Finland has been a little bit stop-start so far, and it’s surprised a few people that you started playing so far down the pyramid. Could you tell us a bit about your career in Georgia?

I started training seriously rather late, at around 13 or 14. My first contract was with TSU, Tblisi State University, and after a while I moved to Dinamo and then Locomotiv Tblisi, before I got a transfer to Arsenal Kiev in Ukraine. Unfortunately I got a leg injury and was out for about eight months, and really lost my focus and was thinking about quitting football. My Dad wanted to help though, and with his help I began training and I moved to the new club Mtskheta. That year we won promotion to the highest division in Georgia.

I was playing well, and moved back to my old club Locomotive Tblisi. Everything was going well, I was really enjoying my football, but for some reason things turned bad after a couple of years. In the winter holidays I went to Latvia, for a trial with FC Ventspils, I played one friendly game against Flora Tallinn. I don’t know what happened really (I think an agent made some problems), but I went back home.

Because of my trip to Latvia I had problems with “Locomotive” bosses and I changed my club. I signed a contract with Sioni Bolnisi, Then I got married and my new coach at Bolnisi put me on the bench. As I heard later, his stupid reason was that “a “newly married player” can’t play with 100% commitment.

Then I changed clubs a lot but I couldn’t settle, it seemed that suddenly everybody had forgotten about my calibre as footballer. It should be noted, that football for me is still the only way to earn money for my family. I was close to ending my career when I met with my old friend Giorgi Nikuradze. We had played together for many years in youth teams before he moved to Finland. He had good contacts with Finnish football people. He took my video and CV to Tornio and TP-47 sent me an invitation.

KajHa v AC Kajaani

KajHa v AC Kajaani

And how did you end up in Kajaani?

For my first few games in Finland I played at a winter tournament in Tampere. TP-47’s management suggested I played for Kemi Kings, who were happy with my performances. After the tournament we went back to Tornio and I played my first friendly game in Sweden against Boden, where I scored the first goal and we won 2-1. After I played some other friendly games I signed a one year contract with TP-47. Then suddenly they changed their minds and sent me to Kajaanin Haka.

I heard many things, but I don’t know what the real reason was. I’m sure it was the coach’s decision, he had some of his own players for my position in central midfield (EDIT – this was confirmed by TP-47 manager Kari Vaalto when HT contacted him). But anyway I found my city, where I have many friends and fans, and I moved from Kajaanin Haka to AC Kajaani for the 2008 season .

Did the move to Haka’s local rivals cause any antagonism?

Some people said that I should have stayed at Haka, but I got much better conditions for life at AC and I made this decision first of all for my family. But this transfer didn’t cause me any problems, I still have many friends at Haka. I have one more season contracted to AC, and we hope that we can get promotion to the second division. We have new coaches now and they, with the club’s directors have really good plans for the next year.

You seem to have had a raw deal from agents when you’ve been looking for a new club.

Without a good agent it’s very hard to find a normal club in modern football. When I was a teenager there were no agents in Georgia, just some foreigners who were working with the main national team players. Then some agents appeared, who were working with young players, but I was 25-27 , so as I heard I was already too old!

I never met the agent who would tell me the truth and really wanted to help me. Those I met were trying to earn big money and thinking only for their pockets, so after some “deceivers” I didn’t trust anybody. But I still hope that I’ll get one more chance in my football life.

Lasha bossing the midfield

Lasha bossing the midfield

You have a strong footballing background. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood?

I was born in a small city called Lanchkhuti, which is on the Black Sea coast. My father, Teimuraz Chkhaidze, was a famous footballer in the old Soviet Union. He was captain of USSR Under 18s, he played for Dinamo Tbilisi and for 12 years he was captain of Lanchkhuti’s club, Guria. He played a big role for a small club when they won promotion into the highest division of the Soviet Union in 1987 and 1989. It was amazing-this small town was playing with the best clubs of 15 republics of the old Soviet Union.

Caucasian players have a reputation as tricky dribblers, and you are a skilful creative player yourself. Do you think this is the coaching, the environment, or something innate to people from that part of the world?

