Minor League Data Scouting, Part Two: identifying the players

Minor League Data Scouting, Part Two: identifying the players

A couple of weeks back, I started as blog series on developing data driven recruitment practices on a miniscule budget. In the first part, I used data from Transfermarkt to produce a rough league tiering system, and then checked some transfer trends between these tiers to identify potential target markets for a Veikkausliiga team.

The end result was a list of low tiered leagues with a tendency to produce a comparatively high rate of successful transfers to higher tier leagues, including the German lower tiers, the Dutch third tier, the second and third tiers in Norway and Sweden as well as the Irish league. I also decided to include a couple of North American leagues, USL Championship and USL League One as well as the Canadian Premier League, because there has been a growing trend of movement to these leagues from the Veikkausliiga, and I think Finnish teams would do well to look to these growing leagues for value. In the same vein, I am also sort of interested in the English non-league and the Baltic leagues, as there are quite a few people working in Finnish football who will have ready made networks in these types of places, allowing for potentially smoother business. I also included the Japanese and South Korean lower tiers, because one of the premises of Minor League Scouting is that if you’re looking for value on the market, you need to be able to provide some kind of non-monetary value back to the player you’re interested in. East Asia (specifically Japan) is a place with a strange cultural bond to Finland, which might make it easier to convince players to move here. There is already some evidence of this in the successful transfer of Atomu Tanaka to HJK as well as some of the Japanese players that have joined Ykkönen teams in the recent past, most notably Taiki Kagayama, but also some of the players currently plying their trade there.

In this part of the series, we’re going to look at some tools for evaluating players, as well as for quickly surveying larger amounts of data. This will be done through a couple of real-life scenarios from this season. To do this, we’re going to use Wyscout data for a couple of reasons. First, Wyscout is one of the resources that most every team are using by default (InStat being the other), so, at least in theory, using their product for something like this would add nothing to the running costs of a hypothetical team. Second, Wyscout, despite not really having too many more advanced tools for playing with data, at least in the version I am using, gives you the option of exporting stats to Excel (at the player or team level). By creating a scraper that utilizes this function, you can (slowly) gather quite a vast amount of player-match level data from a large array of leagues, allowing you to build the data exploration tools yourself. For this blog, this is quite handy, as it’ll allow us to make player comparisons across leagues with very little hassle.

Inter have lost their overall most important player mid-season, as Benjamin Källman has moved to Cracovia in the Polish Ekstraklasa on a free transfer. This has been a known reality for Inter for a longer period of time, as he was never going to extend his contract, and there have been suitors after him since a year back. He was the top scorer in the league in 2021, and had continued in a similar vein of form in 2022. Let’s have a look at how his 2021 looked in terms of numbers.

The pizza graph is a visualization that started to gain traction a couple of years ago when some prominent football analytics people started using them, most notably maybe Tom Worville over at the Athletic. The format really started to proliferate about a year ago, when a tutorial post with code popped up, and now it’s maybe the most widely used player comparison graphic out there.

Basically, the way to interpret the chart, is for each slice, the higher the colored bar, the better the player has performed in that statistic. The dotted lines represent percentile rank thresholds – if the bar is higher than the first dotted line, he performs better in that statistic than 25% of the sample, the next one represents 50% and the furthest one out represents 75%. The label at the end of the bar is the numerical value of that statistic per 90 (or if it is a rate state, the rate), so Källman took 3.17 shots per 90 and had a pass completion rate of 68%. The sample for each template is based on the most usual position the players in the sample has played in any particular season, which is then categorised into one of five positional categories (Forward, Central midfielder, Fullback, Central Defender and Goalkeeper). So for this graph, we can state that Källman got more touches in the opposition box in 2021 than almost all forward playerseasons in the sample.

In 2021, after having come back to Inter after a failed foray abroad midway through the 2020 season, Källman played his most consistent season, showing the same major skill he broke onto the scene with: the ability to consistently get shots from good locations. His years abroad, however, had allowed him to supplement his skillset – now, he was also creating shots for himself by dribbling, as well as winning aerial duels. After years playing as a center forward, he was mostly deployed on the right wing, in a role that seemed tailor-made to put him in positions where he could deploy his pace and power most effectively.

In 2022, Källman has largely picked up where he left off, this time back in his favored central position – this also shows in his playing style, as he shoots and dribbles less, while winning fewer aerial duels.

To replace him, Inter have signed two players Joel Rodriguez, a 23-year old who arrived from the Spanish fourth tier, and Tobias Fagerström, who has moved back to Finland after having spent several years in the Hamburger SV system.

Rodriguez, in terms of profile, looks sort of similar to Källman in 2022. Not a massive amount of shots, but generally from good locations. He seems to lack some of the secondary skills that Källman has, though, with quite few dribbles and being poor in duels. He does, however, have good creative numbers to make up the difference. Note that Wyscout only have a limited sample of Spanish 4th tier games covered, so in terms of minutes played, the sample shown is roughly half of the minutes he played that season according to Transfermarkt.

Fagerström hasn’t played a lot for a while, his closest season of a decent sample size goes all the way back to 2018/2019 in the German fourth tier. During that season, his stats are quite reminiscent of his older brother John. Good shot locations, but too few shots. Good creative numbers, but nothing much else to speak of. This is quite a long time ago, obviously, so there is good reason to have higher expectations, but if the profile is anything to go by, if you squint, it looks sort of similar to Källman in 2022.

Jair Tavares Da Silva had made a name for himself as one of the most dynamic midfielders in the Finnish league, before it became clear that he was something else altogether. HJK acted swiftly when it came to light that he had sexually abused a 12-year old, and ended his contract then and there. That naturally left a hole in HJK’s squad, a hole that has yet to be filled.

Tavares was especially known for his abilities going forward. Although he could play in a variety of central midfield roles, he seemed to always have a knack for getting in or around the box, and making actions that affected the outcome of the game. Although HJK are yet to sign a replacement, there have been rumors of a contract offer for Dutch free agent midfielder Pelle Clement.

Clement does seem to tick a lot of the same boxes as Tavares, with maybe slightly less impact in the attacking box, and more risky passing offset by better strength in duels, he looks like an enticing alternative – especially considering these performances were in the Dutch Eredivisie. The only major question mark is the same as it always is: what good reason could there be for a good peak-age player to come to Finland?

One of this season’s sensations has been Lee Erwin of Haka, the current leading goalscorer in the league. His form has been so good, in fact, that there were rumors of a six figure bid from a Turkish club only a couple of weeks ago. Six figures! For a 28-year old! I think it’s fair to say that Haka won’t have planned for the possibility of selling Erwin, so if the bid was indeed made, it is understandable why they would have rejected it.

Erwin, much like Källman, is supremely good at getting shots from good locations. He isn’t particularly good at recovering the ball in the opposition half, and is surprisingly poor in aerials, but does just about everything else you’d want from a center forward to a very good degree. Since there has been no talk of accepting the bid for him, there has also been no speculation on a replacement.

The three above scenarios represent different situations that have come up during this season, where teams in the Veikkausliiga have found themselves needing to activate themselves in the transfer market. They are also good representations of the certain stereotypes of needs that tend to arise: sometimes, you know beforehand that you’re going to have to find a replacement mid-season; sometimes something completely unexpected happens, and you’ll have to act fast; sometimes an opportunity arises from nowhere. Being prepared to act on these scenarios is critical when building a squad, as not everything will always go as planned, and being alert to opportunities can sometimes be what allows you to speculate on players – as with all commerce, the key is to sell high and buy low.

This is where data can be very helpful. Having a good approximation of what a player is doing for your team can give you a decent baseline when looking for alternatives on the market. There will always be contextual effects that skews the data this way and that, but that is true whether you dive deeply into the data or just dip your toes in it. Either way, looking at what you’re trying to replace is a good starting point.

After you’ve established your baseline, you’re faced with wading through your data to find players who fit the bill. A popular method for doing this is using different kinds of nearest neighbor analyses. I’m no mathematician, so I couldn’t begin to explain the differences between them but I tend to use something called Mahalanobis distance, which is basically a multivariate way of calculating similarity between different sets of variables. Essentially, in our case, you feed the algorithm one player’s data, and give it a sample of players to compare against, and it produces a measure for how closely they match. This way, we can run through a large sample of data to find players who do roughly the same things as the player we are looking to replace, in basically no time.

