Coach: Mika Laurikainen
Captain: Jens Portin
Estimation: 9th (last season: 9th)
City (Home ground): Pietarsaari (Pietarsaaren Keskuskenttä)
Trophies or best finish: 4th (1991).
The financial cloud hanging over Pietarsaari has passed and the team can finally concentrate purely on footballing issues. Jaro is a model small town Veikkausliiga club in many ways. They have an excellent coach who has a clear strategy how to build, train and play his squad. The squad is filled with promising young players, both their own youth products (such as the Portin brothers and Jonas Emet) and players who have not had the chance to fulfil their potential in bigger clubs (for instance, Marco Matrone). When a few experienced players like Mikko Hyyrynen and Jani Sarajärvi are added to the mix, Jaro have one of the most interesting squads in the Veikkausliiga.
Jaro surprised a few people by finishing 9th last season. Now having strengthened the squad with a few solid signings (Aho, Sarajärvi and Vellamo), and providing that the squad won’t suffer too many injuries, Jaro can rather look further up the table than down this season.
Key player: Mikko Hyyrynen (forward)
The bulldozer type of forward is indispensable to the young Jaro side. The only striker in the team who can be relied on scoring goals consistently. Doesn’t have to silkiest of touches but is strong and sharp in the box. If Hyyrynen stays fit, he will score double figures (11 last season).
One to watch: Jonas Emet (midfielder)
Exploded on the scene in the 2007 season, beating HJK almost single-handedly at the Finnair Stadium. Suffered from a serious hand-injury last term so now it’s time for the 21-year-old to make the leap from being a promising young player to a leading midfielder in the Veikkausliiga.
In: Heikki Aho (TamU), Petter Mayer (GrIFK), Papa Niang (AC Oulu), Jani Sarajärvi (TPS), Jani Tanska (KooTeePee), Vitali Teles (TVMK Tallinn), Janne Vellamo (TPS).
Out: Jussi Aalto (VPS), Toni Junnila (PoPa), Jussi Roiko (KPV), Jordan Simpson (Sydney Olympic), Niklas Storbacka (JBK), Jukka-Pekka Tuomanen (JJK).
Coach: Mika Lehkosuo
Captain: Rami Hakanpää
Estimation: champions (last season: 2nd)
City (Home ground): Espoo (Tapiolan urheilupuisto)
Trophies or best finish: 2nd (2008)
With Lehkosuo Honka have the most innovative coach in the league and the club have perhaps the most comprehensive and positive tactical approach in the Veikkausliiga. Honka have a balanced squad with quality on all areas of the pitch and they have made some sensible position-specific signings (Paatelainen, Koskimaa and Henriksson).
These are just some of the reasons that make Honka the favourite to win the championship. Honka might not have the best players but their strength in depth and the way the team is organized make them invulnerable to transfers, injuries or dips in form of individual players. When each player thoroughly know everyone else’s role, it’s easy to break in new players. For instance, last season Honka sold Hannu Patronen and Tomi Maanoja without noticeable effect. Honka were already a genuine contender last season and this will be their year.
Key player: Rami Hakanpää (defender)
A captain that leads by example. Although not the fastest of defenders, ‘Rambo’ has a terrific sense of positioning, tackles ruthlessly and can open play well. With a die-hard attitude and bags of natural ability, the former midfielder has made himself one of the leading centre-backs in the Veikkausliiga.
One to watch: Jaakko Lepola (midfielder)
Made his break-though last season with convincing performances both in the league and the UEFA-Cup. Scored a few important goals in the process as well. Doesn’t dazzle with pace or trickery but, at 19, is already mature and his basic game is on a good level.
In: Janne Henriksson (KooTeePee), Ville Koskimaa (VPS), Markus Paatelainen (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Konsta Rasimus (Klubi-04), Jarkko Värttö (GrIFK).
Out: Jani Bäckman (Haka, loan), Ville Jalasto (Aalesund), Tero Koskela (VPS).
Coach: Job Dragtsma
Captain: Henri Lehtonen
Estimation: 4th (last season: champions)
City (Home ground): Turku (Veritas Stadion)
Trophies or best finish: 1 Veikkausliiga title; 1 League Cup.