I don’t know about other Caucasian countries, but in Soviet times Georgian footballers were known as the “Soviet Brazilians”. We don’t have any special style of training, so it could be that the main reason is our mentality. We are similar to the Spanish, Italian, Brazilian, Argentinian and those kinds of “hot” people.

Maybe one reason for me personally is Diego Maradona, who was my childhood hero. In my football career, as Diego wasn’t playing any more by the time I started playing properly, my favourite player was Zinedin Zidane. His style of playing is similar to mine and I have heard from the AC fans that I am their “Zizou”.

One more thing. We always have a lot of talented young players, but for some reason – possibly our mentality, or poor football infrastructure – they are often “lost” during their teenage years. So our football bosses have to work a lot harder, if we want to keep our name in world football.

There are a lot of famous players from Georgia, players who have made it abroad. Do you ever try to help each other out to avoid the obstacles caused by poor infrastructure?

Players are not so powerful, but we talk to each other when we go back home. We usually have these street tournaments in the summer, when the big European leagues have a break. We have a lot of mini-stadia in Tbilisi’s streets and almost every evening we play “street soccer”. One good mini-stadium is near my house, and foreign-based and veteran players often play there.

When I was 18 years old me and my friends played against Shota Arveladze, Giorgi Kinkladze, Temur Ketsbaia and other famous players. The losing team had to buy Fanta for the winners, and we won! They were very surprised, and Shota Arveladze said to me that I HAVE to play big football.

Lastly, you were in Kajaani during the war in Georgia this year. How did you keep up with events?

I had daily contact with my family and friends. This war didn’t really get too close to Tbilisi, so my family was in a safe place. But many young people died in this Russian occupation of Georgian historical lands. Russian and Georgian people have very good memories of each other, I have many Russian friends.

But there are some politics on a governmental level, about who wants to take control of the Caucasus. Georgia is the link between Asia and Europe, so strategically it’s a very important place for everybody. Now everything is calmed down and we hope, that my country will keep our lands from “occupiers” once and for all!

Kai Kuokkanen

Jussi Kahola just missed out on getting elected in Tampere, but there were other football candidates in Finland. One successful football orientated politician was Kai Kuokkanen, who was elected on the Green Party list in Lahti. If you want to find out more in Finnish, or get in touch with him, you can do so via his website.

Kai Kuokkanen

Congratulations on getting elected, Kai! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Thanks! I’m 28 years old. Currently I’m working at Kesko where I’m doing my retail store trainee program. It’s going to take this year and hopefully I’ll be working near Lahti from the beginning of 2009. At the moment I’m working in Kotka.

My football career lasted 10 years and it ended at the age of 17. I was a goalkeeper playing for Reipas. I sometimes played also as a defender, few times I was stopping strikers with Lasse Lagerblom, who later played for FC Lahti and FC Honka. I just got bored with training and I thought I’ve got more to give for Finnish football on the terraces than on the field.

Tell me about your political career. When did you become politically interested, and what do you want to achieve in the council and on a personal level? Why did you pick the Green party?

I’ve always been interested in politics, but I joined the green party after the parlamentary elections 2002. I had met my girlfriend a year earliers and she had a huge influence on my thoughts. So in 2002 I joined the union of the Green Youth. When I moved to Kouvola for my studies, I got the idea to try to be a candidate in local elections. It was 2004 when I sent email to the boss of the Kouvola Greens and asked if I could became a candidate. That’s also when I officially became a member of the Green Party. I got 53 votes with a budget of 3 euros, so I was quite satisfied.

2006 came and I moved back to Lahti. I was elected as one of the candidates for the parliamentary elecions in the Häme election district. I got 550 votes (over 380 from Lahti), so that’s when I decided that I’ll have a run at the local elections in my hometown. Now it’s 2008 and I was a candidate and from the beginning of the next year I’ll be in the city council for the coming 4 years.

If you could choose where FC Lahti played, would it be Kisapuisto, Lahti Stadium, or an entirely new ground?

If I had the money, I would build an entirely new stadium. Kisapuisto is a legendary spot, but for old clubs, not for FC Lahti. For FC Lahti the Lahti Stadium is the home, it has been the home for the entire history of the club.