We can also help the model out by reducing the sample. For example, we already know which leagues we are interested in. We also want to make sure the players have a big enough, and recent enough, sample to make it relevant to us. Another way of honing the model is by being more selective in the data we feed it. Since the algorithm is trying to find as close a match as possible, if you just feed it the data indiscriminately, it’s going to think that you are as interested in finding players with similar weaknesses as you are of finding players with similar strengths, so it makes sense to limit the measures we feed it. In this case, I’ve decided to only use the player’s top 6 measures by percentile rank (among the measures chosen for the pizza template in question).

In the case of Benjamin Källman, it would look something like this:

Above are the plots of the ten nearest neighbors to Benjamin Källman 2021 from the previously mentioned leagues, overlayed with Källman’s 2021 Veikkausliiga plot. I recommend spending a little while interpreting the graph because it is quite dense with information – essentially, each slice of pizza has two colors overlayed, green for the player in question, and white for the player we’re comparing to, in this case Källman. The portion of the slice that is white, is overlap between the players, the portion that is grey, is Källman being better than the other player, the portion that is green is the player being better than Källman.

Overall, I like the look of Nick van Staveren the most, while also being intrigued by the Regionalliga players and Jamie McGonigle. Macauley Longstaff has just moved to Notts County, so he wouldn’t be an alternative. Sung-Yoon Lee looks particularly interesting but he carries a massive sample size warning. Let’s also have a look at 2022.

If we’re looking for a 2022 replica of Källman, Marcley Manuela would be an interesting free agent pick-up, while Luther Archimede could be a decent gamble as his contract is up in November. Henry Offia and Riki Tomas Alba would probably be surer bets, but they probably have their eyes on an Allsvenskan/Eliteserien gig.

In the Källman example, we’re extremely late – some of the players have already moved while all of this data existed already in late May. When it comes to player recruitment, timing is of the essence, and as we’ve known for a while that Källman was leaving, this could have been a continuous process throughout the spring. Especially in combination with detailed video scouting, I think it could have been a fruitful exercise in Inter’s search for a replacement, and time will tell whether Inter got it right with the choices they made.

In the case of Tavares there are also some interesting options.

My eye is immediately drawn to Motoki Hasegawa and Ryotaro Ito, as very similar profile players (incidentally, it looks like both of their contracts are up this January). Christopher Scott is a good example of the dangers of this approach, as he put up the numbers above for… Bayern II, so he’s off the board. Deocleciano looks like the typical Latvian scheme to move a player forward so I don’t think we’re interested even if the player looks decent. The same goes for Gabriel Ramos Da Penha, and he looks to be a winger in any case. Laurent Kissiedou could be interesting, and his contract is up in November.

Realistically, I think a team like HJK could probably do a deal for either of the two Japanese players or Kissiedou, if there was mutual interest. It would very likely require an outlay from the club, and the player’s wages would probably be quite high from a Finnish baseline, but the profile of player would be exactly what a team like HJK should be looking for: young but not too young, on a short contract, with a point to prove in Europe, and recent history of excellence elsewhere. With some strong performances in continental qualifiers, the financial side of it could quickly start to look like an afterthought.

Let’s, finally, have a look at Erwin:

We’re looking for a quick buy that would allow us to earn a profit on the sale of Erwin while keeping us competitive, so Christian Moses is out of the question as he has moved to IFK Värnamo in the Allsvenskan. I’m also not sure about Jabiri, Guven and Karlsen due to their respective ages. Nollenberger plays. 3. Bundesliga nowadays, Muhsin is one of the top goalscorers in Superettan, Vinjor is listed as a central midfielder by Transfermarkt and is putting up strong performances in the second tier of Norway. This leaves us with Benedict Laverty, who is listed as a left winger but looks like he could be potentially gettable, Lucas Hedlund, who hasn’t played a lot, but has scored when he has, in Superettan this season, and Paul Stock, who in fairness looks the most similar to Erwin of the above bunch.

It’s difficult to know for sure, but I’m not unconvinced that one of these players could be bought for a high five figures, low six figures offer – another question is whether they would want to join. I’d also consider it quite likely that the performances would translate to the Veikkausliiga, at least to the extent that the players would be productive, if not re-saleable.

Squad building isn’t as easy as just arranging some number from best to worst and picking whomever is highest, but I’d also argue that it doesn’t have to be the kind of 4D chess it is made out to be at times. By allowing the data to suggest players for you, one can rid oneself of some of the biases that influence decision making, and – more importantly – take control of the talent identification process, which for many teams is led by people with severe conflicts of interest. It can also allow you to focus your scouting from larger areas to specific players in local markets, helping you to target only the type of player worth spending time on.

The point isn’t to claim to have some silver bullet to solve all transfer woes – no matter how good the talent identification is, the bigger problem will always be to convince players to make the move to a league that is far from glamorous. However, even with the limited amount of inside knowledge I have about the inner workings of Veikkausliiga transfers, implementing something like the above, by my estimate, would have the potential to improve squad building decision making quite significantly, for basically no cost.

I have a third part of this series lined up, but won’t reveal any details until I get it researched and written, in the meantime, follow me on Twitter for future updates!


The Huuhkajat Euro 2020 Football Ladder

The Huuhkajat Euro 2020 Football Ladder

I’ve been looking at the numbers, and it seems like the people are quite fond of lists. That’s well and good during the season, when I have the natural means to satisfy the people’s desires, but during the long and dreary offseason it’s more of a problem.

Luckily for me, it just so happened that the Finnish National Team qualified for the tournament for the first time ever, which has the potential to make for good content. I’ve long been a fan of Football365’s England ladder, which is an attempt at following the current head coach’s view of the squad he wants to take to whatever tournament is played in the summer, and so I thought I’d… borrow the idea.

So, in honour of there being exactly 100 days until Finland kick off their historic first European Championship, this is another list of 50, but this time, the idea isn’t to find the next big thing in domestic league football, but to delve into the mind of Markku Kanerva to try to figure out what he’s planning for the summer. To reiterate, the point isn’t to rank who I would select, but to try to figure out who he is likely to be selected based on the evidence at hand.

