Dominic Chatto

Correction: In the last sentence, I originally wrote that Chatto said ‘Finland is an excellent place to play football’. It should (and does now), of course, read ‘Sweden is an excellent place to play football’. I am sure that Dominic holds the same opinion about Finland, but he was explaining his transfer and so was talking about Sweden at that point.

Dominic Chatto finally moved to Sweden last week, signing a three year contract with Gothenburg club BK Häcken. His transfer has been complicated, with his former club AS Racine demanding a fee (which they eventually received), and Inter desperate to hang on to their talismanic midfielder. The price kept increasing as Chatto’s performances improved, however, and in the end Häcken offered Racine a good deal and Chatto a bigger league to play in.

The interesting thing for me when i spoke to him on Monday was that he claimed that he always wanted to leave Inter, because Inter were saying very different things until he actually moved. There are a lot of people involved in Chatto’s journey from Nigeria, and you do wonder how many of them have been looking after the player’s interests and how many have been rather more selfish.

His first club, Racine, retained his rights for a very long time while agents in Europe fixed him up with a club, and even before that when he moved from Racine to Heartlands FC. They have form for this kind of thing. They tried to get fees repeatedly when their former defender Olubayo Adefemi moved in Israel, but when he finally signed for Rapid Bucharest firm action from the Romanian, Israeli and Nigerian FA’s made sure they were disappointed. That didn’t happen this time, but it was interesting that Chatto’s agent, Luca Pagani, confused me ‘calling about Chatto going to Häcken’ with me being a lawyer representing Inter chairman Stefan Håkans.

Hopefully Chatto’s situation is now greatly simplified and his next contract negotiation goes a lot smoother than this one. Here’s an extended version of the interview I did for this week’s Helsinki Times.

It’s a long way from your home town, Kaduna, to Turku. How did you end up in Finland?

I started playing football at the Pepsi football academy in Kaduna. It’s a nationwide chain of academies where Nigerian kids have to go if they want to learn how to play the properly, and it was where I began to believe I could do something in football. We trained for two hours every day and i really improved a lot there. John Obi Mikel is a graduate of the Pepsi academy, but he played in Jos, not Kaduna, and I never played with him.

It was difficult at times, because you have to pay tuition fees there every month, but my family helped out sometimes, and occasionally scouts would give me money as a reward for playing well. A lot of the time I had to find the money myself, though.

I played there for four years, and by the time I was 19 I had grown as a player and was ready to find a club. I played for AS Racine for a while, and then moved to Heartlands in the top division. From there I was spotted by a scout and we ended up in Oulu, a multi-national group of 11 Africans all together! Only four of us were picked up by Finnish clubs, and the others all went back to their home countries – Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Nigeria.

How did your trial with Inter go?

Well I’ve been to other big clubs on trial, including Blackburn Rovers and Dynamo Kiev, so when I came to Inter I knew nothing was going to stop me. I played the first game and the coach liked me as a player and was ready to pick me straightaway.

What was it like to work with Inter’s Dutch coach Job Dragtsma?

As a player I’ve improved and the team as a whole has improved, and that’s the objective every year. You can’t compare this year to last year, because we played in a more Dutch style, because that’s how he likes to play and how I like to play. I like to keep the ball, play it on the floor, and move it on quickly. He’s a really good coach.

He seems to be good at boosting players who have had difficulties elsewhere, or maybe didn’t have the coach’s confidence at another club.

Yes, he always gave me confidence, and he always told the team how we have to play and that we are better than the others, and that he trusts us. He always told me that he had 100% confidence in me, and that if I was on the pitch he would not have any problems with the midfield. I always tried to give my best so as not to let him down.

At what point did you know Inter were going to win the title?

Before the season started, when we were playing in the League Cup, I saw a few changes in the players’ attitudes, and we were playing really well. We won the League Cup and when I saw that I thought we are going to have a really good year.

The first game was a little bit difficult as we had to make the transition from the artificial pitch to the grass, but we won 3-1 in the end and went from there really. We were winning a lot and after every game we really thought good things were happening – we had improved a lot and got used to each other, and by the middle of the season I was convinced we’d win the league.

Inter have a lot of good players, and at times the team seemed to have an almost telepathic understanding. What was it like to play with guys like Ojala and Hooiveld?

