Veikkausliiga transfer update

The new year has seen a flurry of confirmed transfers, as well as a few trials that might lead to permanent moves. Some clubs are busier than others, with one in particular seemingly in the business of fire-fighting rather than planning for the future right now. Tampere United have seen chairman Jari Viita depart, after a season in which they lost around €200,000. Viita’s company lost €2.7m last year, and he is not in a great position to bail out TamU.

Winter recruitment has therefore been a painful process for TamU, with 17 year-olds Johannes Mononen and Juha Pirinen joining the club from Jippo and Haka respectively, and Aleksei Kangaskolkka signing from MyPa. While the chance for youth to shine is welcome, the somewhat frantic efforts to offload TamU’s saleable assets point to a less settled strategy.

Tomi Petrescu has signed for Ascoli on a loan until the 15th of April, with the option to make the move permanent at that point, while Henri Myntti is bewilderingly spoilt for choice as he ponders which club to sign for. Myntti is a freakishly tall player, who used to be a blunder-prone centre back but was converted last season into a Veikkausliiga goal machine, playing up front for TamU and heading everything that came his way and bagging 13 goals in 23 league games.

Myntti went to FC Saturn on trial at the end of last season, signed an improved contract with TamU, and is now on trial at Hansa Rostock after apparently turning down a move to Romania. More on the fun and games at Ratina Stadium later in the week.

HJK full back Jukka Raitala is on trial at Newcastle United. Raitala had a good season with HJK, playing 23 games and impressing with Finland’s successful under-21 side, and has attracted attention from Greece as well as West Bromich Albion, where he had a trial in the autumn.

Other current trials include FF Jaro’s central defender Jonas Portin, who is currently at NEC Nijmegen, and Brazilian midfielder Luiz Vanderlei, who MyPa are looking over. Vanderlei has been at Tornio club TP-47 for the past two years and adds a touch of class to teams in need of a playmaker.

Tampere United’s new board

Tampere United had a reorganisation recently. Well not very recently, but not that long ago. It was felt that the board as it stood was unwieldy and unable to react quickly, so a major streamlining exercise has taken place and now the Limited Company’s board has just five members: Jari Viita (Chairman), Tim Rowe (Vice Chairman), Kalervo Kummola, Pauli Ruoholahti and Reijo Riihimäki.

It is hoped that this will enable Tampere United to implement their strategy to become a leading Nordic club over the next 5 years. As part of this strategy they will need to multiply their income by a factor of 5 and drastically increase their crowds, while competing regularly in Europe.

The interesting part of all this boardroom manouvreing is the very Finnish way it has been carried out. The end result is similar to what would probably happen in Britain, with the board representing a majority of the shares they can effectively do what they like.

One thing that might help Tampere United to gain local support is that there is a representative of the Social Democrat Party, Pauli Ruoholahti, and someone from Kokoomus (the right wing party in Finland), Kalervo Kummola. Kummola has long been involved in Tampere United and helped support the club when it was in its infancy. He is a good man to have on your side in Finland, as the president of the national ice hockey federation.

Ruoholahti is active in the Suomen Palloliitto, which is obviously a handy contact for an upwardly mobile club to have. Tampere United are aiming to be the first Finnish club in the modern era to consolidate a presence in the Champions League. HJK had one season in the Champions League group stages in 1998-99, and had a respectable tally of five points. Their best players all left straight after though, and they were unable to maintain the momentum.

Other Nordic clubs have done so, but only with the assistance of a vibrant domestic competition. Finland is still a way behind Norway, Sweden and Denmark in terms of sponsorship revenue and attendances, and this is the major problem for clubs trying to make the step up to compete with the likes of AIK, Rosenborg, Brondby and FC Copenhagen. AIK, for instance, play several home games a season in front of crowds exceeding 30,000. The average crowd in the Swedish and Norwegian leagues exceeds the average capacity of stadia in Veikkausliiga.

The trend is upwards in Veikkausliiga attendance figures, but the size of the task for the new board is formidable. The problem is that for football in Finland to really take off, it has to have some successes-Tampere United’s initial crowds this season reflect the poor weather and the relative attraction of the opposition rather than the fact that the team are the Finnish champions and play entertaining football.

That will have to change if Tampere United’s strategy is to succeed, and there are signs that the continued good form of the club is starting to catch the imagination of the locals. A decent European run could solidify this support, and with a favourable First Round draw they will be confident of progression. After that they could draw Glasgow Rangers, possibly the ideal combination of a massive crowd and a decent chance of an upset.