The champions lost three key players as Dominic Chatto and Jos Hooiveld left for the Allsvenskan and Mika Mäkitalo went to Haka for some curious reason. The club, however, have been busy finding replacements and especially the coup to bring Ari Nyman back to Turku must have lifted the team’s spirits. If the new signings succeed, Inter may challenge for the title.
Even if Inter’s material has weakened, they will still have a decent season thanks to their interiorized style of play and their excellent coach. Inter’s approach is not dependent on the skills of a couple of individuals but the whole unit. Because of their tactical approach the player losses won’t strike as hard as one might expect.
Especially during spring, we might see a bit more cautious Inter since they are still breaking in the new squad members. Inter may also change their tactics a bit in order to exploit the qualities of the new players.
Key player: Ari Nyman (midfielder)
The Finnish international returned to his home club after having spent a few years in FC Thun in Switzerland. He shouldn’t be thought of as a direct replacement to Chatto since Nyman is a different type of player. Nyman can play in any defensive position but will be used as a holding midfielder. Nyman’s versatility is at the same time his strength and weakness as he has not specialised in any position: he is solid in any role but don’t expect him to take Veikkausliiga by storm.
One to watch: Mika Ojala (midfielder)
One of the most promising midfielders in Finland. Ojala is outstanding in dead ball situations as he can curl the ball with precision and power but can also hammer a dipping ball from distance. Although Ojala is a good dribbler, 1-on-1s aren’t among his best qualities. Because of his excellent right foot, however, he doesn’t always need to get past opponents in order to be dangerous in the attacking third.
In: Pablo Gomez-Marttila (PK-35), David Monsalve (North York Astros), Ari Nyman (FC Thun), Kennedy Ugoala Nwanganga (NAF FC), Aristides Pertot (TPS), Alberto Ramirez (CF Tecos), Touko Tumanto, Claudio Verino (Tristan Suarez).
Out: Dominic Chatto (BK Häcken), Diego Corpache (Haka), Jos Hooiveld (AIK), Mika Mäkitalo (Haka), Domagoj Abramovic (Pae Thrasyvoulos), Oskari Forsman.
Coach: Ilkka Mäkelä
Captain: Jukka Vanninen
Estimation: 6th (last season: 3rd)
City (Home ground): Lahti (Lahden Urheilukeskus)
Trophies or best finish: 3rd (2008); 1 League Cup.
The question on everyone’s lips during pre-season was: Will Jari Litmanen play? For the joy of the Lahti supporters, the answer is of course Litmanen will play. Or keep himself fit for the national team at least. This is good news for not only FC Lahti and Finland but for the Veikkausliiga brand as well. Even without ‘Litti’ Lahti would have had enough quality to enjoy a care-free season, not quite challenging for the title but with no fears of relegation either. Now with Litmanen on board, who knows what will happen?
Lahti have one of the best managers in the league in Ilkka Mäkelä who already provided a miracle third place with the final day victory away to HJK last season. Mäkelä will again get the best out of his players but Rafael’s injury is still a concern. However, now with Litmanen providing the chances even the second-rate strikers cannot help but score.
Key player: Jari Litmanen (midfielder/ forward)
Well, what can you say about ‘the King’? Litmanen is one of the best players the world has ever seen, and he can still dominate in the Veikkausliiga. His skill and vision is beyond what any other Veikkausliiga player can even dream of.
One to watch: Konsta Hietanen (midfielder)
Hietanen doesn’t have much natural ability but with hard work and persistency he has established himself as a noted Veikkausliiga player. Works hard in both directions on the right side of midfield and will score a couple of goals as well. Will be important and ever-present for his team, providing that he stays in Lahti for the whole season.
In: Mohamend Fofana (MyPa), Jussi Heikkinen (FC Hämeenlinna), Niki Helenius (MyPa), Toni Huuhka (City Stars).
Out: Pekka Kainu (VPS), Pyry Kärkkäinen (HJK), Eetu Sassila (PK-35).
Coach: Olli Huttunen
Captain: Jani Kauppila
Estimation: 8th (last season: 8th)
City (Home ground): Valkeakoski (Tehtaan kenttä)
Trophies or best finish: 9 Veikkausliiga titles; 12 Finnish Cups; 1 League Cups.