Mika Ojala is quite young, and I’m really impressed with his form as a player. He’s really developed this year, and I think he’s going to get even better. He always gives 100% in training, the same in games, and with time he will be a good national team player. He’s really talented and he will be a very good player.

Before games he is the only player I talk to about his movement, because as a midfielder you really have to get used to your strikers’ and wingers’ movement and runs. He was one of the players I could give really accurate passes to, because he is always in the right position and he always makes use of the ball in the right way, and of course he’s really pacy.

I would say Jos Hooiveld is my best friend in the team, and we are always together. People at the club call us brothers, ask where my brother is and so on because we are always in the same place. We really got used to each other and talked a lot about how to approach games.

It will be strange to play against him next year, won’t it?

Yeah. At first I was supposed to go to the same club as him, but things changed as they often do in football. AIK (Hooiveld’s new club) changed coach, and after that I didn’t have a contract offer anymore. I don’t really know what happened.

Was it ever an option to stay at Inter?

Well, I wanted to leave, because at this moment I’ve achieved something with Inter and I was the best player in the league. I felt that I needed a little bit more from football, a bit more competition. It wasn’t about money – Inter offered almost the same as Häcken – but it was just time to move on. I need to play for the national team, and in the national team of Nigeria they always want to hear that you play in a big league.

I want to play in the World Cup in 2010. I’ve been selected for the national team twice, the first time I was injured and the second time, at the Olympics, I couldn’t go because Inter had five games at a crucial stage of the season.

What was your best game this season?

I would say MyPa away this year. I had a free role, and I was able to control the game and made very few mistakes – maybe two or three mistakes in the whole game. My marking was great and I won man of the match.

Is it true that Häcken captain Janne Saarinen contacted you via facebook before the transfer?

Haha yeah, it’s true. He just sent me a message asking if I’d like to play for Häcken, and it went from there really. I’ve been to the club to sign my contract and I like the set-up, I think we can do something good there.

I should repeat that the transfer is not about money. Häcken is not such a big club and they cannot offer huge contracts, and like I said before Inter offered almost the same salary as they did. I just felt that I needed a new challenge and a new league, and Sweden is an excellent place to play football.

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.

Inter Turku 2 FF Jaro 0 FT – Inter are 2008 Veikkausliiga Champions!

Watch the match from YLE’s stream here(click the link)

Full time: Inter win the league, and Mika Mäkitalo does a tremendous sliding tackle on Stefan Håkans, Inter owner who always stands next to the bench. Celebrations in full swing now, I need that hot rum to warm my frozen fingers….

88 mins: Ojala tried twice to throw his shirt into the crowd, and failed, swinging it behind him onto the pitch. People are celebrating now, with the people behind me banging their tables and pint glasses. I’m going to get myself a drink.

87 mins: Timo Furuholm is about to come on, after warming up for the entire second half. He celebrated the goal wwell, maybe that’s what persuaded Dragtsma to bring him on. Ojala to come off.

85 mins: Abramovic cuts in from the left, and scores in the bottom left corner with his right foot. Cool finish, and it looks to be all over now, surely?

82 mins: Inter are still looking for the clincher, and Ojala floats in a free kick that just whistles over the top.

77 mins: portin is booked for a late challenge on Chatto, and Ojala blasts the free kick out of the ground. Inter are getting stretched at times by jaro. At the moment Hooiveld and Corpache are coping well, but it only takes one clearance into a puddle for Jaro to get a chance, and they are well capable of taking it.

74 mins: Roiko misses the target from ten yards out. Grot gets the ball in space down the other end but his shot is then deflected for a corner.

72 mins: My fingers are falling off here, it’s freezing. Might have to go get a hot rum. Lahti are now leading HJK 1-0 in Helsinki, which would mean they finish third and push HJk out of the european places.

68 mins: Mannström limps off, but he will surely stay on and stand still rather then reduce his side to ten men. Ojala puts in a good shot but it’s straight at the keeper. Inter need another goal before they can really relax here.

62 mins: It’s not so much a swamp now, as an extension of the Baltic sea. Hyyrynen decks it and water sprays everywhere. It’s not football, it’s a slid tackle contest.

61 mins: Another correction, Roiko came on for Koivisto, and the new keeper is Koljander. WLAN is playing up a bit now too, so updates might become more sporadic.

