Honkavaara: homecoming

Honkavaara: homecoming

As KuPS and Inter battled it out for the title this previous weekend, the Veikkausliiga felt fresh again, after a brief period of staleness. Maybe it’s the overall feeling in Finnish football these days, maybe the league is developing, or maybe it’s just the joy of watching two underdogs reaching something of a peak simultaneously – to the extent that teams bankrolled by millionaires can be considered underdogs (which they absolutely can in Finland). To me, and I believe I’m not alone in feeling this way, it was a fitting way to end the season, and either team would have deserved to come away with the victory. To me, the result honestly didn’t matter, and all available results would have pleased me equally – and I believe that this was pretty largely true all over the country (apart from some parts of Turku and Kuopio, maybe).

Still, there was a special kind of joy in watching KuPS win it, maybe due to the perception of a plan coming together. When KuPS hired Jani Honkavaara ahead of the 2017 season, he joined the club as a promising coach with a tendency for attacking flair and defensive frailty. His time at HIFK had been an undeniable success story, winning them promotion to the top tier after decades in the lower divisions, then staying up in their first year back. He seemed to have developed a bond with the team as well as the fans, and his sacking in the midst of 2016 seemed like a watershed moment for the Helsinki side, leaving a team built on division players and guys recruited from recently bankrupted MyPa on one side, and one built around high profile, big money, over the hill recruits on the other.

Honkavaara’s KuPS appointment was by no means considered a slam dunk at the time. His last season at HIFK had been cut short by some poor results, if not performances, and even though the general consensus was that he was a talented coach, he hadn’t yet managed to produce the kind of consistent top level production that would have made him a top tier coach at this level. KuPS had been a pretty bad side under Marko Rajamäki, and roughly similar under Esa Pekonen before him. Honkavaara, however, from day one made KuPS into one of the most entertaining attacking sides in the league, even if there always seemed to be some lingering defensive issues.


During his time at HIFK, Honkavaara’s job description was simple: do everything to stay up. His team was a combination of club legends who had been a part of the journey through the divisions, and players from recently defunct MyPa. Yet even though the remit of his job was different at HIFK, some of the tendencies of his KuPS teams were already there to be found.

Image 26-10-2019 at 12.27.jpg

Looking at some of the matches from 2015 in which HIFK had its highest xG differential of the season, you can see that when they played in a way that worked well their team set-up looks quite similar to the way KuPS have looked recently. One example of this is the asymmetry in full back and winger positioning, where the left side contributes more to creativity while the right side is used as more of a balancing act, keeping the width to allow more space for the players inside. In the above graph, you could easily see Murillo in place of Jurvainen, Pennanen in place of Korhonen and Niskanen in place of Hänninen, each playing similar roles.

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Cherry picking games from each of Honkavaara’s seasons with KuPS, the same pattern is visible. Pennanen is the key player, with either of the midfielders usually serving as a more critical node in reaching him than the other. Without Murillo, the full backs were less asymmetrical, but his quality as a player (and the lack of a similarly talented attacking right sided full back) made the left sided bias a natural development as the team evolved.

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Using pass clustering, we can see another perspective of the development of Honkavaara’s teams. The arrows represent passes clustered together according to how similar they are to each other (and how dissimilar they are to all of the other clusters). Red arrows represent clusters that the team plays 20% less than average, compared to other teams, blue arrows represent passes that the team plays 20% more than average. At HIFK, Honkavaara’s team played it short from the back, and used long diagonals from right to left, and crosses into the box from the left. At KuPS, the diagonal passes start to disappear, as do the short passes from the own goalkeeper’s area, while passes on the flanks in the attacking third increase. It is also noticeable how as the team develops, passes in their own half are reduced as they evolve into more of an attacking team. You can also notice quite clearly Honkavaara’s preference to attack down the flanks rather than the middle.

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Defensively, KuPS under Honkavaara have employed a press that has varied from above average to very high in terms of intensity. Using PPDA – or Passes Per Defensive Action – a metric essentially developed to answer the question of how many passes a team allows its opponents to play before intervening in a particular area of the pitch, KuPS in 2018 was the 8th most intense pressing team since the start of the data sample, when filtering the data to only include the opposition final third, and have been more intense than average in every season since 2017.

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Toward the end of the season, however, Honkavaara announced that he wouldn’t be signing an extension with KuPS. After some vivid speculation, after the final round of the season it became clear that his next destination would be his old hometown, Seinäjoki. At SJK, Honkavaara will be tasked to rebuild what he created at KuPS. His understandable preference would probably just be to sign some of the key players he had at KuPS, like Murillo or Pennanen, but with both players closing in on 30, and Pennanen still under contract with KuPS, it could be the type of short sighted and expensive move that SJK will want to avoid. With the contracts of Trevor Elhi, Jarkko Hurme and Dani Hatakka expiring, there’s ample room to strengthen at full back specifically.

Joonas Sundman is a well liked and capable option for the left side, even if he lacks the kind of attacking prowess of someone like Murillo. Depending on the options available on the market, a feasible alternative could therefore be to try to attack more from the right side, with Maximo Tolonen – a left footed attacking midfielder – a potential alternative to play the reverse Pennanen role. Looking at potential players from the top two tiers of Finnish football, Felipe Aspegren, if available, would be an alternative on that side of the pitch, as would Saku Savolainen, potentially, and Tatu Varmanen, if recruiting from Ykkönen would be considered comme il faut.

Player Ageseason Year Position Level
Luis Carlos Murillo 29 2019 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
David Nii Addy 29 2019 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Walter Moore 33 2017 FB Finland. Ykkonen
Fugo Segawa 22 2019 FB Finland. Ykkonen
Felipe Aspegren 25 2019 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Top 5 similar playerseasons to Luis Carlos Murillo in 2018

On the left hand side alternatives are more abundant, with Dylan Murnane and David Addy leading the line, and Fugo Segawa representing something of a left field choice. The most obvious option, however, would seem like convincing Murillo (whose contract will expire at the end of the year according to transfermarkt) to make the move to Seinäjoki – even if that might be quite hard, especially after two seasons as one of the best players in the country (or if HJK can get there first).

Player Ageseason Year Position Level
Luis Carlos Murillo 28 2018 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Walter Moore 33 2017 FB Finland. Ykkonen
Saku Savolainen 23 2019 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Tatu Varmanen 21 2019 FB Finland. Ykkonen
Dylan Murnane 23 2018 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Top 5 similar playerseasons to Luis Carlos Murillo in 2019

Doing the same exercise with Petteri Pennanen, the most enticing options that come up are a couple of Ykkönen-level superstars in Aleksi Pahkasalo and Daniel Rantanen. Of the two, Pahkasalo seems more analogous to Pennanen in terms of playing position, and is a player I’ve advocated for previously but I’m not sure either of the two would make sense, or be good enough for a title challenger.