As the paper factory has been pulling out the money plugs during the last couple of years, Haka got an unlikely “benefactor” in Sedu Koskinen, the night club entrepreneur. It remains to be seen, however, how long Sedu will retain his interest in a club that won’t be challenging for any honours.
The squad has gone through a massive rebuilding process with the loss of key players like Popovits, Lehtinen and Manninen and, although, Haka made some good signings (Mäkitalo, Corpache, Korhonen and Hynynen), the squad is weaker than it has been for years. Nevertheless, last year’s Haka was beginning to have the feel of a team that have passed their best before date and a rebuilding process was, therefore, imminent sooner rather than later. And if you don’t take into account the disgraceful way Popovits was ditched out, maybe it was time for Haka to let him go and start afresh. The new Haka squad should, therefore, forget trying to replace ‘The Tsar’ and begin constructing a whole new outlook (which begs the question, why sign Ristilä?). It will be a difficult season for the team and the fans in Valkeakoski but this crop of interesting young players (such as Mäkitalo, Valeri Minkenen and Niko Ikävalko) should have a bright future ahead of them. There will be life after Popovits after all.
Key player: Mika Mäkitalo (midfielder)
Technically very gifted and a good passer of the ball. Mäkitalo has a smooth touch and a flowing style of play which make him an exceptional Veikkausliiga player. He works hard but should score more goals. Will have a big role as a playmaker in the centre of the Haka midfield.
One to watch: Antti Hynynen (midfielder/ forward)
A dynamic attacking player who gets past opponent well enough but needs to score more goals. Although never enjoyed a big role in Tampere, established himself as a decent Veikkausliiga player. Does he have the ability to rise to a new level?
In: Jani Bäckman (FC Honka, loan), Diego Corpache (FC Inter), Antti Hynynen (KuPS), Niko Ikävalko (KooTeePee), Markus Joenmäki (FC Hämeenlinna), Nicolas Kivistö (FC Viikingit), Janne Korhonen (MyPa), Mika Mäkitalo (FC Inter), Sasu Pesonen (FC Hämeenlinna, loan), Sami Ristilä (Drogheda United).
Out: Alexander Dovbnya, Cheyne Fowler (Haka), Juuso Kangaskorpi (MP), Toni Lehtinen (Levadiakos), Janne Mahlakaarto (FC OPa), Mikko Manninen (TPS), Juha Pirinen (Haka), Valeri Popovits (Haka), Juha Pirinen (TamU), Jarkko Okkonen, Cherno Samba.
Coach: Antti Muurinen
Captain: Tuomas Haapala
Estimation: runner-up (last season: 4th)
City (Home ground): Helsinki (Finnair Stadium)
Trophies or best finish: 21 Veikkausliiga titles; 10 Finnish Cups; 4 League Cups.
Euro Cups: The only Finnish team to have reached the group stage of the Champions League.
Five years without the title is a small eternity for the most successful club in Finland, and this season HJK mean business. They undoubtedly have the best squad in the league and, therefore, are the heavy favourite for the championship. The owner, Olli-Pekka Lyytikäinen, has provided the pieces for the coach with which to assemble a winning team. However, therein lays the problem as well. HJK, already, had a good enough squad last season but Muurinen simply didn’t know how to maximise the qualities of individual players for the benefit of the overall tactical approach. Last season HJK had no coherence in the way they played which is why they often lacked flow and their game looked constrained. At best HJK were fantastic (against TamU at home) but too often not nearly as good as their material suggests. Muurinen leaves the impression of relying too heavily on a system where the efforts of individual players become too paramount. When push comes to shove, Muurinen puts in someone like Popovits, crosses his hands and hopes for the best.
Although Muurinen doesn’t seem to see the wood from the trees, HJK’s squad is so good that they still might pull it off even with the current coach in charge. HJK have a combative midfield duo with Tuomas Haapala and Medo and some excellent wide players (Sebastian Sorsa, Petri Oravainen and Ville Taulo). While pretty much every Veikkausliiga team is ruing over finding a striker who would score double figures, HJK have three in Paulus Roiha, Jarno Parikka and Juho Mäkelä.
