Finnish Football, the Progress and The Hope of Some African Players

Finnish Football, the progress and the hope of some African players

From Soccertime Africa

Nowhere have football fans felt the impact of the outbreak of the COVID- 19 virus than the northern European nation of Finland. Finnish football fans will have to wait until next year to be able to watch their senior national football team make a maiden appearance at the Euros.

“All the hotel and flight bookings together with match tickets acquired will have to wait till next year”, lamented Anssi Ollenberg, an avid football fan.

Theirs is a country where football has played second best to ice hockey in terms of popularity. However, the historical feat of the national team in securing Finland’s first qualification to a major tournament may signal an impending paradigm shift.

Before the turn of the century, Jari Litmanen was the face of Finnish football. A member of the Ajax team that won the European Cup in 1995, he was the star around whom the national team was built.

The 2000s saw the rise of Sami Hypia, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Aki Riihilathi, Mikael Forssell and Teemu Taino who many expected to break the ice and qualify Finland to a major championship but recurrent injuries to key players made it impossible to have a full-strength squad to face stronger European nations in key qualifiers. As this generation phased out, Finland turned to the development of young talents with the aim of charting a new path. Youth teams proliferated and to boost the popularity of the game among young footballers, Finland offered to host the FIFA U-17 world in cup in 2005.

Finland U 17 taking on Northern Ireland U 17 at the Sami Hypia Soccer Academy late last year.

Football infrastructure development also became a priority of the FA. The multipurpose Sami Hypia Football Academy was built to serve as a training center for youth footballers from the age of 10. The center also serves as a camping base for all the national teams before major games.  Friendly matches between the youth national teams and other European nations are constant arrangements to enable young talents to compete with the best.

“We are inspired by the success of Iceland at the last Euros and we want to become a force in the European game”, Jarko Antilla a football intermediary said to Soccertime on the sidelines of a friendly game between the Finnish U-17 and Northern Ireland U-17 team. Jarko like many Finnish football fans, is optimistic about the future of Finnish football.

 

The attention to nurturing young talents and developing infrastructure have been complemented by young home-grown talents moving to some of the major leagues in Europe to gain the experience of playing in more competitive environments. This has further strengthened the national team.  

The new poster boy of Finnish football Teemu Pukki is an example. Transferred from FC KPT in 2008 to Sevilla, he has been playing his best football in the past year in the EPL where he has scored 11 goals in 28 Matches for Norwich.   His contribution in scoring 9 goals in the European qualifiers proved vital in ending Finland’s 108 year wait to qualify for a major tournament.

Whatever progress Finland football is making can also be partly attributed to the influx of foreign talents leading to the competition for places in teams and the need for most teams to adopt a much more multicultural approach to club management which has created a healthy atmosphere for talent to flourish. This has enhanced the quality of the Veikklausiga even though it has a long way to go compared to the leagues of its Nordic neighbors.

African players have not been left out as local Finnish clubs reach out to attract talent from abroad. They have embraced the league as a good first step in launching a professional career in Europe. The catch for most of them is the attention given to player welfare issues which is key to helping a new player adapt and find his feet in Europe.  Omar Colley of Serie A side Sampdoria is one African player who has made the smooth transformation from the Veikkausliga to higher leagues. Others like Jude Ekow Arthur of SJK are hopeful of doing well to attract the attention of bigger clubs in Europe.

 “I think I have adapted well after the first season”, he said to Soccertime when we met him in a quiet café in Seinajoki.

He had been on a season’s loan from Ghanaian premier league side Liberty Professional and has since made a permanent move to SJK.  Technical Director of SJK Richie Dormon believes Arthur is talented enough for bigger leagues if he keeps working hard. Another young talent who has found home in the league is Abu Sanunu. The 22 year-old moved to Finland at the beginning of the season after 3 seasons in the lower levels of the Spanish football. He has since emerged a key figure in the midfield of KPV after a couple of cup games. Former Ghana National U-20 midfielder has also signed for Pargas IF in the Kakkonen. He is seeking a revival after spending three years with Belarusian League champions Dynamo Brest.

Two young African footballers who have moved to Finland in recent times. Sjk’s midfield anchor Jude Ekow Arthur, Saliw Babawo and KPV’s Abu Sanunu.

In the meantime, preparations for the Euros will have to a back seat for now as football fans in Finland prepare to welcome the return of football after the start of the season was suspended because of the outbreak of Covid-19. Whatever happens in the Euros next year, Finland would have succeeded in sending a note to the football world that it is a team on the ascendency.