The ladder

Rank Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 Teemu Pukki 29 Norwich 2315 ST
Teemu Pukki is more to this team than just their best player: his development as a player has mirrored that of the national team, and he is arguably as big of a symbol of what a Finnish player is/should be than Jari Litmanen ever was. He’s going, although his workload for Norwich might not bode well for Finland’s hopes.
2 Glen Kamara 24 Glasgow Rangers 1310 MC
I don’t think it’s a surprise that Finland’s fortunes started to turn once Kamara was established at the base of their midfield. He’s a truly modern all-rounder, capable of carrying the ball forward just as well as passing it, who shields the defense well and tries to be playable at all times. He’s just as irreplaceable for Finland as Pukki.
3 Jere Uronen 25 KRC Genk 1473 LB
A strong Euros could catapult Uronen into the next stage of his, so far very impressive, career. Belongs to the top tier of current Finnish players.
4 Robin Lod 26 Minnesota United RW
I think Lod is great. He’s a modern footballer with few flaws. His career path maybe hasn’t reflected this, even if it has been very respectable from a Finnish perspective. Wouldn’t surprise me if he attracted a bit of interest, especially if he gets lucky in front of goal during the Euros.
5 Lukas Hradecky 30 Bayer Leverkusen 2070 GK
Hradecky is probably Finland’s best player at the moment, but he also has the highest profile back-up of Finland’s top players, so becomes slightly more expendable. One of the best goalkeepers in the world.
6 Jesse Joronen 26 Brescia 1890 GK
Joronen is going to be the twelfth guy in the squad, and hopefully won’t play a single minute, because it’ll mean that Finland stay competitive throughout the tournament. If he does play, though, there’s not much of a worry, as he is a more than competent back-up for Hradecky.
7 Tim Sparv 33 FC Midtjylland 586 MC
It’s starting to feel like Sparv’s legs are going a little bit, but he’ll go to the Euros, if only for his leadership qualities. Doesn’t look out of place in the Finnish team, but could be upgraded upon if there was a more dynamic alternative.
8 Paulus Arajuuri 31 Pafos FC 1756 CB
The lovable giant has been a rock for the national team, and suits the current playing style to a tee. If it weren’t for his age, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a stint in England in him.
9 Joona Toivio 31 BK Häcken CB/RB
Has been a staple for a long time now, will probably be displaced pretty soon, but will likely play just about all available minutes. Might be needed at right back due to Raitala’s potential absence.
10 Lassi Lappalainen 21 Montreal Impact LW
Not sure I can remember a player taking to the national team with the same ease as Lappalainen has. Is maybe the one player who has a bit of X-factor about him (apart from Pukki). His pace will be one of few attacking weapons for Finland, so should get a lot of playing time.
11 Joel Pohjanpalo 25 Hamburger SV 144 ST
Got a crucial loan deal to the second Bundesliga in January. Finland’s attack becomes a completely different animal with a fit Pohjanpalo playing from the start, and if he manages to stay fit, he’s going to be a quick riser, and a pretty certain starter. Would have had him lower during the fall, but he’s playing which means that he’s in contention.
12 Fredrik Jensen 22 Augsburg 455 AMC
Jensen scored a scrappy but important goal against Armenia that settled some nerves last fall, and offers the kind of option the Finland squad lacks. He’s still young and is still waiting for his final breakthrough in the Bundesliga, so it’s easy to forget that he’s one of three Finnish national team players playing in one of the top 5 leagues (not counting Moisander here). If he breaks through, he’ll be one of the most important Finland players of his generation.
13 Sauli Väisänen 25 Chievo 1346 CB
Väisänen took a step down to Serie B and has been a regular since. For the national team, he seems a solid third choice, alongside his brother who is the fourth choice. If Toivio ends up playing significant minutes at right back, he would be the natural next option for the middle.
14 Pyry Soiri 25 Esbjerg 1197 LW
Soiri has been a regular for Kanerva’s national team and will probably go. He has some useful characteristics and has scored some timely goals, but I wonder if he’ll end up being supplanted pretty soon as some more highly touted winger prospects break through.
15 Juha Pirinen 28 Tromsö LB
Pirinen is a good tournament option due to being good with both feet, allowing him to cover both full back positions at a pinch. His first season abroad didn’t go as planned, as Tromsö were relegated, and his position would be under more threat if there were better options coming through, but for now, he’s back up to Uronen and that seems fine.
16 Rasmus Schüller 28 HJK MC
I imagine Schüller and Joni Kauko are third and fourth options for central midfield, but I wonder if Schüller’s move to HJK might end up affecting his chances negatively. If he makes the team, it’ll be more due to a lack of options pushing through from behind.
17 Joni Kauko 29 Esbjerg 1767 MC
Kauko seems well built for the Danish league as he’s a physical presence that can make his presence felt. Is he a good fit for the national team though?
18 Jasse Tuominen 24 BK Häcken ST
I, maybe a little meanly, tweeted that Tuominen’s move to Häcken might expose how he hasn’t really scored with any regularity anywhere yet in his career. Kanerva seems to like him, though, so I’d expect him to be on the plane/train.
19 Simon Skrabb 25 Brescia 27 LW/AMC
Skrabb’s move to Serie A, and what feels like an increase in his usage for the national team should push him ahead of similar-ish players like Petteri Forsell. He tends to look a little lightweight for me, but Kanerva seems to like what he sees.
20 Albin Granlund 30 Örebro RB
Had him in the 30’s before Raitala’s injuries, but claws his way back up. Has been a surprisingly big part of the current Finland setup, and deserves a lot of credit, but he really is something of a weak point when he plays. Is probably too specialised to be selected as a backup, so should only be selected if there are no better alternatives available at right back.
21 Leo Väisänen 22 BK Häcken/Den Bosch 1510 CB
Väisänen’s career has some air under its wings, and has established himself as a regular for the national team, although he has mostly warmed the bench. Doesn’t seem impossible to imagine him being a big part of the next qualifying campaing, and will probably go to the Euros although whether he gets any minutes is doubtful. Whether a team needs four specialist center backs for such a short tournament is up for debate, so if Kanerva wants to go creative, his place on the squad could be replaced by someone more versatile or an extra attacking option.
22 Rasmus Karjalainen 23 Fortuna Sittard 415 CF
Karjalainen isn’t playing much in the Eredivisie, but has been in and around the national team squad. There’s actually quite a bit of competition for the attacking positions beyond Karjalainen so there might be some changes here – Marcus Forss, Benjamin Källman, Onni Valakari to name just a few.
23 Niki Mäenpää 35 Bristol City GK
Three goalkeepers will go, and the third goalkeeper will hopefully not be used at all during the tournament. At the moment, Mäenpää is probably the most experienced candidate, among some decent second/third tier options, even if he hasn’t been playing lately.
24 Markus Halsti 35 Esbjerg 1510 UTIL
Tournament shenanigans usually means that versatile players can come in handy – Halsti is the closest thing to a utility player so might get a stronger look-in than one would expect.
25 Anssi Jaakkola 32 Bristol Rovers 1812 GK
Is one of the best keepers in League One by keeper metrics, but suffered from an injury recently, so is shrouded in uncertainty for the time being. Would likely be the third choice if it weren’t for the injury, so we’ll see what happens.
26 Will Jääskeläinen 21 Crewe 2880 GK
There’s a starting goalkeeper in three of the top four levels of English football, and Jääskeläinen is the youngest of the three. If I were in charge, I’d tie him up quickly to make sure that he plays for Finland rather than England, because if he keeps developing, there’s a risk of him being Carl Jenkinson’d.
27 Niko Hämäläinen 22 Kilmarnock 2340 LB
Hämäläinen’s international future is still a bit unclear, as he’s eligible for the USA as well and has only played in a friendly – to be honest I’m not sure if that settled the issue. Either way, there’s an argument to take him instead of Pirinen, and one that I could see happening.
28 Thomas Lam 26 PEC Zwolle 1052 UTIL
Lam is probably one of the first backups for either center back or center midfield position. If he were to go, I’m not sure he’d play a lot, but his versatility could be valuable.
29 Robert Taylor 25 SK Brann LW
The Finns who played for Tromsö during last year’s campaing ending in relegation have mostly landed on their feet, with Onni Valakari moving to Pafos in the Cypriot league and Taylor moving to Brann. He’s played a periferal role for the national team, but has hung around.
30 Benjamin Källman 21 Haugesund CF
After struggling in Scotland, Källman played decently well in two loan stints in Denmark and Norway. Scored on his competitive debut for Finland in the most typical fashion possible. Remember the way Shefki Kuqi was a good option to have off the bench back in the day? Yeah, that’s Källman.
31 Roman Eremenko 32 FK Rostov 1214 AMC
Will he or won’t he? Should he be taken if he wants to go? I’m unsure, but on quality alone, he walks into the starting eleven.
32 Aapo Halme 21 Barnsley 2043 CB/MC
Halme will probably play a big role in future qualifying campaigns, and is apparently currently thriving in a deep midfield role in the Championship.
33 Petteri Forsell 29 Korona Kielce 360 AMC
Takes a good long shot, which might be valuable in a tournament setting. Recently signed with a team in the Ekstraklasa, so should get a good chance to show he belongs on the plane (train?) but I think there’s a bit of an uphill battle.
34 Onni Valakari 20 Pafos FC 347 AMC
Valakari has been on fire after moving to Cyprus, and is looking like a decent alternative if injuries restricted higher placed options. Should probably have his aim on the next qualification campaign though.
35 Marcus Forss 20 Wimbledon FC 1347 CF
Would have had Forss much higher if A) he’d played one minute for the men’s team or B) he hadn’t suffered a fairly significant injury recently. If he’s fit, I think he should go, but I don’t think he will.
36 Daniel O’Shaughnessy 25 HJK CB/LB
Honestly, I’d take O’Shaughnessy without a doubt. He’s versatile enough, being capable at playing both center back and left back, and he has the kind of flat long throw that you could build a routine around, which I don’t think any other candidate does. He won’t go, but I’d argue he should.
37 Jukka Raitala 31 Montreal Impact RB/LB
Raitala could be a valuable player if only due to being able to cover several positions  across the defensive line. Would probably be first choice right back at the moment, if it weren’t for the fact that he recently got injured and is a major question mark for the tournament.
38 Juhani Ojala 30 Vejle 720 CB
Ojala has had some injury problems, and would otherwise be a more likely addition to the squad as he was seemingly establishing himself as Arajuuri’s primary partner in defense. Has taken a bit of a step back, but is still an experienced quality option if needed.
39 Valtteri Moren 28 Waasland-Beveren 426 CB
Only has four appearences for Finland, even though he’s spent over 5 years in the Belgian league. He hasn’t exactly been a regular, so that might be a reason, but should probably be considered a realistic long shot.
40 Alexander Ring 28 NYCFC MC
Of the recently internationally retired players, Ring is the one I’d want in the squad most, but the one that seemed the most insistent in his retirement. Not a huge fan of the timely coming out of retirement for big tournaments thing, but it tends to happen so we’ll take it into account.
41 Kasper Hämäläinen 33 FK Jablonec 71 RW
42 Kaan Kairinen 21 Lilleström MC
43 Saku Ylätupa 20 AIK AMC
44 Walter Viitala 28 SJK GK
45 Niklas Moisander 34 Werder Bremen 990 CB
46 Jaakko Oksanen 19 Brentford MC
47 Niko Markkula 29 SJK RB
48 Sebastian Dahlström 23 Sheriff Tiraspol MC
49 Perparim Hetemaj 33 Benevento 1554 MC
50 Jari Litmanen 49 N/A 0 AMC


Thanks for reading, give me a follow on Twitter to keep up to date as the list progresses

Who is Benjamin Källman?

