It’s January, so the transfer window is open. In Finland, preseason isn’t going to kick into gear for another month-or-so but in most other countries, we’re heading into the period of the season where the home stretch is starting to come into view. Now is the time to add to your squad if you want a mid-season boost of energy! Only, January is mostly a terrible time to buy players due to inflated prices and most good players being too important for their clubs to be moved in the middle of a season. Finland, luckily for this piece, is almost completely exempt from these market factors as player prices are mostly very moderate, and the season being summer-centric. Could Finland then maybe be a good place for teams to find some value if there is none to be found elsewhere?
The usual answer to this question would be a fairly straightforward no, but we’ve had some recent examples of players going straight from the Veikkausliiga into the starting eleven of a team in a stronger league and providing positive value. Alfredo Morelos is maybe the biggest Veikkausliiga outlier in quite some time, so maybe he’s a bad example, but Lassi Lappalainen jumped straight into the Montreal Impact team and started scoring. Santeri Hostikka has played a varied half season of Ekstraklasa football for one of the better teams in the league, Joao Klauss is doing well in the Austrian league, as did Dever Orgill before he moved to Turkey. Roope and Riku Riski played respectable careers abroad before returning home. Rasmus Karjalainen has played competently in the Eredivisie, and Leo Väisänen has been an important part of Den Bosch in Eerste Divisie (before getting a move to Elfsborg). After struggling in Scotland, Benjamin Källman has been his usual self in Denmark and Norway, and Onni Valakari, Juha Pirinen and Robert Taylor had varied seasons as key cogs of relegated Tromsö. A mention to Pyry Soiri as well, who has stuck abroad longer than I anticipated, even if he’s gone from club to club.
The above list isn’t exhaustive, of course, but it supports my point which is that finding decent players from Finland is far from impossible. If you’re one of the best players in this tier, then surely you should be at least a good player one tier up. It’s inevitably a crap shoot, but that’s the beauty of it, and the risk is usually something that can be noticed in the price as well. So let’s have a look at some players who could be of interest to clubs in Scandinavia, Central Europe, North America and maybe even the lower reaches of England who could have an immediate impact.
Goalkeeper is a tricky position to evaluate because hypothetical buying teams might have completely different requirements for the position. In any case, if nothing else, you want your goalkeeper to be a good shot stopper, so let’s look at that particular trait. The best shot stopper in the past season was Maksim Rudakov of HJK – in fact, he’s the best shot stopper of all keepers who have faced more than 100 shots on target in the league since 2013. Only thing is, he’s back at Zenit St. Petersburg after a two-season-long loan. Without really knowing, I’d assume he’s available, so he probably qualifies, but we’re interested in the Finnish league system here. Tim Murray of Honka pops up as an alternative and seeing as they have a couple of young promising Finnish goalkeepers on their books, they might be open for a bid. If you’re looking for an under-the-radar option that you’ve never heard of, Jonathan Jäntti is a player who has been the best goalkeeper in the second tier two seasons in a row, for two different teams, whose cumulative numbers should be enough to, at the very least, get him a job in the top tier in Finland. I would assume that shot stopping is something that translates fairly well from league to league, so a budget conscious, ambitious foreign club willing to take a calculated gamble should maybe have a look, especially since he’s a free agent and would presumably be OK with a trial.
If there’s any one outfield position where Finland has consistently been able to produce quality players, it’s probably center back. HJK, in particular, have had a decent pipeline of center backs who have moved abroad, mostly due to having the top youth system in the country, but also because they tend to hoover up the best players in the league before they attract the interest of foreign teams. They did so with Faith Obilor in 2017, and his performances since have created a modicum of international hype. He was close to a move in the summer of 2018, before ending up signing a new deal with HJK. He’s not very young anymore, but is in good shape, and has the kind of physical upside that is difficult to find almost anywhere in the world.
If Obilor were to move in January, it wouldn’t surprise me if HJK went after Robert Ivanov of Honka to replace him. As a converted midfielder, he excels on the ball, but also specializes in winning aerial duels. He’s been very good in the league for two years now, and earned a Finland call-up about a year ago. Honka head honcho Hexi Arteva has already felt it necessary to comment on – to my knowledge non-existent – speculation on Ivanov’s future. To me it feels like he’s trying to coax a bid, but what do I know. If he goes, they already signed Tapio Heikkilä who could be considered a ready-made replacement.