Player Ageseason Year Position Level
Josue Currais Prieto 26 2019 AM Finland. Veikkausliiga
Aleksi Pahkasalo 27 2019 AM Finland. Ykkonen
Petteri Pennanen 26 2016 CM Finland. Veikkausliiga
Mikko Kuningas 19 2016 AM Finland. Veikkausliiga
Daniel Rantanen 21 2019 CM Finland. Ykkonen
Top 5 similar playerseasons to Petteri Pennanen in 2018

After Alexei Eremenko Sr.’s attempt at rebuilding Jaro anno 2015, however, it might be that SJK want to play it a bit more conservatively in terms of incoming player movement, in hope that having a more competent coach will be enough to carry them forward. They have accumulated an interesting mix of prospects who have mixed results so far, so maybe the expectation is that Honkavaara can do with one of them what he did to Rasmus Karjalainen in 2018. Considering the player sales of Karjalainen and Urho Nissilä from KuPS in the last couple of years, the best case scenario is that SJK can start to develop another genuine pipeline abroad in the fashion of HJK. In any case, if history is an indication, SJK will likely at the very least be more easy on the eye than this season, which should go down well with their stakeholders.

The hope, now, is that Honkavaara’s move turns out to be a win for both KuPS and SJK. The league needs a genuinely competitive SJK – as one of the organisations that could realistically be able to challenge HJK in the long run – but hopefully not in place of a genuinely competitive KuPS. Considering the way this season finished, adding SJK to the mix would make for a mouthwatering 2020 – so let’s hope that KuPS have made the right coaching hire, and that they aren’t stripped to the bones before the start of next season.

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2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – September update

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – September update

A couple of weeks after the transfer window slammed shut, it’s time to, once again, take stock of the prospect situation in the top two tiers of Finnish football. If this is your first time here, I’ve already posted two lists this season (July and August), and with the season wrapping up in early October, I suppose we can call this the penultimate list of the season.

In terms of outgoing prospects the transfer window was slow compared to previous years – the last remaining blue chipper was moved in a significant deal, but nothing else of note happened except for FC Nordsjaelland snapping up a couple of promising teenagers who were probably a couple of seasons away from debuting in Finland but will probably now go straight into the Danish club’s first team setup (I kid, but not really). There was some whispers surrounding Lauri Ala-Myllymäki and Lucas Lingman, but never really anything that amounted to more than speculation. Winter will be busier, with contracts ending and teams rebuilding from the top up, so interesting times ahead!

A reminder that the I’m only covering players owned by a team in Finland, so notable prospects like Kaan Kairinen, Jude Arthur and so forth are disregarded. I’m also only interested in players younger than 23, and since age is tricky since it changes all the time, I’m going to use age seasons instead (that is, if you’re born in 2000, your age season in 2019 is 19). A reminder that I’m heavily favouring minutes played over most other statistics, as I think that it is what’s most important for young players. I’m also weighing minutes at the top tier higher than minutes at Ykkönen level, because of course I am.

2019 Graduates:

Lassi Lappalainen, Bologna

The list:

Rank (previous) Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 (1) Lucas Lingman 21 RoPS 1986 MC
Lingman has proven himself as a good, creative passer, who is equally as capable at carrying the ball up the field as he is at passing it. He has been one of the most consistent players for a team that has gone through a lot of changes in the past two years, and he has established himself as a starter for the U21 national team in the process. With one more season left on his contract, I wonder if HJK would be interested enough to A) pay up, and B) swallow their pride.
2 (2) Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 22 Ilves 1874 AMC/CF
I’ve been harping on about Ala-Myllymäki’s xG overperformance, and how his goal amount is bloated from a bunch of penalties – these things remain true (although, his non-penalty goals are regressing towards his xG). He does a lot of other things well, and I think it’s likely that he’ll become a full international as soon as the national team play a friendly, so there’s reason to believe that he’ll attract interest from abroad.
3 (12) Ilmari Niskanen 22 KuPS 1935 RW
Last month Niskanen was pumpkining a bit, which led me to prepare something of a descent in the rankings, then he woke up and started both scoring and assisting like last season. 4 goals and 6 assists at this point of the season is a surprisingly good total, and his upturn in form has been critical for a KuPS side starting to look like potential league winners. I think he belongs to the top tier of prospects, but that’s mostly because the top tier no longer contains any slam dunk prospects like it did only a year-or-so ago. He remains a deadly threat from out wide, but the Nikolai Alho comp won’t go away.
4 (3) Jasin-Amin Assehnoun 21 Lahti 1558 LW
Is Assehnoun a winger or a wing back? It doesn’t really matter, I don’t think, as he excels both in attack and in defence. In searching for comps, a young Santeri Hostikka with better defending came up as an intriguing comp, with Eero Tamminen being a less glamorous alternative.
5 (7) Salomo Ojala 22 Haka 1688 CF
I’m still not convinced about the upside, but it’s impossible to dismiss the kind of dominance he’s displaying. I don’t think it’s an impossibility that he’ll get a national team call-up in one of the traditional January friendlies, which would be an opportunity for him to show his ability against tougher opposition.
6 (21) Santeri Väänänen 17 HJK 562 MC
I’ve been skirting around it for a while, and so I’ve arrived at this: I think Väänänen is probably the best young player playing regularly at this level, depending on your definition of young. If I had to choose between Väänänen and almost any other player, I’d go with Väänänen, except if I wanted to win in the immediate future, in which case I’d go with someone like Lingman instead. I don’t see it as an impossibility that he’ll get picked up in the January window, though, which also adds to the helium.
7 (4) Juho Hyvärinen 19 RoPS 2017 RB
Unless he gets injured, Hyvärinen will likely end the season as the U22 outfielder with the most minutes played in the top two tiers of Finnish football. He seemingly has another year left on his contract, so next season will be crucial in determining how far he’ll go in his career.
8 (5) Kalle Katz 19 RoPS (HJK) 1419 CB
Last season, Katz showed his ability to carry the ball upfield, logging one of the highest dribbling seasons for a centre half since 2013. This season, his dribbling has been restricted, which is something I think is a bad thing, because he is going to need it if he’s going to keep playing centre half – mainly because his aerial ability is going to present a potential weakness that will have to be countered with a strength in some other facet of his game. If he can hone his on the ball ability, he has the potential to become a really interesting player, if not, he’ll probably have to grow a couple of centimeters.
9 (9) Akseli Ollila 19 EIF 1664 LW
Ollila was good last season, and has shown ample development this year – although his end product is better, what’s more impressive are the overall improvements in his game. He’s essentially EIF’s primary attacking weapon, which is pretty big for a 19-year old.
10 (8) Severi Kähkönen 19 Jaro 1154 AMC
Kähkönen’s numbers look especially gaudy because he (according to InStat) has played in centre midfield more than he has further forward, which means that he is being compared to midfielders rather than attacking midfielders/wingers in my setup. Either way, he’s doing a lot in attack, in a variety of ways, which is encouraging. For his sake, I fear he’ll play at Ykkönen level again next year, which will obviously be Jaro’s gain.
11 (10) Anthony Olusanya 19 Jaro 1141 LW/CF
Olusanya has played an intriguing season for a Jaro team in ascent and has shown impressive growth compared to last season. Whether he’s a centre forward or a left winger will be one of the questions that will impact his career. At this point, I like Ollila more because his game seems more rounded, but I think both will have an opportunity to play on a bigger stage than currently.
12 (14) Yussif Moussa 21 Ilves 1197 MC/AMC
Moussa does most of his work in the opposition half, where he can be a threat with his shooting and dribbling. For a player with such an attacking profile, he does a lot of tackling, which is makes the package pretty interesting.
13 (N/A) Luis Henrique 21 HIFK 786 CF
Henrique joined HIFK fairly late, but has been a very positive addition to the new look Helsinki side, having an immediate impact by scoring or assisting at a pace of roughly once a game. Statistically, he profiles as 2016 Mikael Forssell – as a striker who gets few shots, but from good areas, with good creative numbers – which is high praise indeed. The numbers don’t yet include this weekends’ game, so with two more goals in his back pocket, the comp might get even more flattering.
14 (13) Tommi Jyry 20 KuPS 1052 MC
Jyry profiles as a good ball shuttler, who is capable of progressing the ball either through carrying or passing it. He has some end product, but has the potential to get more and the same can be said for his defending.
15 (11) Aapo Mäenpää 21 IFK Mariehamn 1382 RB
After a rough 2018, Mäenpää has returned strongly. He is an active defender, who is very capable in the air, and is decent enough on the ball. Kalle Taimi as a comp seems fair, and with age on his side, there’s potential for more.
16 (6) Eemeli Virta 19 Lahti 1548 MC
At the start of the season, I would have predicted Lahti to be one of the teams to struggle this season. They haven’t been great, but they haven’t really been involved in the relegation scrap all season, which should be considered a fairly successful all round performance. Virta has been one of the players on which Lahti have leaned the hardest, and he deserves a lot of credit for the performances he has put out. He intercepts a lot, wins headers, and moves the ball around neatly. It’s all a little Aleksi Paananen, but that isn’t a terrible comp for a young player.
17 (16) Eetu Vertainen 20 HJK 1101 CF
Vertainen finally managed to score his first goal of the season in August, with a placed finish after a bit of opportunistic penalty-box-hanging, something that doesn’t really change the trajectory of his season, but should get a load off his back. In fact, I hope it gives him more confidence to be less involved, and to stay in the box more, as that has traditionally been his weakness. Has the talent for more, and will get another chance to prove so next season, even if I think a move could be beneficial.
18 (18) Enoch Banza 19 KPV (HJK) 1178 RW
2019 has been a success for Banza in one aspect only, unfortunately, and that is that he has been able to stay fit enough to accumulate a decent workload of minutes at the Veikkausliiga level. He hasn’t exactly performed to expectations, and I’m not sure he’ll get a chance to play for HJK next year either. That shouldn’t discourage him, as there are ample examples of players with his exact profile who have gone abroad after only a season of good form after having left HJK, but he needs to take the next opportunity before time starts to run out.
19 (20) Anttoni Huttunen 18 MyPa 1535 LW
Huttunen is out for the season, but has shown enough that there should be clubs hovering if his contract situation would allow for a move in the offseason. Has trained with the HIFK first team this season, apparently, so that would seem like a natural potential destination.
20 (15) Axel Vidjeskog 18 Jaro 1063 LW
Vidjeskog is younger than Kähkönen and Olusanya, has played less, and has been less impressive, I think. That isn’t to say that he hasn’t been impressive, just that he’s facing stiff competition. Statistically, he compares fairly well to a younger Lauri Ala-Myllymäki  – if that’s who Vidjeskog is at 18, then I’m intrigued to see in which direction he’s going to develop.
21 (27) Jeremiah Streng 18 SJK 696 CF
Streng has battled his way into the first team, and at the moments seems like the primary option up front for SJK. Although it hasn’t been an inevitability, competition hasn’t exactly been fierce, with Matheus Batista not impressing and Billy Ions struggling with fitness. Streng isn’t the main culprit for SJK’s struggles to score, but it is something that can’t be dismissed. That being said, he has looked good at times – he moves well in the box, and has a tendency to get on the end of crosses (which is something that young players can struggle with at first), and SJK’s conservative approach in attack does him few favors. Although it’s early to draw that comparison, one should remember that Benjamin Källman didn’t exactly impress in his first season in the Veikkausliiga before breaking out in a big way in his second. Hopefully SJK will be patient with Streng, because the upside is big.
22 (N/A) Pyry Lampinen 17 Lahti 437 CF