Who is Benjamin Källman?

About one year ago I wrote a post about a young centre forward playing for Inter Turku who appeared to be playing his breakthrough season. His particular skill was getting shots from good locations – really good locations. In fact, by the end of the season, he had managed to score the highest xG/Shot season of all qualified players in my database (spanning the seasons 2013-2018). One year later, nothing much has changed in terms of how he’s doing. His profile is mostly the same – he’s second in the league in xG/Shot – and he’s just coming off a game in which he scored a hat-trick which brought his NPG/90 up to 0.45 for the season. That’s a little low for him, but it’s a good rate for a 20-year-old, and in all honesty this isn’t about that. This is about the thing that isn’t the same about him – the fact that he just moved to Dundee FC, to play in the Scottish Premiership.

This is exciting for many reasons. Firstly, because I think it’s a good fit. The league is better enough that it’ll be a good development opportunity without being a step too far. Dundee aren’t the best team in the league, but apparently underperformed significantly in attack last season, which means that they created a good amount of chances. Källman thrives on service, so if afforded the time to settle in, he should do well. Secondly, it’s exciting because Källman is moving to play. Too often it seems like young players who do well in the Veikkausliiga make too ambitious first moves abroad, after which they disappear off the map until they reemerge a couple of years later. Obviously, we can’t know for sure, but this shouldn’t be the case with this move. Thirdly, it’s exciting because the post I wrote a year ago triggered a series of events that lead to me working for the agency that represents Källman, which is why I’m sort of ahead of the news cycle on this one. Fourthly, I think it’s exciting because as he is leaving the Finnish league system, I can do a sort of handover to the people at Modern Fitba. I’ll naturally be following his progress closely, but I won’t be writing about him on this platform (unless I will, we’ll see). Modern Fitba is a Scottish football analytics collective who are doing loads of great stuff, and I’ll make sure to follow them even more closely in the future. I would urge all of you to do the same, especially if you’re interested in how Källman does in his new environment. May I also remind you that Dundee is becoming something of a Finnish team in Scotland, as Glen Kamara has also been playing there since last season.

For the uninitiated – I suppose mostly fans of Dundee – then, who is Benjamin Källman? He is a 20 year old centre forward best known for his physique who has been throwing around centre-halves in the Finnish league since he was 19. His father was one of Finland’s most renowned handball players, and physically, Källman almost looks more like a handball player than a football player. Usually, you’d expect a young player to need to get used to the physical nature of Scottish football, but in the case of Källman I have a feeling that it won’t be a problem. He excels in getting shots from good locations, and has been leading the line for Inter Turku since around midsummer last season. I had him at #6 in the July update of my Finnish League Prospect Power Ranking, although he probably would have been higher if he hadn’t been out of the team in July due to speculation surrounding his future.

The biggest hole in his game is that he sometimes struggles to get involved. He has the all-round game to be a more complete player, but Inter Turku have been pretty bad for as long as he’s played for them, so he hasn’t been afforded a chance to develop that part of his game. Getting high impact scoring opportunities is great – maybe even sufficient if he can continue at his Finnish league pace – but to take that next step he needs to supplement them with other types of involvement. He is a renowned hard worker, though, so if there’s an opportunity to learn, I’m sure he’ll take it.

So that’s that, one chapter finished in the career of a young player, and another one started. Anyone know where you can catch Scottish football live on the internet?

Follow me on Twitter, also follow Modern Fitba for insight into the Scottish game, and why not follow Boll Brands if you’re interested in retweets of whenever Källman does something worth noting?

2018 Finnish League Prospect Power Ranking: July Update

2018 Finnish League Prospect Power Ranking: July Update

This is the first update of my prospect ranking series that I kicked off last month (read the second update here, the third update here, the fourth update here, and the final update here). I’m a little late with this update because I’ve been busy, so remember that this update will cover only the month of July, even if there’s been a round of fixtures already during the first week of August. I’ll try to disregard what happened in those games, even if it might be difficult.

We also have a couple of players who appeared on the previous list who have left their respective teams. I’ll split these players into two categories: graduates and dropouts, depending on the circumstances surrounding their moves. I’ll also briefly mention a couple of players who haven’t played enough to warrant mention, but have impressed nonetheless. I’ll also provide a mention for the players who have fallen off, and the reason why at the end of the list.

The ranking of each player is based on a combination of age, playing time, playing level, importance to the team and performance. This list will only cover players playing in Finland, who are owned by clubs in Finland (so no loan players). I’ve set the age cut-off at 23, so players aged 22 and younger are listed. A player’s age is determined by his age at the start of the season, not his ‘real’ age. This list will be skewed towards younger players, as I consider youth, projectability and potential upside to be more important than production. Please note that Ykkönen teams have played fewer games, so there have been fewer minutes distributed among these players.


We have two graduates from the previous prospect list: Onni Valakari (#7) has moved to Tromsö and Ulrich Meleke (#18) has moved to Hapoel Tel Aviv. Neither move is particularly surprising, as both players had been performing well for their teams. Valakari joins his father in Norway, which makes the destination quite understandable, and I wrote the following sentence about Meleke last time around: “Won’t play for EIF for long, probably won’t move within the country.”


Wato Kuate (#30) ended up not impressing RoPS with his conduct on and off the field, and so his contract was ended prematurely. Probably won’t join another Finnish team, I think it’s safe to assume, so can be dismissed from consideration.

Bubbling under

Matias Tamminen: he’s played a little over 100 minutes, in which he has scored once and assisted twice and I’m not sure he’s turned 17 yet. Keep it up kid!

Mikael Almén: hadn’t heard of him until he started two games on the trot for Ilves, is a left footed centre back who, in his first games took direct free kicks and corners…?

Tariq Kazi: has played 370 minutes so far, and I’ve set the cut-off point at 400, so is unlucky to miss out. Will probably make an appearance on the next list.

Juho Montola: played well in the match against Ilves, showed a knack for getting in the box, which is something I like from a midfielder.

Rony Huhtala: made a splash when he scored for HJK versus an Allsvenskan club that currently escapes my memory during pre-season. Has been out for a while, only now getting into games for Klubi 04, but looks sharp.

Oskari Kekkonen: went on loan to KTP from Lahti to get game time, and, I don’t know, I just feel like he’s a very advanced midfield passer who is being discriminated against due to his size.

Mehdi El Moutacim: 17 year old goalkeeper for EIF who has personality and a distinct playing style. Honestly, the only goalkeeper in the top two tiers in Finnish football who appears to profile as a sweeper-keeper.

Ahmed Ramy Elged: Has played almost a game’s worth of minutes for AC Kajaani, and has looked severely overmatched every time I’ve seen him play. But he’s 14!