If you’re looking for the best overall left back in Finland, you should sign Luis Carlos Murillo – only, you’re already three months late, because he signed for HJK after the end of the season. That’s too bad! You could probably still get him, but he’d cost you a pretty penny, and within the scope of this blog post, we aren’t interested in paying pretty pennies.
The thing is, though, there’s a guy who has been only slightly worse – better in an attacking sense, but not quite as solid defensively – in the same time period who seems to have gone somewhat unnoticed – Dylan Murnane of IFK Mariehamn. If you’re looking for a left back, he’s your guy.
If your problem is the right side of defence, Finland is somewhat more barren, due to a league wide penchant for preferring bumbling center half types in that position. I mean, if that’s what you’re looking for, maybe try Kalle Taimi – he is a Finland international, after all?
Otherwise, Felipe Aspegren has been maturing nicely, and had his best season by far in 2019. He’s more of a midfielder type, so can play a variety of roles to a sufficient standard. I don’t imagine he’s far from a national team call up, especially considering the other options.
Another alternative might be Nikolai Alho, who has reimagined himself as an attacking full back after a career as a winger. It fits him nicely, and he did well there last season, even if his team faltered. Rumors have placed him in League One this month, so it doesn’t seem like such a long shot.
Rasmus Schüller signed for HJK last week, and immediately became the highest profile midfielder in the league. Among players who played last season, the pick of the bunch is maybe Jair Tavares da Silva. He’s been in Finland for a while and has played with varied success in the second tier. Upon his promotion to the top tier, he turned in a very good season of midfield work, showing a range of skills.
If not Jair, another option could be KuPS’ Issa Thiaw. He only played just under 800 minutes last season due to an injury, but in the previous season he put up an impressive mix of defensive numbers, combined with a propensity to get into the opposite box – a trend that continued in 2019. If only there was a term to describe that type of player!
The long shot – and the length of the shot seems to be increasing by the season – would maybe be Moshtagh Yaghoubi. I’m not the biggest fan of Yaghoubi – I think he slows the game down too much – but he undeniably is a talented player. He’s also something of a stat player – in that his playing style is so busy that he sticks in a lot of the statistical categories, even if the numbers don’t necessarily translate to his team doing better. His personality could be described as a little… complicated, and he has fallen out with a lot of his previous teams. That being said, he can play, and if that’s what you focus on, and if you believe you can handle difficult personalities, he might be the guy for you. He just joined HIFK this offseason, so he’d cost money.
There are basically two stand out guys in this category who don’t strictly qualify due to not playing in Finland anymore. Filip Valencic played for Inter last season on loan from Stabaek. He’s been really good every season he’s played in Finland, and Stabaek don’t seem to rate him. I think he could be a star for them, or a similarly rated team, but I’m not sure he has a future there.
The other player is Ishmael Yartey, who played half a season of dominant football for relegated KPV in 2019. He’s a free agent, so knock yourselves out.
The other stand out players are KuPS icon Petteri Pennanen and HIFK’s dynamic Carlos Erikson. Pennanen is a wide playmaker type, who has been one of the best players in the league for some time. He’s been abroad in two stints without sticking, so there are some question marks there, but he seems to be a free agent – or at least free-ish, as he’s attracted interest from the Indonesian league for what that’s worth – so he could be a potential value bet.
If Petteri Pennanen isn’t to your taste, maybe Mika Ojala is? He had a good season for Inter in 2019 after some struggles and some early indications that his legs had gone, but didn’t do enough to earn an extension with Inter. He’s a club legend – and an all time Veikkausliiga creative great – so I struggle to place him anywhere else in Finland, even though he should definitely be good enough.
Erikson, on the other hand, is one of the most dynamic forward players in the league, a live-wire with tricks in the bag. If he can take another step forward in 2020, with HIFK overall probably having a better team, he could be one of the best players in the league.
So there you have it, a full list of players in every position who could potentially improve your team in the immediate future. None of them are flawless – they are playing in Finland after all – but all of them have upside. If you’re interested in younger players, better investments, there’s a place for that as well.
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