However, even if HJK have two players for each position, the squad is not balanced. The defence is their biggest worry not only defensively but in terms of their attacking play as well. The full-backs do not have the quality to supply a constant threat going forward which makes it easier to mark HJK’s wingers. Tuomas Kansikas is decent going forward but a hazard in defence with his poor positioning and physique. Mikko Hauhia is energetic in both directions but lacks true quality. Jukka Raitala is the only finished product but will transfer abroad before the season ends. Added to this, the passing range of the centre-backs is limited which will be a huge problem if oppositions press up the field.
Expect HJK to destroy the lesser sides quite often but they will be in trouble against the top teams that have the ability stifle their attack. The squad is stronger than last season, but without better tactical organization and balance, HJK might have another season of disappointment ahead of them?
Key Player: Ville Wallen (goalkeeper)
HJK’s best player during the last two seasons. Needs to play an excellent season behind the leaking defence if HJK want to win the title. Wallen is consistent and doesn’t have any real weaknesses. He has sharp reactions and he organizes the defence well. During his advancing years, Wallen has become a winning keeper.
One to watch: Sebastian Sorsa (midfielder)
Has bags of style and industry and a professional attitude. With his tremendous pace and quick feet is always a threat in 1-on-1 situations. Doesn’t need much time or space to deliver a quality cross which makes him a difficult player to mark.
In: Cheyne Fowler (Haka), Pyry Kärkkäinen (FC Lahti), Juho Mäkelä (Hearts of Midlothian), Valeri Popovits (Haka), Sebastian Sorsa (Hamilton Academical).
Out: Tuomas Aho (Mypa), Sakari Mattila (Udinese Calcio), Miika Multaharju (Mypa), Erfan Zeneli (Klubi-04).
Coach: Pekka Lyyski
Captain: Mika Niskala
Estimation: 10th (Last season: 12th)
City (Home ground): Maarianhamina (Wiklöf Holding Arena (Idrottsparken))
Founded: 1919 (Football Club 1935)
Trophies or best finish: 5th (2006)
After some promising winter performances, IFK Mariehamn should have a relegation battle-free season ahead of them. The islanders have also made some interesting signings, namely the winter sensation Ante Simunac (winger) and Arshim Gashi (striker).
The team will get a rude awakening to the outdoor season as they entertain Inter, Honka and HJK (1st, 2nd and 4th last season) in the first four matches of the new campaign. Because IFK have gone through such a rebuilding process during winter, and despite their promising performances, it will certainly take a bit more time for the team to really gel.
Key player: Mika Niskala (midfielder)
An intelligent midfielder who is not only the captain but also the most experienced and oldest (28) player in the team. A good passer of the ball but should perhaps score more goals. With his skill and work rate, Niskala is the heartbeat of the team.
One to watch: Ante Simunac (midfielder)
The former FC Bayern trainee is the player the Grönvitt fans are hoping to provide the creative spark in midfield. Presumably has great pace and good technique accompanied by a willingness to challenge defenders. Will establish himself as one of the best foreign player in the league?
In: Sasha Anttilainen (KooTeePee), Mate Dujilo (Motala AIF), Arshim Gashi (Motala AIF), Tamas Gruborovics (KooTeePee), Kenneth Gustavsson (Keflavik), Marcus Olofsson (Sandvikens IF), Dmytro Pronevych (Dnipro Cherkasy), Ante Simunac (Baltika Kaliningrad), Dmytro Voloshyn (Norvalla FF).
Out: Travis Binnion, Andreas Björk (Jomala IK), David Carlsson (Brommapojkarna), Andreas Friman (LB 07), Andre Hansell, Jani Lyyski (VPS), Peter Sjölund, Mattias Wiklöf (IK Brage, loan), Tommy Wirtanen (Örebro).
Coach: Ville Priha
Captain: Christian Sund
Estimation: 14th (promoted from the 1st Division)
City (Home ground): Jyväskylä (Harjun stadion)
Trophies or best finish: First season in the Veikkausliiga.
No matter how much you’d hope JJK to stay up, you just cannot get around the fact that they are lacking quality on every department. JJK seem doomed.