Much of what I wrote about Streng could be repeated for Lampinen, except he scored with his first two shots for Lahti. He has been given a lot of responsibility in his first season in the top tier, but there are caveats involving questionable recruiting. He’s been played on the right a bit, which is something I don’t think he looks particularly suited for, but could be good for his development long term. The Källman reminder is relevant here as well.
23 (22) Matias Tamminen 18 RoPS 630 CF
Tamminen is third in this tier of players, but the ordering could just as well be any other way. He’s getting his feet wet and has scored a couple of goals already. Seems to have more of a poacher’s instinct than Lampinen or Streng – his second goal of the season, and his performances for KTP last season are testament to this – but it’s still early so we’ll see. Lex Källman persists in his case also.
24 (19) Teemu Jäntti 19 Lahti 831 MC
Jäntti has played a fair bit for a player his age, and he has a bunch of interesting characteristics – he’s dynamic, has a good shot and can carry the ball – but he hasn’t yet been able to put it all together. Isn’t a great passer, which adds to it, but there’s promise there if he can learn to harness it. His goal this weekend is something I think he could do more of – arriving late in the box from a counter.
25 (30) Daniel Rantanen 21 EIF 1765 MC
I’m unsure about Rantanen, but you can’t dismiss the numbers he is putting up. He’s scoring (albeit only against MyPa) and assisting, and he has the passing range to go far, but he can look a little laborious, which makes me wonder about whether he has the legs to play at a higher level. Is very similar to Anton Popovits in playing style and ability, so could be an option for teams looking at him (or Haka, if they are unable to lock him down).
26 (N/A) Naatan Skyttä 17 Ilves 268 AMC
I generally don’t like to add guys until they’ve played something approaching enough, and Skyttä hasn’t, but in the brief moments he has had on the pitch, he has stood out big time. His numbers are irrelevant at this point, but he simply looks like he belongs. If I’d do this list on talent alone, I’d be hard pressed to find someone to place above him. I don’t think there’s a reason not to play him for Ilves, and I think he could have contributed more than some of the alternatives, which is sad. Next year, he’ll be their best and most important player, unless someone snaps him up first.
27 (N/A) Elias Mastokangas 18 Inter 257 AMC
Mastokangas is in almost exactly the same position as Skyttä – he’s played little, but looked really good when he’s played. The primary reason behind his low amount of playing time is less his ability and more the inherent conservatism of a title chase. I liked him a lot when he made his first appearances two years ago, and am willing to make an exception for him.
28 (25) Evans Mensah 21 HJK 868 RW
I think it’s possible that HJK won’t exercise the option for 2020 in Mensah’s contract, which isn’t to say that he doesn’t have promise, but that he just has struggled to find any kind of consistency. He can dribble, he likes a shot, and is a generally *good* footballer, but has struggled in key games, and seems to perform best against the worst opponents, which isn’t optimal.
29 (23) Niklas Jokelainen 19 RoPS 775 CF
Jokelainen hasn’t really been getting into the RoPS team lately – I wonder if it’s due to availability or whether there’s something else going on behind the scenes. Look under the hood and he’s actually been pretty good, just hasn’t scored from the chances he’s gotten. He’s better than this, but time will tell if he’ll get the chance to prove it.
30 (23) Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 20 RoPS (HJK) 527 LW
Of the group of young wingers on the books at HJK, I think Kouassivi-Benissan is the most likely to become a productive player for them. Efforts to make a right back out of him have been unsuccessful, and his best performances so far have been further forward on the wing. Already scored his first goal for RoPS, and will hopefully play a big part in the rest of their season. Jasin-Amin Assehnoun with 1000 less minutes seems like a tempting comp.
31 (31) Martti Haukioja 19 VPS 1408 LB
Haukioja has been a surprisingly good attacking outlet for VPS, but his defense has left some room for improvement. Not sure he has the engine to be able to do both effectively, but if he does, he could become a good player.
32 (24) Mehdi El-Moutacim 19 EIF 2085 GK
El-Moutacim is the U22 leader in minutes played in the top two tiers. His passing can be a bit erratic, mostly because he keeps attempting high risk-low reward passes, but I think it shows confidence and personality.
33 (42) Mauro Severino 20 TPV 758 RW
Severino has been good on his return to TPV, and I think he’s looked good whenever I’ve seen him play. Hopefully he’ll get another chance at Veikkausliiga level.
34 (32) Omar Jama 21 EIF 1700 MC
I’m admittedly a fan of Jama, and there are plenty of good reasons to be just that. I think he would fit a lot of the better Veikkausliiga teams quite well. At EIF he anchors their midfield, but has also been capable of chipping in with a couple of assists. His defensive output leaves something to be desired, and that might be the big holdup.
35 (34) Kevin Larsson 18 HIFK 476 RW
Larsson hasn’t been in the side a lot lately – hopefully he’ll see some more minutes now that HIFK don’t have a lot to play for.
36 (N/A) Ville Tikkanen 20 SJK 581 CB
Last year, there was something of a competition between Tikkanen, Katz and Valtteri Vesiaho: for two spots in the U19 Euros starting XI defence, and for the prestigious placement on this here list. Vesiaho and Tikkanen ended up playing the bulk of the U19 Euros minutes, but Katz was placed higher on the list. It’s taken Tikkanen a while to get back on the pitch for SJK, but he’s there now, and he’s been pretty good.
37 (N/A) Joonas Sundman 21 SJK 948 LB
Sundman is like the left sided Aapo Mäenpää – good in the air, fairly solid defensively, could do with some more end product. I’m unsure about the upside, but full back is a problem position for the national team, so small improvements have the possibility to carry him surprisingly far.
38 (29) Mikko Kuningas 22 Inter 1615 MC
Again, Kuningas is a competent Veikkausliiga player, and an important cog in a well working Inter machinery. He’s being played at wing back occasionally, and he is still a good creator for a midfielder, but I’m getting the feeling that he might be reaching his ceiling.
39 (46) Diogo Tomas 22 Ilves 760 CB
Tomas is something of a personal favorite of mine, which is why he gets a bit of leeway. He’s great in the air, and I think he’s a very capable defender – especially one-on-one. Has been playing more recently, which is nice to see.
40 (N/A) Maximo Tolonen 18 SJK 397 AMC
It hasn’t exactly worked out for Tolonen. He’s still young, and he’s been patiently waiting for an opportunity to break into the SJK first team, but being benched in favour of Jesse Sarajärvi can only mean one (or two) of two things: not showing enough in training and/or games or absolutely blatant nepotism. The talent is there – he’s still a key performer for the Finland U19 team – but we’re still waiting for it to materialise.
41 (33) Tuomas Ollila 19 KTP 1588 LB
Ollila is the left sided version of Hyvärinen, in that he has some defensive deficiencies but makes up for it by being effective in attack. Has some major struggles in the air, which is troubling for a full back, and probably makes him more suitable as a wing back.
42 (35) Johannes Kytilä 19 MyPa 1990 CB
Kytilä has the third most minutes of all outfielders at Ykkönen level this year and hasn’t always looked great to be honest. He has the size, and is competent in challenges, but can look slow and is a key part of a defence that’s just too easy to break down. Youth is a good excuse, but not for forever.
43 (36) Momodou Sarr 19 VPS 1534 CF/RW
Sarr is having a fascinating season in that his scoring and assisting is at a fairly decent level, but everything else is less promising. In the brief moments I’ve seen him play, he hasn’t looked particularly convincing, which is why he’s a bit lower than his playing time would suggest.
44 (37) Tiemoko Fofana 20 Ilves 1318 CF
I fear Fofana would have needed to play better for Ilves to maintain their title challenge. He doesn’t get enough action in the box, even though whenever I watch him play, it looks like he should. His creativity numbers are pretty decent, though, so maybe that’s what keeps him in the team.
45 (45) Simon Lindholm 18 EIF 743 MC
I still struggle to place Lindholm, as I’ve yet to see him stand out in any way. A conservative placement based on playing time until this changes.
46 (50) Joonas Lakkamäki 17 MuSa 816 RB
Little has changed from last month: Lakkamäki is a youth international full back who has been playing a fair bit so far this season. Can struggle a bit in the air, and with runs in behind, but is diligent defensively as long as the play stays in front of him.
47 (39) Teppo Marttinen 22 KPV 1610 GK
Marttinen had a bit of a mare versus HJK this month, but he’s still the young goalkeeper with the most played minutes in the top tier. I still prefer that to sitting on the bench for a better team, or not playing at all.
48 (N/A) Tuukka Andberg 21 HIFK 603 CB
Andberg has been around for a while. It took some time for him to get in the side this year, but he has showed some good   – if inconsistent – performances and been rewarded with a call up to the U21 national team.
49 (41) Rony Huhtala 21 MyPa 1301 CF
Huhtala is good, alright? You’re just going to have to take my word for it. Is on a hot streak, and will need to stay hot if MyPa are going to stay up.
50 (N/A) Joakim Latonen 21 TPS 1057 LW
Latonen struggled to get into the side last year in the Veikkausliiga, and has not been an automatic started this year either. He’s an active shooter and a good creator, and I hope he’ll keep his place in the side next year.

