With Mikael Soisalo’s move from Ilves to Middlesbrough looking like a sure thing, I thought I’d write a quick summary of his 2016 for anyone interested in what he’s like as a player.

Soisalo’s path to becoming a professional footballers is a fairly usual one for promising Finnish footballers. He started out at FC Honka, then moved to HJK where eventually he was faced with the prospect of being stashed in the ‘farm team’ in the second division to wait for an opportunity to impress for the first team. HJK, having ambitions in Europe, could be considered quite an impatient milieu for a young player (even though their record for bringing through youth players is impressive), so Soisalo, at 18, went the way of so many before him: moving north in chase of playing opportunities.

At Ilves Soisalo was used primarily as a right winger by manager Jarkko Wiss (who played for Stockport in the Championship for a season in 2000). As a player, Soisalo is a fairly archetypal winger, preferring the space on the outside of the fullback over the congestion in the middle. That being said, Soisalo did have a taste for goal in 2016, scoring seven times in total even though three of the goals were penalties. Add the five assists he collected to that total and you have a player with some serious end product for his age.

What makes Soisalo less of a traditional winger is his very meticulous approach to crossing. He isn’t much for the hit-and-hope cross, preferring to play the ball along the ground whenever possible. In fact, in all of last season Soisalo only managed six key passes from crosses, compared to 18 from cutbacks. He was the only player in the Veikkausliiga to even reach double figures in cutback key passes.

Now, looking for the cutback isn’t exactly enough to make a good player, but I think it works well as a proxy for football IQ. Here is a guy who isn’t satisfied with just getting in behind, but who also has the awareness to look up and try to maximise the opportunity.

So are there any holes in his game? Well let’s just say that I would have liked to see him play at least another season of Veikkausliiga football before moving because although he was good, he didn’t really post dominant numbers. In Expected Assists per 90 he was 13th in the league with 0.163 to go with 1.42 Key Passes per 90 and in Expected Goals per 90 he only managed 0.099 (penalties excluded) to go with 1.19 shots per 90. Compare those numbers to his A/90 (0.192) and NPG/90 (0.154) and you might even fear something of an ExpG overperformance. Those are still very OK stats for a player in a mid table side at this level, but they really don’t scream “ready for the Premier League”. I imagine it’ll be in both player’s and new club’s best interest to have him play in Finland over the summer, especially since it gives him an opportunity for a couple of months of bedding in at Middlesbrough before heading back to Finland.

Verdict

A nice move for all parties, I imagine. If you’re a Middlesbrough fan, you shouldn’t expect an immediate impact from Soisalo, but with some proper guidance and patience you might end up with a productive little player for a very small outlay. If Ilves get him back on loan for next season, this’ll be a definite win-win for them as well.

Follow me on Twitter @Minor_LS

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