This time last year people who claimed that HJK did not deserve to win the title had a point. Of course, at the end of the day the table never lies, but in terms of the quality of football HJK were miles behind Honka and TPS that finished second and third respectively. In 2009 HJK were overtly dependant on Ville Wallén, Sebastian Sorsa and Dawda Bah without whom ‘Klubi’ wouldn’t have won the title. The difference, however, between HJK in 2009 and 2010 was huge. All three aforementioned players had unimpressive seasons by their standards last term, but that hardly mattered as the team showcased a much more sophisticated and cohesive startegy that didn’t solely comprise of no-nonsense defending, playing a diagonal ball to Sorsa or Bah and crossing your fingers that they were able to work their magic. This time around, HJK produced the same controlled defending (with added attacking intent) combined with fluid attacking play that was defined by the movement of both the ball and the players as a cohesive unit (a self-evident detail in its own right, but something that has too often been missing from HJK’s outlook).

HJK, therefore, deservedly retained the Veikkausliiga title in 2010. Like so often, the team to win the title are the ones who do not necessarily score the most goals (HJK scored 43, which was third best) but concede the fewest. HJK conceded 19 (TPS was second best with 30) which made their goal difference +24 (while the only club coming even close were TPS with +16). Unlike many people think, conceding few goals doesn’t necessarily have to signify boring football but, more often than not, proves that the team use a balanced strategy and play quality football.

One thing that must have also dismayed the HJK critics is the on-march of HJK’s own youth products. The club are often criticised because of their supposedly unprogressive youth policy. This season, however, no fewer than nine HJK trainees (the number includes only the players who are currently under the age of twenty-five; there are twelve former HJK trainees overall) featured in a Veikkausliiga match in one point or another, of whom six played regularly, three made their debuts and Juhani Ojala and Johannes Westö, 21 and 19 respectively, were key players both in the domestic competition and in the European qualifiers.

Player assessments (the rating scale takes into account the  expected level of performance of each player; in other words, a lot more is expected from key players as opposed to fringe members of the squad: 4 = dismal, horrendous underachievement; 5 = oh dear, how rubbish; 6 = saves face, but much more was expected; 7 = an unspectacular but, in the end, an ok season; 8 = a good, solid season; 9 = an excellent season, a key player; 10 = a fantastic season, straight-to-the-national-team quality):

Goalkeeper:

Ville Wallén (25 appearances /0 goals/0 assists): Wallén showed uncharacteristic fallibility on surprisingly many occasions. Especially the Honka match away sticks out as a season worst. Nevertheless, he was still able to produce the odd game-winning save and continues to organise his defence extremely well. Saved his best performances to the European qualifiers (at home to FK Ekranas and away to Besiktas). Not the best season for the 34-year-old captain but there should be no cause for doubting his ability and importance to the team. Rating: 7

Defenders:

Tuomas Kansikas (16/0/0): An ok season for the experienced full-back. Kansikas can handle the basic defensive duties but continues to have some trouble getting forward. His lack of awareness of positioning let him down especially in the European fixtures. Works hard and keeps it simple, but only seldom convinces. One of the likely players not to continue at HJK. Rating: 7

Pyry Kärkkäinen (9/0/0): The season was cut off short by injury for the 24-year-old centre-back in spring. His return in the autumn was characterised by a poor performance in the cup final playing out of position in midfield. After Juhani Ojala’s excellent performances and Matias Lindströmssuccessful return from injury not much playing time is expected in the future for the former FC Lahti defender. Time to move on. Rating: 7

Matias Lindström (7/1/0): Injured for most of the season but returned as the same calm and trustworthy player in September. Lacks pace but makes for it with good positioning. Although featured only in seven matches, managed to score a goal against Inter. Would have been a key player had he played the whole season. Rating: 8

Peter Magnusson (15/0/0): Arrived on loan from Djurgårdens IF after Lindstöm’s injury. A decent no-nonsense type of centre-back with a nice rough edge to him. Has a fine working mentality, knows his limits and likes to keep it simple. Ran into trouble in Europe due to his lack of pace and positional awareness. Rating: 7

Valtteri Moren (2/0/0): Played two matches in the opening line-up and showed some decent, safe all-round playing. Not perhaps a great prospect but seems good enough to be a Veikkausliiga player; whether HJK quality, that’s another matter entirely. Grade: 7