The list

Rank (previous in brackets) Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 (1) Rasmus Karjalainen 22 KuPS 1493 CF
Still shares the lead at the top of the scoring charts, although he has cooled off to the extent that his scoring is exactly in line with his xG. 5 of his 14 goals have been penalties, one should remember, and he didn’t score a non-penalty goal in July. Might see more time at left wing now that KuPS have signed another starting calibre centre forward. Linked to IFK Göteborg, and consensus seems to be that it would be an awful fit.
2 (3) Ilmari Niskanen 20 KuPS 1777 RW
Still super impressed by the progress made by Niskanen. Plays all the games, has the most KP/90 of all under 22 year olds with more than 400 minutes, has become a serious threat in the box. Has been really unlucky, as he only has 3 goals compared to around 6 xG. Is also the only winger in the top 5 under 22s in xG.
3 (11) Marius Noubissi 21 Ilves 1501 CF
Noubissi has been on a tear this month. When he’s on his game he seems unstoppable. Won’t happen because he should get better offers when his contract runs out this winter, but this, really, is the profile of player HJK should be looking at rather than Macoumba Kandji.
4 (4) Sebastian Dahlström 21 HJK 1802 MC
Last time, I complained that his offensive numbers were down since last year. In July, he added a couple of assists and seemed livelier in attack. Has the second most tackles per 90 among U-22 players if you adjust for possession.
5 (2) Lassi Lappalainen 19 RoPS 1313 LW
Didn’t play a minute in July due to a shoulder injury. He’ll be back shortly, though, and he’ll rise higher in the next list if he plays anything like he did previously.
6 (5) Benjamin Källman 20 Inter 1510 CF
Struggled in July, even struggled to get on the pitch at times for reasons not particularly in his control. Would *love* to see him in a better attacking team at some point, please.
7 (8) Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 21 Ilves 1577 AMC
Had a good-not-great July in which he increased most of the relevant attacking statistical categories without adding to his goal/assist tallies. Questions persist about whether he’s quick enough for the next level, but he is well rounded and should definitely look to go abroad when his contract expires at the end of the season.
8 (9) Leo Väisänen 20 RoPS 1798 CB
Väisänen is the metaphorical hot iron that should be struck. Second among U-22s in possession adjusted interceptions per 90, fourth in successful air challenges, third in air challenge win%.
9 (6) Juho Hyvärinen 18 RoPS 878 RB
Didn’t play a minute in July due to injury. Is still a very good player, and comfortably the best fullback prospect in the league.
10 (12) Lucas Lingman 20 RoPS 1753 AMC
Scored two goals in July and has carried an enormous burden in the absence of Lappalainen and Hyvärinen. RoPS have basically re-shuffled their entire attacking deck and Lingman has been the only constant throughout the season. Will look even better once Lappalainen comes back, and now that Vahid Hambo should be playing ahead of him.
11 (15) Santeri Hostikka 20 Lahti 1436 LW
Still dribbling more than anybody, had a game in which he took 9 shots without scoring – which is kind of a good description of Lahti’s attacking strategy. I think he needs a better attacking coach to get the most out of him – would love to see him leverage his skillset to get into better scoring opportunities, like Niskanen or Lappalainen.
12 (10) Eetu Vertainen 19 HJK/Klubi 04 613 CF
Has been getting a bit more game time after the U19 Euros (in which he played well), but only added 100 minutes in July. August will be a big month for him, can he establish himself as the primary backup for Klauss?
13 (19) Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 19 HJK/Klubi 04 916 LW/RB
Has been Klubi 04’s most consistent attacking weapon throughout the season, but has been promoted to the first team to play right back. This is a good thing, in my opinion, as attacking fullbacks are rare in Finland. Is a fantastic dribbler at Ykkönen level, and it’ll be interesting to see how it translates to the Veikkausliiga.
14 (14) Nooa Laine 15 JJK 593 AMC
Still the youngest regular in the top two tiers, still here mostly due to that fact. Only added around 100 minutes in July, but that’s still pretty impressive considering his age.
15 (N/A) Otto Ollikainen 17 HJK/Klubi 04 1022 MC
The highest riser on the list. Didn’t get a mention last month because I sort of struggle to see what type of player he is. Made his debut in the Veikkausliiga, however, and has been a mainstay for Klubi 04 throughout. Doesn’t impress with attacking numbers, has played a bit of left back as well.
16 (13) Teemu Jäntti 18 Lahti 638 AMC
Only played 9 minutes in July, mostly due to the U19 Euros, where he played all of the games at left back. That shouldn’t make him a lower ranked prospect, but the rules are the rules, and we’re only focusing on league play.
17 (16) Albion Ademi 19 Inter 1003 LW
Played 3 minutes in July, mostly due to the U19 Euros, where he didn’t play a whole lot.
18 (20) Mikko Kuningas 20 Inter 1550 MC
Kuningas has grown as the season has progressed. Has played a fair bit in July, and seems to be one of the primary benefactors of the managerial change. Added an assist last month to take his total to 3 for the season.
19 (32) Kalle Katz 18 HJK/Klubi 04 1034 CB
Big jump for Katz, but I like promotions and I think they should be rewarded. Played a high-pressure full 90 for HJK versus Honka and looked pretty good throughout. Is ahead of Valtteri Vesiaho because he’s a year younger, has played more football this season (albeit mostly in the second tier) and because I think he’s good.
20 (21) Santeri Väänänen 16 Klubi 04 752 DMC
Didn’t play very much in July, but rises one notch on account of the graduations ahead of him. Has been spotted on the HJK bench a couple of times, and a debut in the Veikkausliiga this season isn’t out of the question.
21 (N/A) Enoch Banza 18 HJK/Klubi 04 770 RW
Enoch Banza didn’t appear on the previous list because he was just coming back from injury and had only just started to appear for Klubi 04. During July, he was quickly brough back into the HJK fold, and seems to be well regarded by Mika Lehkosuo. Has yet to play particularly well this season, and the stats kind of agree on that.
22 (23) Omar Jama 20 VPS 1405 DMC
Jama is playing well for high-flying VPS. Has the 9th most possession adjusted tackles among U-22s in the Veikkausliiga. Goes unnoticed but plays a big part for a team that asks a lot from its midfield.
23 (17) Tommi Jyry 19 HIFK 1147 MC
Still playing a big part for HIFK, but I’d really like to see some more end product from him because he has the energy levels and he has the technical ability. That being said, he contributes a lot further down the chain: he has the third most secondary shot assists (shit name, I know, but the pass that comes before the key pass) per 90 among all players in the second tier.
24 (31) Ville Tikkanen 19 SJK 1056 CB
Played in the U19 Euros so was on limited playing time in the league in July, still rises due to the performances of players above him, and because I noticed that he leads the U-22s in possession adjusted interceptions per 90. Is this a good place to mention that I’m very, very sceptical when it comes to InStat’s defensive stats (the possession adjustment is my own, but otherwise)?
25 (43) Evans Mensah 20 HJK 1006 RW
Rises on account of winning his place in the starting XI back. I’m still not convinced he’s that good. He shoots an absolute boatload (had 12 shots against PS Kemi), but his locations are… problematic. Is going to score the odd goal from afar because that’s how the law of averages works, but overall is too wild for my taste.
26 (27) Diogo Tomas 20 Ilves 1170 CB
You shouldn’t judge central defenders by their defensive statistics but they can still give you a bit of signal to help you sift through the noise. Diogo Tomas wins the second most aerial duels per 90, and has the 8th highest win% (among U-22s). He also has the fourth most possession adjusted interceptions. I think that’s enough to put him on the radar at the very least.
27 (26) Oskari Jakonen 21 TPS 1155 RW
Last month I wrote that Jakonen has the profile of someone who could break through, and I still think that’s true. July didn’t really move the needle in any particular way though, so we’ll wait and see.
28 (22) Miika Töyräs 19 KuPS 773 GK
Drops because he only played one game, and I kind of feel bad about it, because young goalkeepers just don’t play very much, and over 700 minutes is already quite a lot. I’m not very fond of Otso Virtanen so would like to see more of Töyräs.
29 (24) Tatu Varmanen 19 Inter 1113 RB
I wrote this last month and it is still true: has lately lost his place in the starting eleven as new Inter manager seems to favor size over ability. Only played a handful of minutes in July, would rank him in the 15-or-so range if he actually played because I think he’s good.
30 (25) Aatu Laatikainen 21 VPS 1498 MC
Only played one half of minutes in July, still ranks highly in most defensive categories.
31 (28) Eero-Matti Auvinen 22 VPS 1590 CB
Honestly feel a bit bad about this, because Auvinen right now is probably a better defender than (at least) Tikkanen and Vesiaho – and also plays more than them – but he’s touching the age ceiling for prospectdom and that’s significant for this exercise. May revise next month.
32 (35) Anton Popovitch 21 FC Haka 1258 MC
After the last list I’ve had something of an eye on Popovitch, and although he’s something of a riser on this list, I’m not sure if he should be. He’s primarily a set-piece taker, and I mean that in a bad way. 60% of his Key Passes are from corners or free kicks, 29% of his shots are from direct free kicks. And, sure, set-pieces are important but I just don’t think his overall midfield play is impressive enough to carry him.
33 (44) Roni Peiponen 21 HJK 638 RB
Last month, I wrote that I wanted to see Peiponen play a bit more, which he did to an extent. I think this is more in line with his talent, but if I were him I’d be looking over my shoulder because Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan is likely to pass him in the pecking order unless he progresses.
34 (34) Markus Uusitalo 21 HJK 576 GK
Uusitalo remains in place. Zero minutes in July and rooted behind a goalkeeper who is really performing. Still stuck in prospect purgatory, should maybe consider his options if this continues.
35 (N/A) Joel Mattsson 19 IFK Mariehamn 1224 RB/RW
I left Mattsson off the previous list, and sort of regretted it, because he probably deserved to be on it. It’s just that he’s seemingly being played out of position, for a bad (and boring) team, and I just struggle to see where that leaves him. He’s still young though, and is playing a lot.
36 (29) Hamed Coulibaly 21 MIFK/KuPS 1657 RB/CB
KuPS have had significant defensive troubles so far this season, and have decided to shed Lum Rexhepi, who is possibly the most error prone central defender I can think of, and Hamed Coulibaly. Coulibaly is only on loan, though, at IFK Mariehamn, but it puts him in an awkward position. Ranks fairly well in possession adjusted tackles and interceptions per 90, struggles in the air, and doesn’t contribute anything in attack when played at fullback.
37 (37) Patrik Alaharjula 21 JJK 1315 CF
Plays all the time, but has been poor in July. Don’t really know what to think of him because he blows hot and cold, and at the moment is struggling to get involved.
38 (41) Väinö Vehkonen 16 JJK 1034 CB
It is very likely that I credit him too much for the amount of playing time he’s getting, because he does not look particularly comfortable at the moment. Struggles badly against pace, and needs to improve his decision making, but these are things that should get better with experience, and he’s being afforded the chance to learn at the job.
39 (N/A) Akseli Ollila 18 EIF 722 CF
EIF are a fun side this year, and they’ve become even more fun since exchanging their experienced centre forward options Felix De Bona and Etchu Tabe for youngsters Ollila and Hanson Boakai. Neither Ollila nor Boakai is a traditional centre forward, and neither is being played as such, even if their defensive positioning would indicate it. Ollila switches to the left wing immediately when EIF win the ball, and is more of a winger anyway. He’s short and quick and moves well off the ball. There have been rumours of an attitude problem stemming from his days at Klubi 04, though.
40 (40) Anthony Olusanya 18 Jaro 830 RW
Jaro have been slumping hard in July, and Olusanya still struggles to impose himself. He’s young though, but the novelty of youth fades quickly, and if Jaro keep sliding he might too unless he shows some new dimensions.
41 (38) Lassi Järvenpää 21 RoPS 1384 RB
I struggle to get excited by Lassi Järvenpää, but he is playing a lot for a good team.
42 (42) Kristian Heinolainen 19 PS Kemi 932 LB
I was surprised to notice that Heinolainen has played over 300 minutes in July, despite being away with the U19 team for the Euros (he only appeared once). Played a couple of games at centre half, which I don’t think is particularly suitable for him.
43 (N/A) Tommi Jäntti 18 Klubi 04 1037 AMC
Tommi Jäntti, like Otto Ollikainen, is kind of nondescript for me at this point. He plays a bit higher up, has amassed two goals and two assists so far, yet I struggle to remember much about him. Is the 00-or-later born player with the most minutes at Ykkönen level though.
44 (N/A) Thomas Mäkinen 21 IFK Mariehamn 1374 MC
Mäkinen returned to Mariehamn after a stint in Italy. He wins a lot of aerial duels (albeit with quite a poor win%), leads the U-22s in possession adjusted tackles and has scored three goals so far this season.
45 (45) Niklas Jokelainen 18 Ilves/JJK 611 CF
Jokelainen was loaned out to JJK, where he has played when not at the U19 Euros. Not sure what to think of him, seems to be fairly multidimensional – has been playing alongside Alaharjula in a 4-4-2 – but I’m still waiting to see exactly what kind of player he is.
46 (48) Rasmus Leislahti 18 Klubi 04 748 GK
Didn’t play a minute in July due to being engaged with the U19 Euros. Did well at the tournament, though, and even though that doesn’t affect the ranking, I’d still rather move him up a little bit than anyone else. His size is a potential problem, though.
47 (47) Joonas Sundman 20 SJK 1189 LB
Last month I wrote: “Has played a fair bit for a bad team, hasn’t stood out. We’ll wait and see.” This is still the case.
48 (46) Maximo Tolonen 17 SJK 500 LW
I still think Tolonen is one of the top 50 prospects in the top two tiers of Finnish football, I just think that SJK isn’t the best environment for a young player right now. Is it too early to look back at the decision to cut ties with Honka and conclude that it was the wrong one? I don’t know, Honka isn’t exactly the youngest team in the league either.
49 (N/A) Tuukka Andberg 20 HIFK 818 CB
Struggled a bit last season in the Veikkausliiga but has established himself for HIFK in the second tier.
50 (N/A) Julius Tauriainen 17 Klubi 04 737 AMC
It’s difficult to know with players from Klubi 04 because they definitely aren’t very good at the moment, but they’re also very young, and if you show even a smidgen of potential, you could be playing for HJK promptly. Tauriainen is young, he takes set-pieces, he plays different positions. Number 50 on the list isn’t very prestigous, but there’s only one way to go from here! (There really isn’t, as last month’s list is testament to.)