Bubbling under:

Samuel Uusitalo – has received a fair bit of playing time for Jaro as injuries have piled up and has looked a strong defender in the brief time I’ve seen him play.

Jyri Kiuru – has started two consecutive games for SJK under Brian Page – I’m not a huge fan to be honest, but on the other hand, me being a fan hasn’t really helped Rony Huhtala either, so who knows.

Altin Zeqiri – moved to Lahti during the summer, has played a little, and has looked sharp.

Thanks for reading, the final list of the season will appear in about a month, so follow me on Twitter to get it fresh out of the oven!

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – August update

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – August update

A month ago, I relaunched my prospect Power Ranking series that I started last season. Since then, the market has been fairly quiet, more quiet than last season, even if the top player from last month’s list, Lassi Lappalainen, moved to Bologna, and then from there on loan to Impact Montreal.

With Lappalainen’s move, the ranks of top tier prospects is getting a little thin. Lucas Lingman and Lauri Ala-Myllymäki are arguably the two young players you could see making a move this month, even if neither of their teams will want to sell, and from that tier to the next, there’s quite a large gap. That’s mostly because of a couple of factors. Firstly, there have been a large amount of prospect sales in the past couple of years. It seems like Finland is slowly rehabilitating its reputation as a breeding ground for interesting footballers, which is a very good thing! Secondly, a lot of highly touted young players have failed to live up to expectations, either due to bad form, injuries or personal problems, and are therefore either not listed at all, or lower down than you would maybe have thought last year, or the year before.

Development isn’t linear, though, so a lot of the players I’m a little down on at the moment have ample time to turn it around. Albion Ademi, for example, simply hasn’t played enough this season to be considered – had he played even 500 minutes at roughly the same level as last season, he’d probably be in the top 10. It feels like guys like Eetu Vertainen and Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan are just a successful loan away from bouncing back (Kouassivi-Benissan has actually gone on loan, whereas Vertainen hasn’t). Sometimes things happen that are sub-optimal, and the way you respond to them will determine how far you go in whatever you’re doing, so I’m preaching patience.

There’s also an interesting generation of young players bubbling under – specifically attackers. Guys like Pyry Lampinen, Matias Tamminen, Sampo Ala and Jeremiah Streng are already getting starts for their respective teams. Elias Mastokangas, Arlind Sejdiu, Naatan Skyttä, Eetu Rissanen, Martin Salin, Eemeli Raittinen, Tomi Kult, Taaniel Usta are only some of the names that are starting to feel more relevant by the minute. Now it’s just up to the teams to start leaning even harder on them, to see if they bend or break.

A reminder that the I’m only covering players owned by a team in Finland, so notable prospects like Kaan Kairinen, Jude Arthur and so forth are disregarded. I’m also only interested in players younger than 23, and since age is tricky since it changes all the time, I’m going to use age seasons instead (that is, if you’re born in 2000, your age season in 2019 is 19). A reminder that I’m heavily favouring minutes played over most other statistics, as I think that it is what’s most important for young players. I’m also weighing minutes at the top tier higher than minutes at Ykkönen level, because of course I am.

2019 Graduates:

Lassi Lappalainen, Bologna

The list:

Rank (previous) Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 (2) Lucas Lingman 21 RoPS 1705 MC
Lingman and Ala-Myllymäki have similar claims to the throne at the moment, and I consider them to be something of a tier of their own, as players who should probably move in this window (but probably won’t) to continue to develop. Ilmari Niskanen would be a part of this tier if he wouldn’t be showing signs of stagnation. Lingman did well against Aberdeen, and is a legitimate spark at this level. The next step is going to be HJK wether any of us like it or not, isn’t it, but I think he’d be well suited for something like the Netherlands as well.
2 (3) Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 22 Ilves 1498 AMC/CF
Too many of his goals have been penalties and direct free kicks for my liking (not that either of those categories of goals are bad, just that they are unequally distributed, and we’re projecting here), but there’s more to his game than that (he does a ton of defensive work for a forward) and there’s a strong feeling of him carrying the team on his back at times. It’s a nice story, and winning the league before heading abroad would be a nice ending of this chapter.
3 (8) Jasin-Amin Assehnoun 21 Lahti 1273 LW
Assehnoun is breaking out in a big way this season. Most metrics are looking positive, with dribbling being his strongest suit. At the moment, he mostly provides for his teammates (or shoots from pretty poor locations) so would like to see him become more of a goal threat by getting into the box more. I think there are the raw materials for a good player here, he just needs to keep going to establish himself.
4 (4) Juho Hyvärinen 19 RoPS 1736 RB
Hyvärinen is intriguing because he seems to have a lot of tools in his toolbox, the question is whether he can start to use more of them at the same time. At the moment, for a poor RoPS side, he doesn’t stand out in any particular way – which could be considered natural for a right back. But at some point he is going to have to step up, or run the risk of becoming just another guy with potential. I think he needs a move, and I wonder if he’s going to get it.
5 (7) Kalle Katz 19 RoPS (HJK) 1288 CB
Katz and Hyvärinen are similar in many ways, in that they both have a ton of potential, but similarly have a lot of questions to answer, mostly off the ball. Katz isn’t great in the air, and the more he plays, the more opponents are going to start exploiting it. He compensates by being good at carrying the ball, and passing it out of the back. Only thing is, his team isn’t always set up to utilise it. Could be better suited to play for HJK, questions is whether he will be allowed to do so.
6 (14) Eemeli Virta 19 Lahti 1405 MC
Virta gets a bit of a boost for being one of the lynchpins in Lahti’s midfield. Lahti have surprised me a little bit, by being… competent and Virta has played a big part in that. He is a good technician and a calm passer, and does a lot of defensive work for a midfielder (93d percentile in interceptions). A player to follow.
7 (18) Salomo Ojala 22 FC Haka 1430 CF
I struggle to place Ojala, not because he isn’t performing, but because I’m not sure what his upside is. At 22, it’s a fairly late breakout, and we’ve seen players with a similarish profile be ok-only at the next level. The question for Ojala is going to be whether he’s got another gear, or whether he’s going to establish himself in the Ilari Mettälä/Aristote Mboma tier of good-not-great Veikkausliiga centre forwards. Next year will be instructive, this year, let’s just enjoy the emergence of an Ykkönen level superstar.
8 (12) Severi Kähkönen 19 Jaro 869 AMC
After last month’s update, I wanted to have a closer look at Kähkönen so I watched a couple of Jaro matches, and to be honest, I liked what I saw. As I’m typing this, thinking about him, he strikes me as a Sebastian Mannström type player – quick head, quick feet, capable of receiving in tight spaces and making good decisions on the ball. Can pass, dribble and has scored a couple of goals. It’s still early, but I’d be intrigued to see how he’d look one level higher.
9 (25) Akseli Ollila 19 EIF 1288 LW
I was conservative in my placement of Ollila in the previous list, because his numbers were sort of mediocre-ish, his team was struggling, and I simply hadn’t seen him play. After watching him for a couple of games in July, I’m back on the hype train – slightly. Versus MuSa, he was absolutely unstoppable – the kind of performance that makes you sit up and pay attention. He’s young, and he has a lot nice abilities – not least of which, a tendency to score goals. He feels a bit like Lassi Lappalainen in that he can dribble some, but stands out more through smart movement off the ball.
10 (11) Anthony Olusanya 19 Jaro 1041 CF/LW
Olusanya has had a good start to the season, and he has a lot of the intangible attributes required to become a regular goalscorer like finding him in the right place at the right time, and timing his runs behind the defensive line. He does seem a little less polished than Ollila and Kähkönen, which is why he’s placed at the end of this group. Either way, 0.55 goals per 90 is something to pay attention to.
11 (17) Aapo Mäenpää 21 IFK Mariehamn 1148 RB
In terms of defensive activity, Mäenpää is putting up some really strong numbers – tackles, interceptions, challenges, aerial duels. He’s struggling somewhat with his passing, but as a lock on the right hand side, he’s a key component of IFK Mariehamn’s defence.
12 (5) Ilmari Niskanen 22 KuPS 1657 RW
As the clock strikes twelve, is Niskanen turning into a pumpkin? Was last season just a mirage? Does he have some kind of unreported lingering injury issue? He finally scored his first goal of the season in July, but he did it in such a way that I wonder if it’s going to do him more harm than good, as long shooting is an activity he should spend as little time doing as possible. Get in the box, man, where you were last season!
13 (10) Tommi Jyry 20 KuPS 931 MC
Jyry is a handy midfielder, a good passer who is fairly quick and covers a lot of ground. At the moment, though, he profiles as an Aleksi Paananen-type player, which is fairly decent in isolation, but I would like to see him add some more defensive activity, or end product, to show that he has something more in his locker.
14 (35) Yussif Moussa 21 Ilves 935 MC/AMC
I’ve watched Moussa play a little bit in the past month, and I like what I see. He seems to have a bit of everything in his locker: he shoots a lot, he tackles a lot, he intercepts a bit, he’s on the ball a lot. The big question seems to be what his best position is, but at the moment, he looks like a contributor either way.
15 (15) Axel Vidjeskog 18 Jaro 800 AMC
Stays in place for only playing 70 minutes in July. Not a criticism per se, but as Kähkönen and Olusanya have started to make themselves indispensable for a Jaro in ascendancy, Vidjeskog has ridden the bench.
16 (6) Eetu Vertainen 20 HJK 1056 CF
Vertainen only played around an hour in July, and that hour was a fairly wretched hour of football. He seemed to be dropped from the squad even before HJK started splurging some of that Lappalainen cash on attacking talent. It’s a sad state of affairs in many ways, and I really think he’d do well to go on loan somewhere. The thing that keeps my hope alive is how dominant he looked for Klubi 04 last season in the brief moments he played there – when, seemingly, he was allowed to play to his strengths as a teams’ most important attacking player. A spell at a side lower down the table could do wonders for his confidence.
17 (9) Niklas Jokelainen 19 RoPS 772 CF
Not unlike Vertainen, Jokelainen has suffered from some bad luck/bad finishing this season. Unfortunately, not unlike Vertainen, that means he’ll probably get less playing time as a result – indeed, Jokelainen has been forced to ride the pine a bit in the past month. When he plays, he’s a shot happy, dribbly, left footed striker – a lazy comparison would be… a left footed Eetu Vertainen.
18 (21) Enoch Banza 19 KPV (HJK) 1128 RW
When Enoch Banza debuted for HJK he looked like an explosive, exciting wing prospect. Since then, he’s struggled to add to his repertoire, which is why he’s been sent on loan for the season. Statistically, he’s struggling to hit the 50th percentile in most metrics – with completed dribbles and goals scored (barely) the exceptions. I still want more from him.
19 (34) Teemu Jäntti 19 Lahti 813 MC
Jäntti plays with impressive intensity and covers a lot of ground, but seems to lack a little something in terms of game intelligence. Being able to cover a variety of positions makes him a valuable piece in Lahti’s squad building. In theory, him and Virta should make for a good midfield partnership.
20 (16) Anttoni Huttunen 19 MyPA 1385 LW
Huttunen has been a rare spark for a struggling MyPA, serving as a key creative outlet on the left of their midfield. He can look his age, though, and although he has shown that he can contribute in flashes, I would like to see some more consistency from him.
21 (24) Santeri Väänänen 17 HJK 418 MC