JJK did manage to sign an interesting and a useful player in Toni Koskela just before the start of the season. But it is another matter how devoted the journeyman midfielder (having played in England, Greece and Norway) is in keeping the survival dream alive. Is Koskela just fishing for a contract to a bigger club for next season? The Korean signings also need to succeed if JJK have any hope staying clear of relegation. Nonetheless, bigger miracles have happened and JJK will be relying on the support of the enthusiastic Jyväskylä crowd to get them going.
Key player: Christian Sund (midfielder)
The former HJK attacking midfielder needs to play a heroic season as captain to keep his team up. Sund has excellent skill and a good eye for a pass but is often too ineffective with the ball. Since there’s not a single proven goal scorer in the team, he needs to be lethal in the attacking third of the pitch.
One to watch: Jukka-Pekka Tuomanen (Midfield)
The defensive midfielder hasn’t really settled down in the Veikkausliiga yet. Spent a few years at TPS before transferring to Jaro. Tuomanen was ever-present for Jaro last season, but again moved clubs after just one year in Pietarsaari. He is a consistent, no-nonsense type of player who tackles well and keeps it simple. Tuomanen doesn’t dazzle but is useful to have in your team. Will form a good midfield trio with Sund and Koskela.
In: Jukka-Pekka Tuomanen (FF Jaro), Hyun-kwan Kim (Gyeongnam), Christian Sund (VIFK), Lee Ho-jin Lee (Racing Santader), Ik-kyung Nam (Pohang Steelers).
Out: Babatunde Wusu (TPS), Ady (MyPa).
Coach: Kai Nyyssönen
Captain: Jani Hartikainen
Estimation: 12th (last season: 13th)
City (Home ground): Kuopio (Magnum-Areena)
Trophies or best finish: 5 Veikkausliiga titles; 2 Finnish Cup; 1 League Cup.
It will be a difficult season for KuPS. Even if the team is stronger with the signings of Ollo and Kuparinen, KuPS will still be at the mercy of injuries. Their material is so thin and dependent on a few experienced players that injuries to any of them will hurt big.
KuPS try to play football but when the quality and experience is just not there, they will be in trouble. If key players stay uninjured and the keeper, Ville Iskola, finally starts fulfilling his potential, KuPS might just barely avoid relegation. Starts the season with four away games because the pitch at the Magnum-Areena is being renovate.
Key player: Ilja Venäläinen (forward/ midfielder)
The big but skilful attacker has spent years at KuPS although has enough talent to play in a bigger club. Venäläinen is the talisman of KuPS’ attacking play both in providing chances as much as finishing them. Should, however, be more effective than last season (5 goals).
In: Patrice Ollo (RoPS), Tuomas Kuparinen (MyPa), Betim Aliju (FK Sloga Jugomagnat)
Out: Antti Hynynen (Haka), Hassan Sesay (Örebro SK), Adrian Webster (Blyth Spartans), Jussi Kinnaslampi (KooTeePee), Echiabhi Okogugha (RoPS), Harri Ylönen (retired), Olli Kosonen (retired), Petteri Pennanan (FC Twente, loan).
Coach: Janne Lindberg
Captain: Tuomas Aho
Estimation: 7th (last season: 5th)
City (Home ground): Anjalankoski (Anjalankosken Jalkapallostadion (Saviniemi))
Trophies (or best finish): 1 Veikkausliiga title; 3 Finnish Cups.
The squad has changed a great deal from last season, but about half of the players coming in are former MyPa players. MyPa won’t be hosting any goal-feasts but will be a difficult team to beat (especially at Saviniemi). Keeping it tight at the back becomes the first priority since unless the new signings (Ricketts and Votinov) prove to be first-rate hit men, which is perhaps quite unlikely, MyPa are short of quality strikers. Saku Puhakainen has of course scored over a hundred goals in the Veikkausliiga but, at 34, the diminutive poacher is way past his prime.
The old MyPa players should be capable of establishing a good backbone on which the team can continue their building process.
Key Player: Sampsa Timoska (defender)
Can play in centre defence of as a holding midfielder. Has a decent passing range so will be useful in either position. Should be slightly more dominating.
One to watch: Ilari Äijälä (midfielder)
The former HJK-winger had an excellent first season in Anjalankoski. Äijälä has an outstanding left foot and he can cross the ball with power which makes him is a serious threat in dead-ball situations. Has a good work rate but his lack of pace might be an obstacle to a move abroad.