Players who fell off the list (with reason why in brackets):

Daniel Rantanen (didn’t play a minute in July)

Tuukka Kurki (didn’t play enough, hasn’t played enough overall)

Henrik Ölander (didn’t play a minute in July)

Jarkko Heimonen (didn’t play enough).

Follow me on Twitter for future updates and other stuff.

2018 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking

2018 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking

I’m kicking off a series I’ve been planning for a good couple of years now: a monthly ranking of the prospects playing in the Finnish league system. I’ll cover the two highest divisions, the Veikkausliiga and Ykkönen. The ranking system will ultimately be quite subjective, but it’ll be based on some objective measures of player quality.

(I’ve since updated the list with numbers from JulyAugust, and September, and October – as well as a deeper dive into the final Top 10.)

This inaugural list will serve as a focal point, covering the season so far while future lists will weigh recent performances more strongly. The ranking of each player is based on a combination of age, playing time, playing level, importance to the team and performance.

This list will only cover players playing in Finland, who are owned by clubs in Finland (so no loan players). I’ve set the age cut-off at 23, so players aged 22 and younger are listed. A player’s age is determined by his age at the start of the season, not his ‘real’ age. This list will be skewed towards younger players, as I consider youth, projectability and potential upside to be more important than production. Please note that Ykkönen teams have played fewer games, so there have been fewer minutes distributed among these players.