But as I don’t have the money, I’ll choose Kisapuisto. It must be totally renewed and built again. The location is the best in Finland for a football ground. Just in the middle of the city.

What do you think the council can and should do for football in Lahti?

The stadium is the best the council can do for FC Lahti. Of course council can give money for other things too, but the stadium is the most important. We have decent training facilities here for the youth clubs also, but of course if there is money left for football, it should go to the facilities.

When did you start following FC Lahti, and why? Did you follow another club before Lahti, and do you think they are now as popular in the city as Reipas and Kuusysi?

I started following FC Lahti from the first ever home match in 1997, against Ponnistus. Before that I was following Reipas and was strongly against the merger. But when the new season started, I decided that FC Lahti will be the club for me. I missed Reipas for a few months, but now there is only one club in my heart and I think FC Lahti is getting more popular year by year. The older people are strongly against it, but as the years go by, the new generation, who have only been following FC Lahti became stronger and stronger. After 10 more years we will be the number one club ever in this city.

Who is your favourite all-time Lahti player (excluding Jari Litmanen)?

Definitely Rafael. He’s the best player ever in this club. Hard working, goalscoring and a nice bloke. That’s all it’s needed to be a terrace hero! And I love the badge kissing every time he scores.

What’s your fondest memory of Jari Litmanen?

Of course his years in Ajax. The greatest FC Lahti memory is from his first ever appereance in Lahti shirt in the League cup final against Allianssi. When he came to the field, the whole stadium of 4500 spectators were standing and singing Litmanen. That was an unbelievable moment.

The current Lahti team have shown some real grit to qualify for Europe, but at one point they were considered title challengers. Are you satisfied with  the way the team has performed?

I’m totally satisfied. I was hoping for a top 5 finish, so us reaching the Uefa spot is more than I ever dreamed. I think it was in July or August, people started to talk about us finishing in top three, but I didn’t believe it before 94 minutes in Helsinki. Our manager Ilkka Mäkelä has done a fantastic job with the squad and I hope it continues.

Who has been the most influential player for FC Lahti this year? Who has improved the most? And who is most likely to move abroad?

I would say Konsta Hietanen. I played in all matches and was superb. He has also improved the most. And I think it will be he or Eero Korte, who will move abroad next.

Lahti fans have made an impression wherever they’ve gone to follow their team. What’s your favourite FC Lahti song?

“ohi syyskuun läpi repaleisen lokakuun, sarjapaikasta me taistellaan, ei tuu kultaa, eikä tule hopeaa milloinkaan”. We didn’t sing it a single time this season. We used to sing it more when we were shite! But I love it!

Lahti took a hell of a lot of people to HJK on Sunday. By all accounts it was a tremendous atmosphere and they did the team proud, as away fans always aim to do. Do you follow Lahti away, and if so can you tell us about your best memories of Lahti away games?

I try to follow them away as much as I can. This season was quite a difficult, when I was living in Kotka (so all the home matches were also away matches for me), so I didn’t travel a much. Next season I’ll hopefully be living in Lahti or Helsinki, so travelling away will be a lot easier.

The best memeries are from the season 2001 when I travelled to all away games (including two trips to Rovaniemi). Those Lapland trips are the best. Of course those heavy drinking sessions to Maarianhamina are also something to remember when I’m 70.

HJK win cup

Here’s what Helsingin Sanomat has to say about it.

Pathetic attendance, due to the poor scheduling, terrible marketing and general disinterest in the worst of the Finnish domestic competitions. The League Cup at least attracts some interest because it gives an indication of how teams will play in the next season, whereas the Cup just gives a second chance to teams who aren’t good enough to qualify for Europe through the league.

I just discovered that the Finnish Volleyball Cup finishes a full three months before the end of the season, and is not always played in the same place. Maybe it’s time the HJK-obsessed people of Töölö had to travel to see their team win the game’s ‘showpiece occasion’. I can’t think of a stadium in Finland that could not have accommodated Saturday’s crowd, and I can’t think of a reason to keep this game as a home match for one club above all others.