In: Ady (JJK), Tuomas Aho (HJK), Mika Johansson (Atlantis), Antti Kuismala (MP), Tuomo Könönen (Odd Grenland), Miika Multaharju (HJK), Niko Nakari (FC Kuusankoski), Tosaint Ricketts (University of Wisconsin), Antti Uimaniemi (RoPS), Maxim Votinov (FC Kuusankoski), Ben Webster (Newcastle Blue Star).
Out: Kuami Agboh, Mohamend Fofana (FC Lahti), Aleksei Kangaskolkka (TamU), Janne Korhonen (Haka), Tuomas Kuparinen (KuPS), Hugo Miranda (Cerro Porteno), Eetu Muinonen (SV Zulte Waregem), Tarmo Neemola (SV Zulte Waregem), Heikki Pulkkinen (FC Viikingit).
Coach: Valeri Bondarenko
Captain: Joonas Ikäläinen
Estimation: 13th (last season: 10th)
City (Home ground): Rovaniemi (Keskuskenttä)
Trophies or best finish: 3rd (1988 and 1989); 1 Finnish Cup.
It is always easy to condemn RoPS for the drop, but each season it turns out to be difficult to actually get rid of them. Nevertheless, this season will be extremely hard for RoPS since the key players from last season (Nurmela, Ollo and Bauer) are all gone. Only the signing of Ikäläinen seems like a certain success.
Will have a difficult relegation battle in their hands with KuPS and JJK.
Key player: Joonas Ikäläinen (defender)
The big and tough centre-back has a difficult task in marshalling the RoPS defence. Powerful in the air but has difficulties with fast opponents.
One to watch: Jung-Hyuk Kwon (goalkeeper)
If RoPS mean to stay up, the Korean keeper must succeed. Is said to be a good shot stopper.
In: Joonas Ikäläinen (VPS), Echiabhi Okogugha (KuPS), Jeferson Pires (Joinville), Jung-Hyuk Kwon (FC Soul)
Out: Mika Nurmela (AC Oulu), Daniel Bauer (Magdeburg), Patrice Ollo (KuPS), Antti Uimaniemi (MyPa), Juha Majava (AC Oulu).
Coach: Ari Hjelm
Captain: Mikko Kaven
Estimation: 3rd (last season: 7th)
City (Home ground): Tampere (Ratinan stadion)
Trophies or best finish: 3 Veikkausliiga titles; 1 Finnish Cup; 1 League Cup.
Last season was shadowed by back-stabbing power-struggles taking place in the club’s background. Now the hatches have been buried and the team has strengthened a bit so the whole club can look forward to a positive campaign. Especially the signings of Savolainen from Rosenborg and the talented Kangaskolkka from MyPa may prove to be very important. Ari Hjelm has a balanced and industrious team in his hands that doesn’t have any real weak points (although their defence is vulnerable to injuries). TamU’s skilful attacking trio, Kangaskolkka, Jari Niemi and Jonne Hjelm, should supply 20-25 goals between them.
Key Player: Jussi Kujala (defender)
Not a natural centre-half but makes a solid duo with Mathias Lindström. As a former midfielder, Kujala has a good passing range which benefits TamU’s attacking a great deal. Not the most imposing physically but compensates with his good sense of positioning and timing.
One to watch: Jonne Hjelm (forward)
Has good movement, an excellent first touch and a lethal left foot in dead-ball situations. Has already scored nine goals in the Veikkausliiga. If stays in Tampere for the whole season, will score double-figures.
In: Aleksei Kangaskolkka (MyPa), Aapo Lappalainen (Ilves), Johannes Mononen (JIPPO), Juha Pirinen (Haka), Ilari Ruuth (Ilves), Juska Savolainen (Rosenborg, loan).
Out: Heikki Aho (FF Jaro), Henri Myntti (Hansa Rostock), Tomi Petrescu (AC Ascoli, loan).
Coach: Pasi Rautiainen
Captain: Jarno Heinikangas
Estimation: 5th (last season: 6th)
City (Home ground): Turku (Veritas Stadion)
Trophies or best finish: 8 Veikkausliiga titles; 2 Finnish Cups.