Rank Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 Rasmus Karjalainen 22 KuPS 1250 CF
Shared lead at the top of the scoring charts, boosted by a bunch of penalties. Was really hot for a while, has started to regress towards his (still impressive) xG. Played wide last season at Kemi, moving him to a central role has doubled his shots per 90, and with it also his NPG/90 and xG/90. Has a good shot on him.
2 Lassi Lappalainen 19 RoPS 1313 LW
Carries the attack of one of the best teams in the league. RoPS are defensively solid, but are leaning heavily on Lappalainen staying fit. Large burden to carry for a (soon to be) 20 year old.
3 Ilmari Niskanen 20 KuPS 1481 RW
Has bloomed under Honkavaara, on the back of becoming a more agressive presence in the box. xG/shot up to 0.18 in 2018 from 0.07 in 2017.
4 Sebastian Dahlström 21 HJK 1574 MC
Being played in a more restrained role than previous seasons. Shots are down, KPs down – with these, also production down. Still plays an important role in the best team in the league.
5 Benjamin Källman 20 Inter 1393 CF
Källman is still the same player as last season. Is likely going to get to double figures in goals, mostly due to being an immense box presence. Still needs to get more shooting opportunities, restricted by playing for a hapless team.
6 Juho Hyvärinen 18 RoPS 878 RB
18, playing big minutes in an array of roles for one of the best teams in the league. Probably the most dynamic fullback prospect in the league.
7 Onni Valakari 18 TPS 1007 AMC
Big role for a team that isn’t as bad as the league table suggests. Mature head on young shoulders.
8 Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 21 Ilves 1384 AMC
2017 was disrupted by military service, 2018 has started the way 2016 ended. Dynamic forward presence, capable of playing in different midfield roles as well as higher up.
9 Leo Väisänen 20 RoPS 1513 CB
Leader at the centre of the strongest defense in the league. Surrounded by a bit of brother-induced hype, but is sure footed and defensively sound.
10 Eetu Vertainen 19 HJK/Klubi 04 512 CF
Would place him much higher if he’d get some more playing time, but such is the life of a HJK prospect. Klubi 04 would desperately need him in order to stay up, every other team in the league should jump at the opportunity if he becomes available for loan.
11 Marius Noubissi 21 Ilves 1265 CF
Flagged him as having something of a Morelos-lite presence. Extremely wild shooter, but is capable of creating opportunities for himself. Capable dribbler while being strong in the air. Not likely to stick around for long.
12 Lucas Lingman 20 RoPS 1375 AMC
Important attacking presence for RoPS. Has played a variety of roles, some more suited to his game than others, yet has still managed to accumulate three goals and two assists for a low shooting team. Seems to really love playing with Lappalainen.
13 Teemu Jäntti 18 Lahti 629 AMC
All-rounder who plays mostly as an attacking midfielder for Lahti, appeared at right back for the U-19 National Team this week. Has played a lot for a player his age so far, which – I have to admit – is the biggest reason for his placement.
14 Nooa Laine 15 JJK 483 AMC
The youngest regular in the top two tiers of Finnish football. Started out as a sub, but has won a place as a starter. Doesn’t look out of place playing for a bad JJK side – also doesn’t physically look like a 15-year old. Scored his first goal with a sharp shot from 16 meters a couple of weeks back.
15 Santeri Hostikka 20 Lahti 1124 LW
With Lucas Garcia gone, Hostikka is the player with most successful dribbles per 90 in the league. Would love to see that fact lead to better shooting opportunities – in the meantime, he’s shooting over 3 times per 90 which seems to be a part of Lahti’s attacking strategy.
16 Albion Ademi 19 Inter 1000 LW
Kind of the same as above, only Ademi’s slightly younger and has far less end product. The end product will likely come in due time, and Inter’s resurgence might depend on it.
17 Tommi Jyry 18 HIFK 869 MC
Is he the second best prospect in the second tier? Tough to say, but he’s a key cog in the team that leads the league. At 18, that’s intriguing. Composed on the ball, likes to motor up and down the pitch, has a goal and an assist so far.
18 Ulrich Meleke 19 EIF 934 CB
A slight shot in the dark perhaps, but plays just about every minute of every game in central defence for a team that just doesn’t concede goals. Has prospect pedigree as he captains the Ivory Coast U-20s. Won’t play for EIF for long, probably won’t move within the country.
19 Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 19 Klubi 04 725 LW
Klubi 04 have been garbage so far this season. Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan has not. He’s their leading goal scorer, and the only player who looks capable of creating in attack. He’s a good dribbler, capable of working in tight spaces but most effective on the break, when he can use his pace to run at opposition defenders. Would probably start for most Veikkausliiga teams.
20 Mikko Kuningas 20 Inter 1168 MC
Has been around forever, but is only 20. Has consistently produced end product from midfield. Questions still persist about whether the quickness of his feet will allow him to display the quickness of his mind at a higher level.
21 Santeri Väänänen 16 Klubi 04 663 DMC
Prototypical midfield terrier tasked with sweeping up between the leaky lines of Klubi 04’s midfield and defence. Looks a good tackler, tenacious. Started off a bit nervous in possession but has looked much more comfortable lately.
22 Miika Töyräs 19 KuPS 671 GK
Deputised for Otso Virtanen when he went down with injury, and did well. Made some high profile saves that caught the eye.
23 Omar Jama 20 VPS 1158 DMC
Had difficulties choosing between Jama and Laatikainen, went for Jama because he’s younger, has more impact in the final third and because, frankly, I think he’s better.
24 Tatu Varmanen 19 Inter 1105 RB
Looked imperious last season, this season has been a bit more difficult – has lately lost his place in the starting eleven as new Inter manager John Allen seems to favour size over ability. Plays hard, is good at getting forward. Would look different class in a better team. Completes around one cross per 90 (average for a fullback is 0.53), completes 1.5 successful dribbles (average around 1.1).
25 Aatu Laatikainen 21 VPS 1451 DMC
Laatikainen is a Vepsu-favorite, who, probably more than any other current player, symbolizes their possession heavy style of play (he has the second highest pass completion rate in the league). He’s a good passer and reads the game well, but whether that’s enough to carry him upwards and onwards is the question on my mind.
26 Oskari Jakonen 21 TPS 783 LW
Oskari Jakonen, prior to this season unbeknownst to me, is another Finnish FC Midtjylland alumni. He’s played for TPS since 2015, though, but he has the profile of someone who could be in line for a breakout. He shoots a lot, for a start, although he’s gotten a bit lucky with his end product so far.
27 Diogo Tomas 20 Ilves 927 CB
Defensive stats are what they are, and InStat’s defensive stats are even more what they are. That being said, Diogo Tomas is accumulating the fourth most interceptions per 90. Do with this factoid what you will. Also particularly strong in the air.
28 Eero-Matti Auvinen 22 VPS 1205 CB
Auvinen looks a good fit for Vepsu. Scores high in most of InStat’s defensive stats. Is good in the air, rarely fouls and has showed off his passing range at times.
29 Hamed Coulibaly 21 KuPS 1487 CB
KuPS are a fun team because they score a lot and also, crucially, because they concede a lot. It, obviously, isn’t only the fault of the defenders, but it nevertheless doesn’t flatter them. Coulibaly has played for KuPS for a long time and has been an above average performer throughout that time. Does he have another level?
30 Wato Kuate 22 RoPS 1420 MC
Kuate is another key player for high-flying RoPS. His role is to sit deep and break up play, rotating the ball left and right more often than progressing it. Is good in the air, tackles a bit and has already scored a goal and added two assists. The oldest player on this list.
31 Ville Tikkanen 18 SJK 957 CB
Honestly, Tikkanen has probably been a contributor to SJK’s woeful defense, but that comes with the territory as a young defender. He doesn’t stand out, for better or worse, but sometimes looks his age somewhat. Comfortable on the ball, and captained the U-19s earlier this week.
32 Kalle Katz 18 Klubi 04 840 CB
Again, Klubi 04 have been hot garb, but Katz has been one of their standout players. He is very comfortable on the ball and has a lovely opportunistic side to him, often dribbling the ball into midfield and beyond rather than passing it. In fact, this is the part of his game I’d like to see more of, even if it sometimes leaves his team in trouble, because it’s something that makes him stand out among his peers. Oh, and he isn’t averse to getting stuck in either, as he’s been sent off once this season, and gets carded just about every game.
33 Tuukka Kurki 19 HIFK 315 CF
This might be something of a short sample size overreaction (he hasn’t played a lot) but Kurki has already scored three goals and added an assist in what little playing time he’s received. Would like to see more of him, maybe beside fellow prospect Antti Ulmanen?
34 Markus Uusitalo 21 HJK 576 GK
Goalkeeper is a tricky position, and although Uusitalo has been displaced by Maksim Rudakov, I’m not sure he’s been totally at fault – Rudakov has just been better. Probably the most promising keeper playing in the league, but needs to get in the team again.
35 Anton Popovitch 21 Haka 972 MC
Captain, playmaker, set-piece taker for a mediocre Haka side. Has scored three and assisted three so far, mostly on the back of set-piece delivery.
36 Valtteri Vesiaho 19 HJK/Klubi 04 685 CB
Don’t get me wrong, Vesiaho is a far better prospect than this (probably the best central defensive prospect playing in Finland TBQHWYIMHO), it’s just that he’s in HJK prospect purgatory: too good to play for Klubi 04, displaced by more experienced players at Veikkausliiga level. Will get more playing time as the European qualification matches start, but would have liked to see more of him so far.
37 Patrik Alaharjula 21 JJK 940 CF
Never really got a chance for KuPS, but has looked promising a level down. Could be that it’s because it’s his level, could also be a breakout. Has almost the exact statistical profile as Benjamin Källman – warts and all.
38 Lassi Järvenpää 21 RoPS 1003 RB
Gets points for playing for a good team. Doesn’t stand out in any particular way, and maybe suffers a bit from being moved around a lot – is he a centre half, right back, right winger (he’s not a right winger)?
39 Daniel Rantanen 20 HIFK 650 MC
Plays big minutes for Ykkönen-leading HIFK. Loves a shot from distance, although results should maybe temper his excitement a little bit.
40 Anthony Olusanya 17 Jaro 589 RW
Right winger for high-flying Jaro. Struggles to impose himself at times, but gets playing time and sprinkles in shots and key passes at an inconsistent pace. One to keep an eye on, though.
41 Väinö Vehkonen 16 JJK 659 CB
Big, strong, left footed central defender for struggling JJK. Is mostly projection at this time, but is playing full games in the second tier at 16 which, to be honest, is more than you ever did, isn’t it?
42 Kristian Heinolainen 19 PS Kemi 631 LB
Heinolainen plays as a fullback for perennial shitshow PS Kemi. He is more of a defensive specialist, and has two good feet that have been getting wet at the highest national level.
43 Mensah, Evans 20 HJK 840 RW
Maybe I’m being harsh, but Mensah has been a bit of a disappointment this season. xG is down, xA is down, Goals and Assists are down, mostly because of bad locations. Could still turn it around, obviously, but should do a lot better.
44 Roni Peiponen 21 HJK 493 RB
Peiponen is down here mostly because of a lack of playing time. Again, I think he’s a better prospect than this, but he needs to be playing to prove it.
45 Niklas Jokelainen 18 Ilves 435 CF
Jokelainen returned from a brief stint at Stoke’s academy this season. He hasn’t played a lot, and when he has played he hasn’t particularly stood out. He’s scored a goal, which is a good start. Get some more minutes under the belt and let’s add some expectations next season.
46 Maximo Tolonen 17 SJK 433 LW
I can shamelessly admit that the placement of Tolonen is based on reputation more than on performances. A player with a different name and the same numbers would probably not appear on this list at all. Has been a bit disappointing so far, although early signs were promising. Still young though, needs to get on the pitch.
47 Joonas Sundman 20 SJK 832 LB
Has played a fair bit for a bad team, hasn’t stood out. We’ll wait and see.
48 Rasmus Leislahti 18 Klubi 04 748 GK
Has been the main goalkeeper for Klubi 04 at the tender age of 18. His team’s defensive record has been poor, and although it definitely hasn’t been his fault, it’s difficult to justify a higher position until that changes.
49 Henrik Ölander 20 PS Kemi 494 LB
Ölander, like Kristian Heinolainen, is a fullback who plays for Kemi. Of the two, Ölander has probably impressed more, but he’s almost two years older which is why he’s lower down.
50 Jarkko Heimonen 19 JJK 448 RB
Jarkko Heimonen hasn’t played a lot, but when he has played, he’s been impressive. It’s still early, but he looks like an energetic, attacking fullback.