59 mins: Correction, it was Mäkitalo who slid into Karnio, not Ojala.

57 mins: And Karnio no comes off for Roiko. It was always going to happen, lets just hope he’s not seriously injured.

55 mins: Jaro fans don’t often sing in Finnish, but they prefer to let the referee know in his own language (rather than Swedish) that he should give a red card when Ojala goes in hard on the keeper Karnio. Bantamoi has changed into a nice clean shirt at half time, the prima donna. Substitution for Jaro, Tuomanen off for Kosela.

52 mins: Grot plays in Mäkitalo, who overruns the ball for the first time in the game. Hyyrynen grins a bit when he’s heckled from the stands, but I don’t think he is fooled by the advice that ‘the goal is in the corner’.

50 mins: It’s 2-2 in Mariehamn – this one ain’t over yet.

48 mins: Karnio is quick out of his goal to take the ball off Ojala’s toes, but Inter waste the throw in.

Finnish people really don’t know how to behave in crowds. If you bump into someone, you should say *something* – it doesn’t have to be ‘sorry’, but some acknowledgement that you didn’t intend to barge them out of the way is only polite. I am always saying ‘anteeksi’ at big matches, and no other fucker does…. The teams are back out and we’re about to get underway. I expect Furuholm to come on for Grot soon.

Half time: Good performance from both teams, in the circumstances. I’m still amazed that the game is taking place, and would not like the championship to turn on the ball stopping dead in a puddle, but Inter seem to be doing the job so far.

44 mins: Anbramovic is showing good strength in neotiating the swamp outside the box, but his shot after a one-on-one is saved. Inter will be glad to attack the other, less marsh-like half after the break.

42 mins: Paajanen turns his man, but can only chip his cross-shot over the bar. It is still absolutely pissing it down.

38 mins: This really is utterly ridiculous. Grot wins the ball in a puddle-based scrum, goes forward, but slips and falls on the edge of the D. Mannström then has a shot from the corner of Inter’s box, forcing a brilliant save from Bantamoi, and from the resulting corner Inter clear off the line.

36 mins: IFK go 2-1 up in Mariehamn!

34 mins: Ojala goes down clutching his right knee after a heavy challenge, but no booking is given. Paajanen does the same, and Chatto has also been kicked a bit.

31 mins: Jaro seem to be making a better fist of playing in these conditions, with Seba Manströmm in particular causing problems down the left. Bantamoi is is usual eccentric self, with sometimes erratic distribution combining with great saves.

21 mins: Jaro are having a good little spell, aided by the difficulty Inter are having clearing the ball along the ground. Grot demonstrates this with a move that breaks down when the ball stops dead in a puddle, as the announcer lets everyone know that Honka have equalised.

20 mins: I think so, ralf, yes, but I will check and report back.

15 mins: The referee seems to bottle a penalty decision as Ojala gets fouled in the box, giving a free kick right on the edge instead. Ojala leathers it in, and it skids out for a corner. It’s still pissing it down, and I would like to reiterate my concern that one of these players (including some of Finland’s brightest young talents, on both sides), might get injured because the referee decided to play in unsafe conditions. It’s not football, and I’ve seen games on better pitches postponed, as had coaches from Inter and Jaro before the game.

12 mins: IFK go 1-0 up against Honka.

8 mins: MyPa lead TamU 1-0 with a goal from Neemelo. Abramovic seems unsure what to do with the ball down the left, but eventually wins a corner. ojala to take, but it is eventually cleared by Hyyrynen.

6 mins: Goal for Inter! paajanen heads in from Ojala’s cross.

4 mins: Hyyrynen beats Sanevuori and fizzes the ball across goal, but there’s nobody there. It’s impossible to pass the ball out of defence, so hoofing it will be necessary.

1 min: This is farcical. Players are slipping and sliding all over the place, and the ball just does not move along the ground. If anyone gets an injury today, the referee of the year might face a lawsuit.

16:00: We’re ready to kick off, but the referee is waiting for a signal from YLE that the shipping forecast (or something) has finished. And they’re off. Inter kick left to right as the ball skids out of play in the corner with Ojala chasing.

15:59: The pre-match presentations include an anti-racism demonstration and awards for Ojala, Hooiveld, Bantamoi and Chatto. Inter really should win the title this year, given how well they’ve played up to now. As the Inter team has a photo taken the photographer – who looks like a fisherman lost in a storm – makes them turn round so they’re not in front of the Olympic Stand.