Euro Cups: UEFA Cup third round in 1988-89.
This time, TPS? Signed their third big-name coach in as many years. However, with Pasi Rautiainen TPS can perhaps finally go places. Rautiainen, the mad scientist of Finnish football, has bags of insight, confidence and passion that will rub off on any team. Overall he provides a breath of fresh air to the turbulent club that has been suffering from a serious identity crisis. He has not yet proved to be a winning coach, but what is more important for TPS (at the moment at least) is that players will develop in his tuition (just look at what happened to Juha Hakola at FC Flora).
TPS have an interesting squad that, if things go well, might challenge for the third place. They have an outrageously talented midfield, with a balance of young players like Kasper Hämäläinen, Mikko Manninen, Riku Riski and Mika Ääritalo and some hard-core old hands such as Simo Valakari and Chris Cleaver. Their attack, however, is a slight concern having only a single proven goal scorer in Mikko Paatelainen. Providing that their midfielders stay fit, scoring should not be too much of a concern for TPS.
TPS will surprise a few people but aren’t ready to challenge for the title. Yet.
Key player: Kasper Hämäläinen (midfielder)
One of the most naturally gifted players in Finland. Hämäläinen has an excellent touch and a deft pass. His movement might look slow at times but is actually very efficient. One of the few Finnish players who never seems to be in a hurry with the ball. If it wasn’t for his bad luck with injuries, Hämäläinen would already be playing in one of the top leagues in Europe.
One to watch: Mikko Manninen (midfielder)
A dynamic winger who challenges defenders eagerly. Finally got away from Haka where his career seemed to be stalling. Needs consistency to earn a move abroad. Punched his stand-by ticket in the right place.
In: Wayne Brown (Fulham, loan), Mikko Manninen (Haka), Samu-Petteri Mäkelä (PoPa, loan), Jaakko Nyberg (Bryne), Jani Tuomala (IF Sylvia), Babatunde Wusu (JJK).
Out: Christian Gyan (Wrexham), Antti Hakala (Salpa), Lucas Hradecky (Esbjerg), Ville Lehtonen, Henrik Moisander (VPS), Armand One (Livingston), Aristides Pertot (FC Inter), Urmas Rooba (FC Flora), Jani Sarajärvi (FF Jaro), Janne Vellamo (FF Jaro), Kheireddine Zarabi (Belenenses).
Coach: Tomi Kärkkäinen
Captain: Tero Koskela
Estimation: 11th (last season: 11th)
City (Home ground): Vaasa (Hietalahden jalkapallostadion)
Trophies or best finish: 2 Veikkausliiga titles; 2 League Cups.
VPS made their biggest signing by appointing Juha Reini as the Director of Football. The former Finnish international is one of the few football professionals in Finland who has true strength in vision, know-how and self-belief (which in Reini’s case is too often mistaken for arrogance). Reini is responsible for building the team and straight away made a few solid signings. Koskela, Lyyski and Kainu will be important players with their wealth of experience (sharing about 300 Veikkausliiga appearances between them) in the inexperienced VPS side. Especially, Lyyski, who was one of the best centre-backs last season, will prove to be an excellent coup.
VPS won’t necessarily impress right away but in Reini’s hands they may become a force to be reckoned with.
Key player: Jani Lyyski (defender)
An authoritative figure in defence. Lyyski has tremendous aerial power and despite his physicality is a ball-playing defender. Will score a couple of goals from attacking free kicks.
One to watch: Lawrence Smith (forward)
Being a former KPV player, Reini knew what he was buying when he signed Smith. Attack being the team’s weak spot, a lot is expected from the American. Will be used as a target player so Smith will have responsibilities in linking up play as well as scoring goals.
In: Tero Koskela (FC Honka), Jani Lyyski (IFK Mariehamn), Jussi Aalto (FF Jaro), Pekka Kainu (FC Lahti), Henrik Moisander (TPS), Jussi Äijälä (AC Oulu), Lawrence Smith (KPV).
Out: Ville Koskimaa (FC Honka), Joonas Ikäläinen (RoPS), Jani Uotinen (VIFK), Raphael Edereho.