Stats from InStat, kindly provided by the Veikkausliiga, and from my database. Stats up until 30.6.2018.

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2017 stat buy: Benjamin Källman

2017 stat buy: Benjamin Källman

I think it’s fair to say that Inter have had an objectively terrible season. Their fans must have expected more from a roster containing the likes of Timo Furuholm, Njazi Kuqi, Julien Faubert and eventually Macoumba Kandji and Mika Ojala – to be fair, the same can probably be said of their people in charge, as I doubt any of the aforementioned quintet came particularly cheap. And by more, I mean maybe celebrating something else in October than not getting relegated.

Hashtag intertainment indeed.

Of course, no one could have predicted that Shefki Kuqi would end up having a clash of personalities with everyone and everything, leading to a fiery exit. Give the guy a break, it’s only happened twice before! At least this time he A) didn’t have a financial stake at the club at the time of sacking, and B) had a book to sell when it happened.

Anyway, as I’m a glass-half-full kind of character, I thought I’d latch onto one of the big positives from Inter’s season, a positive that, by extension, is more of a general positive for fans of Finnish football as well. The positive is that it turns out that 19 year old Benjamin Källman is a capital-B-Baller.

Here are the three best strikers in the Veikkausliiga aged 21 or under this season. All three have played slightly truncated seasons, for different reasons: Morelos moved to Glasgow Rangers in June, Eze to Sturm Graz some time after, Källman… well he had to compete with Njazi Kuqi, Timo Furuholm, Macoumba Kandji and Guy Gnabouyou for playing time so he quite naturally got off to a slow start.

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Stats as of 18.10.17

In the table, four things stick out. Källman has a significant xG underperformance (9 NPG, 12.7 xG), his xG is mostly due to very impressive shot locations (0.31 xG/S), he’s incredibly good at hitting the target when he shoots (59% Shooting accuracy) and his 0.66 xG/90 is ridiculously strong. Comparing him to Morelos is really unfair in this instance, as 0.66 is in fact the highest xG/90 in the league apart from Morelos. So yeah, lol Morelos. It took until approximately September until anyone accumulated more xG than him. I have a feeling even the Scottish Premier League might be a level too low for him, so the Veikkausliiga was never going to present much of a challenge. (As an aside, yes, he did come cheap: Carlos Bacca in 2012, at 26, cost 1,5ME – thats 1,5ME in 2012 money – and he moved straight from South America to Belgium which probably pushed the price down somewhat. Yes, I understand there were some contractual obligations that meant HJK had no chance to maximise their profit on the deal, I just think Bacca’s a pretty good comp for Morelos. Oh, and depending on re-sale clauses, this might actually be the best way for HJK to maximise their profit anyway.)

Ok, focus, damn it!

In terms of chance creation Källman is… alright. Like, decent numbers but nothing to get too excited about. Again, please note that Morelos was racking up 0.5 xA per 90 minutes played before being sold in addition to the 1 xG and 6 (and change) shots he managed. Hoo boy!

In any case, however impressive Morelos’ numbers are, when comparing him to Källman there are two extenuating circumstances: Morelos played a set position, basically all of the time, for the best team in the league – Källman has not – and Källman is two years younger than Morelos. Eze also has the age advantage, but played his minutes for a struggling RoPS side. Both Eze and Morelos got moves to better leagues midseason. Is Källman already good enough to move abroad? I looked through the database and found only two players under 21 with comparable seasons to Källman, both from 2013: Tim Väyrynen and Joel Pohjanpalo in their respective last seasons before moving to Germany (I considered Vahid Hambo, he of 18 all time professional appearances in total, but no). So how does Källman hold up?

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Actually… pretty well. In terms of production, Tim Väyrynen was pretty unstoppable in 2013 – although you’ll notice a pretty hefty xG overperformance. Both Väyrynen and Pohjanpalo were more active shooters but neither come close in terms of xG/S. Also, with the risk of sounding like a broken record, 0.66 xG/90 is very, very good at any age. Oh and he’s 19. He definitely holds his own against his peers, but I’d be interested to see data from 2012, as that was Pohjanpalo’s true breakthrough season. Obviously Väyrynen isn’t exactly a very optimistic projection for Källman, but I’m not really sure any of us really know what Väyrynen is at this point. So much is going to be down to that next move in Källman’s career, and maybe there’s a lesson to be learned on that point from both of his predecessors.

Apart from the numbers there’s also the way he looks on the pitch – like an adult both physically and mentally. He’s adept at using his frame to hold up play, but can just as easily run in behind if needed. It’s easy to see why his xG/S is so high if you watch his movement in the box, at times peeling off the defender, at times making well timed sprints to the front post, always in search of space. He’s a true goal-getter, and I suggest you go see him for yourself – my bet is that you’ll have exactly 2 more chances to do so before he’ll be playing in another country.

So why is this good news for Inter? Because he signed a two year deal about a month ago, meaning that if they play their cards right they should be in line for a reasonable payday. For the rest of us, it’s another prospect to pin our hopes on, someone to get on the end of that hypothetical future Saku Ylätupa throughball or Mikael Soisalo cross.

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