15:58: Here in Turku the players are entering the field, while there is momentous news from Åland – Aleksandr Kokko starts on the bench for Honka, leaving the field clear for Henri Myntti to take this year’s golden boot…

15:55: The Veikkausliiga anthem starts up, and the weird looking Inter mascot is waiting for the teams to come out. There is a decent crowd standing behind the goal to my left, and a great turnout from Jaro in the Olympic Stand. It takes some dedication to turn out for a game like this, as you’re very likely to get piss wet through, and I hope the numerous children behind that goal are not put off Veikkausliiga football for life.

15:50: There seem to be big queues at the ticket office, but they are unlikely to delay the start to ensure everyone gets in. The Olympic Stand looks about one third full, and for some reason the dugouts are on the near side – Inter have had them on the opposite side every other time I’ve been here. It looks a bit weird…

15:30: It’s still raining here. I’m thinking it could be very embarrassing if the title is decided by the ball stopping in a puddle in the penalty area, or the referee has to call it off halfway through. The Inter team are warming up in the wetter half of the pitch, and occasionally kicking at the puddles, and they seem to be acclimatising to the conditions. The Inter fans shouted something about ‘bad pitches’ when they came in, but have since settled down and sung a few more positive songs….

The teams are in:

Inter Turku: Bantamoi, Aho, Sanevuori, Corpache, Hooiveld, Chatto, Mäkitalo, Ojala, Paajanen, Abramovic, Grot.

FF Jaro: karnio, Storbacka, Kullström, Tuomanen, Matrone, Koivisto, Laurikainen, Simpson, Hyyrynen, Mannström, Jonas Portin.

15:00: When I had my first look at the pitch today, I didn’t actually walk on it, just dipped my toe into a puddle from the running track round the edge. Job Dragtsma wanted to make sure I saw just how crap it was though, and led me back out to show the huge areas covered in standing water. He’s been pacing around on and off ever since then, and just now showed Jos Hooiveld some areas at the ice rink end that he should be particularly wary of.

Everyone says it will be difficult to play football on this, indeed Inter people are saying that ‘it won’t be football’, and it was amusing to see the officials trying to find an area where the ball would roll rather than stopping dead during the pitch inspection. I’m not sure quite what would be necessary to get the game postponed, but it will certainly be a memorable occasion.

14:25: Pitch inspection completed, the game will be played. The standing water will be brushed off the pitch and they will cross their fingers it stops raining. Inter coaching staff are not too happy with the decision.

14:00: I just arrived at the ground, and the pitch looks a state. There is standing water, and the referee is about to make a pitch inspection.

Veikkausliiga last day

I’ll do a live blog of Veikkausliiga’s last day tomorrow. It will begin a couple of hours before the games start, as I’m a bit too tipsy to write a preview now. I’ll be in Turku watching Inter v Jaro, which is hopefully not going to be postponed, while Honka travel to Åland to take on the already safe IFK Mariehamn.

Veikkausliiga players of the year

The Veikkausliiga players of the year have been announced. The players union choices are as follows:

Player of the year: Dominic Chatto (FC Inter)
Newcomer of the year: Aleksandr Kokko (FC Honka)
Referee of the year: Tero Nieminen

And Veikkausliiga selected:

Goalkeeper of the year: Patrick Bantamoi (FC Inter)
Defender of the year: Jos Hooiveld (FC Inter)
Midfielder of the year: Mika Ojala (FC Inter)
Forward of the year: Aleksandr Kokko (FC Honka)

At least Chatto and Hooiveld will almost certainly leave the country after this weekend. Big Swedish clubs are interested in them, and they have nothing left to prove in Finland. Hooiveld was defnder of the year in 2007 as well, and his career is very firmly back on track after considering retirement after his spell playing in Austria.

It’s good that Ojala is likely to stay. He is only 18 and has a lot to learn, and can become a very influential player in the next year or two. With Joni Aho staying at Inter as well, and presumably taking on a bit more responsibility in the absence of Hooiveld and Chatto, they have a reasonable chance at defending the title and having a crack at Europe.