Juhani Ojala (24/0/1): A breakthrough season for the 21-year-old HJK youth product. One of the best centre-backs in Veikkausliiga already and the one with the biggest potential. Played his best game of the season in the most demanding match away to Besiktas when he marked the Besiktas captain Bobo out of the game. Plays with an air of calmness and assurance, is neat on the ball, good in the tackle, strong on his feet and in the air and has fine positional awareness. Almost already a complete package. Needs to work on his passing a bit though. A future Finnish international. Rating: 9

Rafinha (24/1/1): The Brazilian is a winger by trade but played at right-back for HJK. Good going forward but has understandable difficulties when defending; positioning and concentration when playing from the back are his key weaknesses. But usually, at least in Veikkausliiga, ‘Rafi’ is able to cover the ground lost by poor positioning with his pace. Perhaps a bit more was expected from the interplay between Rafinha and Sebastian Sorsa, which is something to look forward to for next season. Rating: 7

Mikko Sumusalo (14/0/0): A breakthrough season for the 20-year-old left-back. Good going forward and fairly athletic. Still some work to do with defensive tactics but his all-round abilities should make him one of the best full-backs in Veikkausliiga. Showed his potential in the home leg against Besiktas in the Europa League qualifiers. HJK’s first choice left-back next season and, perhaps, for years to come. Rating: 8

Midfielders:

Dawda Bah (24/3/3): Bah was one of the best Veikkausliiga players in 2009 but a shadow of that player in 2010. Then again, this didn’t exactly come as a surprise since Bah’s weaknesses as a footballer have not gone unnoticed before. In Antti Muurinen’s papers Bah is indispensable and a player who is never substituted (no matter how poorly he might be playing). In IWFTB’s papers, however, Bah is a player who can be called a good player but a poor footballer. In other words, Bah’s abilities to impress in individual situations often cloud over the fact that in terms of his overall abilities, he is extremely limited as a footballer. Lives by his dribbling and on the ball technical skills, but pretty much all other qualities need massive improvement. This became painfully clear particularly in the European matches against Partizan Belgrad and Besiktas when the game was quicker and the individual opponents faster, stronger and tactically more equipped than the average Veikkausliiga defender (sometimes also Veikkausliiga full-backs who defended with pace, strength and aggression marked Bah out of games). Needs to work long and hard in the tactical (positioning, decision making, movement etc.) as well as overall technical areas (crossing, passing, shooting) of his game. The biggest weakness is his tendency to make wrong decisions in a situation when it is possible to create a goalscoring chance, which showed in his less than impressive stats when compared to last season when he scored eight and assisted seven. Rating: 6

Dema (20/2/5, includes matches at TamU): Arrived from TamU in the autumn to replace Medo and did a decent enough job. Don’t get me wrong, Dema is no Medo (which is a bit too much to ask anyhow) but he is effective at what he does best: to make the opposition’s life as hard as possible. However, the Brazilian can also play forward quite well. Made his debut against Besiktas in Istanbul and played a good match. Tenacious, hard-working, aggressive and with good technical skills, was a decent addition to the HJK squad. Rating: 7

Cheyne Fowler (26/1/2): The South African/ Finnish defensive midfielder featured in HJK’s every league game. Has limited ball playing abilities but is smart enough to play to his strengths. Does his job well against most Veikkausliiga outfits but against top opponent he simply lacks the skills to make an impact; should, for example, improve his positioning. Is a team player through and through, however, and useful to have in the squad. That being said, the 27-year-old shouldn’t have as big a role in the team as he had last season (this was of course partly due to Aki Riihilahti’s and Janne Saarinen’s injuries). Earned a one year extension on his contract. Rating: 7

Medo (16/4/0): Was one of Veikkausliiga’s leading players for two seasons before taking the mantel of the best last term with some dominating performances. Started the season slowly but when the 23-year-old Sierra Leonean/ Finn got into full match fitness, there was no stopping him. Powerful, dynamic, excellent of the ball and with a thundering shot, Medo combines both the physical as well as the technical requirements needed for a top player. Still needs work on the tactical side of his game. Transferred to Partizan Belgrad in mid-season. Rating: 9

Aki Riihilahti (11/0/1): The veteran defensive midfielder never reached peak match fitness due to constant injuries but his experience was a huge asset to the club. Was HJK’s top performer in the clinching second leg against FK Ekranas in the Champions League qualifiers and when HJK played the last home match of the season against TPS Riihilahti showed what HJK were lacking in the cup final against the Turku club. Hard as nails and better on the ball than most give him credit for, Riihilahti is the most reliable link in the squad when things get tough. Will continue next season if his legs still carry him. Rating: 7