I’m still looking for Väänänen to play a bit more to have him rise any higher. In fairness, with a couple of hundred minutes more, he’d probably be in the top 5, but he’ll have to earn it. Progress in the Europa League Qualifiers has benefitted him, as it forced HJK to rotate the squad more than usually. He’s always had bite, but now he’s started to the nice touches going forward he’s showed for the youth national team. Alex Ring is probably the closest comp at this point, but he’ll have time to establish himself as his own player if he stays at HJK.
22 (N/A) Matias Tamminen 18 RoPS 483 CF
Tamminen scored his first Veikkausliiga goal in July with a deft finish/lucky deflection – and followed it up with a nicely taken goal last week. Like so many players considered for this list, he is still mostly projection, but he’s played a decent amount for his age, and is starting to hit some level of form. He’s got the build of a good centre forward, but has some work to do to convert that size into shots and goals.
23 (30) Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 20 RoPS (HJK) 408 RB/LW
After some early season struggles, Kouassivi-Benissan was loaned out to RoPS, which is a move I endorse wholeheartedly. At his best, he can be a wonderful attacking player, capable of carrying the ball forward at pace and finishing from different angles. At HJK, he hasn’t found that type of form yet, but in a less pressured environment (and maybe further forward) he might have the opportunity to do so.
24 (13) Mehdi El-Moutacim 19 EIF 1709 GK
El-Moutacim remains the young goalkeeper making the most noise in the top two tiers of Finnish football, although it is something of a barren field at the moment. His passing is good, but he’s struggled some with some of the more traditional aspects of goalkeeping. He’s plenty experienced for his age though, and can expect to get better the more he plays.
25 (22) Evans Mensah 21 HJK 677 RW
Mensah has played in a lot of HJK’s most important games this season, and has really struggled to make an impact. According to rumours, he was being shipped out of the club during the winter, but with little interest in his services, he stayed. In the Veikkausliiga, he is a perfectly good player, but I’m still waiting for him to take a step up.
26 (26) Sampo Ala 17 RoPS 314 CF
Ala barely played in July so stays in place. Has managed to get on the end of a decent amount of good chances in brief playing time.
27 (N/A) Jeremiah Streng 18 SJK 372 CF
Burst onto the scene during the winter cup games, but has struggled to retain his place in the side during the summer. Seems to be well thought of, and seems like a genuine centre forward prospect. Has looked decent in what little playing time he has received. Good in the air, especially for his age, and is capable of finding space in the box.
28 (23) Niilo Mäenpää 21 Inter 918 MC/AMC
Stands out more for his defensive work than anything else. Is used as something of a monkey wrench for Inter, as he’s played a lot of different positions. Not the most exciting profile, but has contributed well to the form of high-flying Inter.
29 (20) Mikko Kuningas 22 Inter 1426 MC/AMC
Much like Mäenpää, Kuningas benefits from playing a fair bit for a well functioning side. Statistically, he’s always stood out due to his end product, and he has been a creative force once again this season even if his goals have dried up a bit. Is probably one of the better players on this list, but I question whether there’s much unfulfilled upside left.
30 (32) Daniel Rantanen 21 EIF 1396 MC
Rantanen looks a man reborn for EIF – or, reborn as himself at least, as he’s still mostly himself. He has good passing range, his long cross field passes to Akseli Ollila can be a weapon, and he likes a shot, especially from range. He has end product, which is a nice, rare bonus from midfield. Not sure if he’s more than just a good Ykkönen midfielder, though.
31 (19) Martti Haukioja 19 VPS 1408 LB
Haukioja has played a lot for VPS this year, but has struggled to make an impact, much as the rest of his teammates. Is very young, which is easy to forget, considering he made his debut in 2016, so will get a chance to bounce back.
32 (27) Omar Jama 21 EIF 1358 MC
Jama seems like a classic high floor/low ceiling kind of prospect. Can look a little bored, almost, with the tempo at Ykkönen level. Would like to see him bounce back to the league next year, because he has a bunch of interesting attributes – namely, being a good passer and decent dribbler.
33 (33) Tuomas Ollila 19 KTP 1271 LB
Is coming to his own a little bit at KTP, it seems. Can be a genuine attacking threat if allowed to progress up his flank. Has a very good cross on him. Suffers from being a bit on the short side for a defender.
34 (31) Kevin Larsson 18 HIFK 465 RW
It feels like both Larsson and Joel Mattsson are probably going to lose their places in the side as HIFK’s signings settle. I hope not – both have promise, but their performances have been inconsistent. I’ve been surprised by the amount of playing time Larsson has been given, and I’ve yet to really get what kind of player he is. One to follow up on.
35 (29) Johannes Kytilä 19 MyPA 1703 CB
Is playing all the minutes for what is essentially the worst team in the top two tiers. Has a bit of prospect pedigree, but hasn’t been able to convert it into consistent quality performances quite yet.
36 (28) Momodou Sarr 19 VPS 1269 CF/RW
Sarr seems to be playing mostly due to the lack of options at VPS. He looks pretty overmatched at the moment, even if his playing a lot. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have potential, just that it’s difficult to know whether he does or not.
37 (39) Tiemoko Fofana 20 Ilves 1015 CF
Has played a fair bit for Ilves, and looks a decent player, but has yet to really start to contribute with shots and goals. Not to lean into the basic trope about African players, but he looks very capable of smartly using his body to shield the ball.
38 (37) Tommi Jäntti 19 RoPS 596 AMC
Biggest moment of his season (and maybe career) so far has been the away goal at Aberdeen. Isn’t playing a lot, but is in the team consistently. Not exactly sure what to think of him.
39 (N/A) Teppo Marttinen 22 KPV 1327 GK
Marttinen has played a lot of football for his age, which isn’t something a lot of the young goalkeepers considered can say. I’m not entirely convinced about his potential, but he’s liked enough to play, which is a good thing.
40 (42) Alexander Jibrin 21 AC Oulu 1385 CB
Jibrin is like a poor man’s Kalle Katz in some ways – an aggressive defender who can carry the ball forward, but is a little weak in the air.
41 (40) Rony Huhtala 21 MyPA 1146 CF
Huhtala has been a consistent producer of xG at Ykkönen level for three seasons now, yet has been plagued by playing for bad teams ever since leaving Honka in 2017. Still think he is far better than he’s given credit for, and I will die on this hill.
42 (N/A) Mauro Severino 20 TPV 440 RW
I like Severino a lot, but three Veikkausliiga teams have already given up on him in around two years. He looks good when he plays, but I wonder about his representation, or whether there’s something else that makes it difficult to deal with him. Can hopefully settle down and show what he can do. Is tricky and a regular producer of shots when he plays.
43 (41) Joel Mattsson 20 HIFK 1097 RW
Mattsson, much like Haukioja, seems to have been around for ages yet is only 20. Still haven’t figured out what he’s supposed to be good at, though, except doing a lot of defensive work and being quite good in the air (apparently).
44 (36) Paavo Voutilainen 20 EIF 1425 CB
Is playing a lot, but I’m not sure if he’s being challenged. He’s playing in a back three, with a lot of experience around him. Doesn’t stand out in any way, but that can be a good thing for a centre half.
45 (N/A) Simon Lindholm 17 EIF 676 MC
Lindholm is a funny looking player. He’s really tall, and can look a little clumsy, but he’s a surprisingly good dribbler. Not quite sure how to place him yet, and he could yet move both forward or back on the pitch, depending on what his strengths and weaknesses are as a player – he has the frame to do both.
46 (44) Diogo Tomas 22 Ilves 550 CB/CF
Has mostly been used as a late weapon in attack from the bench due to his impressive aerial ability. Maybe needs a move if he isn’t going to play, because he’s definitely good enough to start.
47 (47) Jonas Häkkinen 20 VPS 1420 MC/CB
Häkkinen is a versatile defensive player who is good on the ball for a defender. He’s playing for a terrible team, though, which docks him some imaginary points.
48 (43) Anton Eerola 20 KTP 1311 MC
Eerola is a bit of a unit, and he’s quite decent at using his size to his advantage. He intercepts a lot, tackles quite a lot, wins a lot of aerial duels, contests a lot of challenges. He is a bit limited in his passing, but serves a purpose in defence.
49 (46) Antti Ulmanen 20 EIF 799 CF
Ulmanen has been… alright for EIF. There aren’t a ton of young centre forwards playing regularly at either of the top two levels, so he gets the nod for being one of them.
50 (N/A) Joonas Lakkamäki 17 MuSa 528 RB
Lakkamäki is a youth international right back, and it’s starting to look like he might be breaking through at Ykkönen level as well. Haven’t seen a lot of him to be honest, but will keep an eye out.