Of course, this strategy is much easier when your senior players are in their early to mid 20s, and both Honka and Inter have exciting talents that they hope to keep in Veikkausliiga next year. It’s much better for the league to have star players who could sign for a big club at any moment than to have ageing stars who could retire at any moment.

Musan Salama 1 FC Jazz Juniors 1

Salama Kioski

I should make a declaration here: I have strong Musa sympathies. It wasn’t really a day to be neutral, given that the top of the Kolmonen table looked like this in the morning, before the last game of the season:

FC Jazz Juniors, pl 17 pts 45

Musan Salama, pl 17 pts 44

So Musa needed to win to overtake Jazz and get into the play-offs for promotion to Kakkonen. They are a tortuous procedure involving two sides from Vaasa and central Ostrobothnia and one each from Tampere and Satakunta. It is not usually that difficult to get promotion that way, as a lot of clubs don’t try too hard because they cannot afford the increased costs and regular drubbings that would come with a season in Kakkonen.

Young fans

But I digress. Musa, always the third club in Pori behind PoPa and FC Jazz, have in recent years yo-yo’d between Kakkonen and Kolmonen. Jazz are the heirs of PPT, who my more biased contacts in Musa regard as being slightly flasher and brasher than is altogether necessary. The reformed team gained successive promotions in 2006 and 2007, after tax-paying difficulties forced the senior side into bankruptcy in 2004.

That unfortunate incident is the reason they are called ‘juniors’, despite one or two beer guts and bald patches among their players. They have also signed a couple of players from Musa this season, adding a little bit more needle to what was already a big match for both sides.

GOOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!

There is a thriving transfer market among the Pori clubs, and indeed one of the anticipated effects of PoPa’s elevation to Ykkönen is an influx of new players to their squad, which will in turn free up a better standard of player for Musa and Jazz to sign. The local paper carried a story about PoPa’s recruitment plans for next season (they secured promotion last weekend), illustrated by a picture of Antti Sumiala – 85% owner and centre forward at PoPa; used to play for NEC Nijmegen, Vaduz, and Kansas City Wizards, among many others – holding up a globe in front of a rickety looking plane that hopefully isn’t in service.

Scoreboard

The plan is that PoPa will look to South America for their players next year, using Piracaia‘s contacts. Their budget this season is €200,000, and manager Rami Nieminen says that they are looking to increase it by 30-50%. That would give them a budget of €260,000-€300,000 (I am a maths genius, I know), which is not too shabby at Ykkönen level and should allow them to compete.

Satakunnan Kansa’s Anne Sivula argues that they should use this to sign players who have left Pori and would like to return, citing Inter Turku goalkeeper Oskari Forsman’s recent comment that he would like to play Veikkausliiga football in Pori.

It is not a binary choice, of course. The ideal situation is to have high quality imports and motivated homegrown players, rather than headline catching Brazilians who might or might not succeed. Whichever route PoPa choose to take, they will sign new players and that will allow both Jazz and Musa to strengthen their sides, which will continue the renaissance of football in Pori. It’s not quite back to the level it was in the 1990s, but it’s getting there.

Full time

Anyway, the game. Christ, the game. Musa started as if they’d been drinking heavily last night, and were lucky to get to half time at 0-0. Jazz hit the post and sliced open Musa again and again, with Joao Gaetti showing a vision to spot passes that compensated for his slight paunch and lack of pace. Jarno Ruisniemi was quick and occasionally dangerous for Musa, but Jazz always seemed to have an extra man and Ruisniemi kept getting outnumbered.

There was a passage of play that amused me greatly, when the shouty Jazz bench encouraged their strikers to chase the ball down. The Musa defence, just shaking off their hangovers 20 minutes into the game, were a bit surprised but quickened their passing. Gaetti and his strike partner ran for a bit but after 30 seconds they needed a breather and dropped back to the halfway line.

This seemed to rouse Musa a little, and for 20 minutes either side of half time they were on top, culminating in a goal from Juha Vallin on 64 minutes. They then dropped a little too deep trying to defend the lead, but seemed pretty comfortable and when Jazz hit the woodwork again it looked like their moment had passed. Musa broke free on one occasion and inexplicably missed with three players forward and only the keeper to beat, and then, right at the end, Aleksi Nurminen headed the equaliser that takes Jazz into the play-offs.

There are a load more pictures here and here.

Kiitoksia