Janne Saarinen (5/0/0): Returned to Finland after two fairly successful seasons at BK Häcken in Allsvenskan (during which time he was also the team captain). Was absent through injury for most of the season and when the 33-year-old did play, he was lacking match fitness. Made no notable impact which was a shame since, if he had been fit, Saarinen would’ve have been a useful player. Rating: 6

Sebastian Sorsa (21/0/4): The best player in Veikkausliiga in 2009 never really found his form last season and even started some matches on the bench. Like with Bah, Sorsa’s stats pale in comparison when compared to those of 2009 (25/ 6/ 11). But, due to his work-rate and team-effort, Sorsa is still a handy player even when not in full flow and his pace and crossing always create edgy moments for the opposition’s defence. Rating: 7

Erfan Zeneli (18/4/3): Was one of the most frustrating HJK players for years due to the fact that he had excellent technical ball skills but dismal tactical abilities. Looked a different player last season, however, after spending a year in the Finnish first division at Klubi 04 (HJK’s second team) under the guidance of Juho Rantala, who is now the assistant coach to Muurinen. ‘Zene’ is now tactically more mature, has a better grasp of his defensive duties, is smarter in terms of movement, positioning and timing, and also has sharpened his precision at striking the ball. The season highlight for him came against Honka in the Finnish Cup in the summer. Was HJK’s second best goalscorer with four goals. Rating: 8

Johannes Westö (22/3/3): The 19-year-old made two cameos in 2009 but exploded on to the scene, and into the starting eleven, last season. Westö is an un-Finnish type of player with bags of natural ability and fearlessness. Showed against Besiktas that despite his relatively slender built, he is no pushover and can compete at the highest level already. Can play on either wing or behind the striker and combines almost all the qualities of a modern (Spain-style) attacking midfielder: pace, skill, timing, shooting ability, courage, and flair. Still needs to work on his crossing and spend some time at the gym though. Can be as good as he wants. A definite future international. Rating: 9

Strikers:

Juho Mäkelä (24/16/1): The most important player in terms of the title. Still frustratingly poor in his basic playing, although has improved a bit on that respect, but makes good for it with bags of goals. So, you can’t really complain. A typical fox-in-the-box player who scores from point-blank range. Rating: 9

Jarno Parikka (15/3/2): Again, Parikka never really got going due to injuries. A versatile forward who can also play in the hole. However, due to his lack of any special qualities, he hasn’t got to the level his overall abilities justify. Now at 24, time seems to have ran out on the player. If Parikka finds his former goalscoring instinct, he might still become a leading Veikkausliiga player. A change of scenery might do him a world of good but will remain at HJK at least for one more season. Rating: 7

Akseli Pelvas (13/2/1): The U21 Finnish international has every chance of becoming more than just a fine Veikkausliiga player. Pelvas has excellent physical qualities, combined with good ball skills and a crispy shot, but the 21-year-old must find his venom in front of goal. Got injured just before the start of the season and never found his deadly off-season form. Could become the ball-playing striker HJK’s strategy requires but does he have the mentality to take the next step? A make or break season next year. Rating: 6

Teemu Pukki (7/2/0): The 20-year-old arrived from Sevilla in the autumn and only featured in seven matches. Although short of match fitness, Pukki was able to showcase his massive potential.  Quick in his movement, excellent on the ball, unpredictable and with excellent technical abilities, Pukki has all the qualities to be a leading striker in Veikkausliiga next season. Rating: 7.

Other players: Jani Viander; Mikko Hauhia; Alex Ring; David Ramandingaye

Coaches: Like already discussed, the contrast between the quality and versatility of the football between 2009 and 2010 championship seasons was notable. Credit must go where credit is due, no calls for Antti Muurinen’s dismissal were heard at any point last term, but it is no coincidence that HJK started to play good football when they finally signed a proper assistant coach in Juho Rantala. The coaching pairing worked almost perfectly from the word go.

Player of the season: Juho Mäkelä

‘Super-Mäkelä’ scored almost half of HJK’s goals in the league (while the second best, Zeneli, scored only four) so there cannot really be any other justifiable candidates for IWFTB’s player of the season reward.

Ideal formation:

 

HJK best eleven 2010