About Automous League The Role of Clubs And a Few Blasts From The Past

About Automous League the role of clubs and a few blasts from the past

 

From the research desk of Soccertime Africa

Efforts to make the Ghana Premier league autonomous represent a bold step to restructure the way professional football is managed in Ghana. Among its stated aims are an enhanced appeal for the product that will translate into sponsorship. It is the expectation that this initiative will give recognition to the industry for delivering value to the economy of Ghana in terms of employment, taxes, foreign exchange among others albeit the challengers it has grappled with.

An autonomous league however is not a magic pill that cures all ills. It does not bring a sudden profitability. That happens with restructuring, reorientation of mentality and running as modern-day professional businesses with clearly defined target goals as necessary conditions.

 Key players such as midfield dynamo Adjety Lee had departed to big spenders Goldfields and the likes of Abu Manaf had moved on to Okwawu United.   The mantle fell on a group of new recruits who would leave their footprints in Ghanaian football folklore by the end of the 1993 season.

For instance, individual clubs must make deliberate efforts to reach out to their communities and get the fans to the stadiums. It is the sole duty of club managers to package their players as products worth patronizing on match days.  The fans who filled the Accra sports Stadium to watch Amoa Tawiah, Lukman Dauda, Ayitey Dormon, Abu Imoro and co are still alive. What has changed is the failure of club owners to understand the dynamics of the modern game and the competition for eyeballs as a result of the proliferation of mass media and foreign football content. The absence of a focused attempt to engage the fan base which served as the pivot of support for these clubs for years and the dearth of marketing and PR people in club set ups has been the bane of Ghanaian football in recent years.

It must be all realized that globally, Football Associations, primarily develop and regulate the framework within which the game is played but club officials have a sole responsibility towards their balance sheets. The responsibility to hire the best personnel to ensure that all club departments are running efficiently to guarantee the pursuit of the various income streams is one that our clubs cannot ignore.

Ghanaian Football teams must begin to understand the mindset of their fans and to deliver to their expectation. In Abukari Damba, Mohammed Choo, Ishmael Kwame danger and the rest, the Kaladan Park was bursting at its seams to contain passionate fans who trooped and paid money to catch a glimpse of their heroes on match days. This was an era when there was no mobile phone company in Ghana. The banks in Ghana were not more than 5. FMCG companies could be counted on fingers. 

Fast forward to over 25 years down the lane. The country is now categorized as a middle-income country with multinationals and home-grown businesses littered all over the place. What is the strategy of Real Tamale United?

Folks, associations do not make the members. They facilitate opportunities for the members and the problem with our football is mainly captured in the quality of personnel managing some of the clubs.

Jack Walker’s years in Blackburn Rovers is a revealing illustration of the fact that it takes planning backed by ambition and resources to succeed. When Jack wanted to return Blackburn Rovers to the limelight in English football, he had a plan and at the core of that plan was the quality of personnel both on and off the field. Two signings readily come to mind. The signing of Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer. This guaranteed the league title in the early 90s. Compare and contrast that with the takeover of Hearts of Oak and the signing of Ezekiel Tetteh and Gilbert Fiamenyo. Sadly, a case of two expensive flops.

Another example is Okwawu Unted.

Leadership underwrote the glory years of this once mighty club. Those were the days Asase Aban boys with their Sikkens branded kits were a delight to watch.

This is not to belittle the need for transparency and accountability at the top of the football fraternity but to simply highlight the importance of vision and competence as key ingredients in ensuring that our clubs emerge as viable businesses. This will ensure clubs with solid structures compete in our league which will in turn produce quality local players for the national teams as was the case in the 80s and 90s when he likes of Emmanuel Armah, Kwesi Appiah, Emmanuel Ampiah and Nii Darko Ankrah were key players in the senior national team.

Lest we forget. One can recall memories of Nii Darko Ankrah. He was the chap who was denied a 90th minute penalty winner against Accra Hearts of Oak by a young Ali Jaraah after Emmanuel Armah brought down Osumanu Amadu in the dying minutes of that grudge local derby that was heading for a barren draw in the 1991/92 football season.  The passion of the era was captured in how Darko Ankrah had to wait late after the game to be whisked away by security after upset Olympics fans bayed for his blood. That was passion and emotion.

Some will argue that times have changed and the keen interest on the part of local talents to move abroad means clubs can no longer have star studded teams as it was in the past. The evidence shows the contrary. Even though some players will go, others will stay. After all, the exodus has always been with us. Between 1989 and 1991 the league lost the likes of Sarfo Gyamfi, Henry Acquah, Ali Ibrahim, Robert Eshun to foreign clubs but the national team still boasted a miserly defense built from the domestic game.  When cometh another?

It does seem however that the glimmer of hope for a reemergence lies in the move to shift to an autonomous league management. If clubs can embrace best practice by running professionally on and off the field then there are surely better times ahead.

Soccertime Africa is a football research, advocacy and marketing firm.

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