Bubbling under

Elias Mastokangas – scored his first senior goal, and has started a couple of games – a personal favourite of mine since a couple of years back.

Taaniel Usta – scored on his debut for KTP, looks quick and physical for his age.

Pyry Lampinen – managed to score two goals in two starts in July, needs to play more though.

John Fagerström – is a bit older, but has looked good after his switch to center forward, could be a candidate to do a Salomo Ojala next season.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be trying to update the list at a monthly pace, so follow me on Twitter if you’re interested!

Who is Lassi Lappalainen?

Who is Lassi Lappalainen?

After a month-or-so of speculation, last week it was confirmed that Lassi Lappalainen had been sold to Bologna, from which he was immediately loaned to Montreal Impact for the rest of the season. Lappalainen follows the path laid out by Saku Ylätupa, Timo Stavitski and Leo Väisänen, having come through the HJK youth system before moving to RoPS to hone his development before moving abroad. Of the four aforementioned, Lappalainen is the only player to provide any sort of actual, concrete, non-monetary benefit for HJK, as he has appeared in 16 Veikkausliiga games this season, after a handful of games as a sub in the preceding years.

Lappalainen has had a meteoric rise in the past two years. After a short loan spell at RoPS in 2017, he returned for 2018, and instantly became the teams’ most important player. He made his debut for the Finland national team in early 2019, and has since locked down a place in the squad, even in competitive fixtures. For now, he serves as an impact substitution (a role that suits him well), but he has looked comfortable, and will likely soon establish himself as one of the starting options on the left hand side of attack/midfield.

Lappalainen is a prime example of how important a it is for young players to play for organisations that value individual player development, who are ready to build around the strengths of young players. The key move in Lappalainen’s career was his first loan to RoPS in late summer of 2017, as he immediately found himself in a team that were capable of unlocking his latent strengths. He went from a question mark to one of the most fearsome players in the league in one moment, just because he was allowed to play to his strengths.


Lappalainen’s major strength is his pace. It could be considered deceptive because his overall habitus is quite laid back and borderline lethargic, but when he gets going, there isn’t a player in the league that can catch up with him. He is a good dribbler, but if the circumstances are right, he is more of a threat getting on the end of passes behind the line. As a finisher, he has the same type of swagger that Thierry Henry had, preferring to give the goalkeeper the eyes before passing it past him over powering it into the goal – which is also why he can frustrate a bit in front of goal, as when he fails, it can look a little silly. I think it’s a positive trait, though, because it shows a desire to keep a cool head, and something that should develop with age and maturity.


Looking at his shot maps, it might look like Lappalainen struggles to get shots from the best scoring zones, but what they don’t convey is the sheer volume of chances he gets one-on-one with the goalkeeper. For RoPS last season, a long ball over the top from left back Taye Taiwo for Lappalainen to get on the end of was one of their main goal threats.


This season, he has been able to correct that trend somewhat, by adding a couple of high quality chances from central areas close to the goal, but his overall volume has suffered as a consequence. This is likely due to a couple of things: playing for HJK means that you are automatically afforded less space in behind, due to them being the clear favourites in every game they play, and the fact that HJK started the season playing in a way that was a little sub-optimal for a speedster like Lappalainen, emphasizing a very patient build-up over attacking quickly.


Having played for the Finnish national team, Lappalainen has proven himself ready to take the next step in his career. For HJK, it is a good deal financially (the rumored price is 1M€ plus a slice of any future transfer fee), but a slight let down from a sporting perspective – after all, he is not only the top prospect in Finnish league football, but has also been one of the best players in the league overall over the past two years, yet HJK could never quite get the level of performance from him that he produced for RoPS. Money in the bank is a good thing objectively, but it does very little for you on the pitch unless you can invest it wisely. For Lappalainen, the move is a good one. The difference between the Veikkausliiga and Serie A is large enough that a year in Canada is more than optimal for him to get some more experience at a moderately higher level. For Bologna, it represents a fairly cheap upside bet (they recently bought Andreas Skov Olsen for a reported 6M€ – a better prospect for sure, but six times better?) with the chance of becoming an impact player for them in the future. For Montreal Impact, it’s a chance to see an exciting young player, if only for a brief spell, who has the potential to be a game winner for them. It also provides a rare opportunity to see how steep the difference is between the leagues in question – if Lappalainen hits the ground running, it might help convince MLS sides to pay more attention to the Finnish market, where prices are lower than the rest of North Europe – something I believe to be a good idea for all parties involved.

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2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – July update

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – July update

Last season, I started documenting prospects in an exercise that I found quite rewarding. Since I started the series, we’ve seen almost 10 established young players (Ulrich Meleke, Onni Valakari, Benjamin Källman, Marius Noubissi, Leo Väisänen, Rasmus Karjalainen, Sterling Yateke, Santeri Hostikka, Samu Volotinen) move abroad to greater things, most of them coming from the top end of the ranking. Apart from those players, there has been a fair amount of domestic upward movement from the mid-to-bottom section of the list as well – i.e. Väinö Vehkonen and Nooa Laine getting picked up by HJK or the glut of players moving to RoPS.

In any case, I thought I’d continue this exercise this season as well, with one caveat. I haven’t had the time to follow either the Veikkausliiga or Ykkönen at anything approaching the same level I did last season, so any observation will mostly be based on prior knowledge and data from this season. On the other hand, the data I will be using will be of better quality than last season, as I will be using InStat’s full dataset, including location data for all events.

Since last season, some high profile players have also exceeded the age threshold I arbitrarily set last season (23) – Sebastian Dahlström, Eero-Matti Auvinen, Hanson Boakai, Joonas Vahtera being the ones mentioned in the final version of the 2018 list.

As this exercise is based on games played in the top two tiers of Finnish football, I’ll try to avoid getting influenced by national team performances, even if it can be hard at times. While I’m also trying to discount games played in Europe, it’s a little harder, and so will allow some slight biases to creep in from those games. In summary, this also means that players who haven’t played at either domestic level won’t be mentioned. The major point of the list is to try to gauge prospect value through looking at stats, so it would feel kind of pointless if there weren’t any stats to look at. This all means that this first list of the season is going to look quite different to the one I wrote last autumn, especially considering we’re only just over halfway through the first stage of the league season, and since Klubi 04 and JJK, who were heavily represented last season, are no longer eligible.

So here goes. A reminder that the I’m only covering players owned by a team in Finland, so notable prospects like Sergei Eremenko, Kaan Kairinen, Jude Arthur and so forth are disregarded. I’m also only interested in players younger than 23, and since age is tricky since it changes all the time, I’m going to use age seasons instead (that is, if you’re born in 2000, your age season in 2019 is 19). A reminder that I’m heavily favouring minutes played over most other statistics, as I think that it is what’s most important for young players. I’m also weighing minutes at the top tier higher than minutes at Ykkönen level, because of course I am.

Rank (previous) Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 (1) Lassi Lappalainen 21 HJK 1401 LW
After a true breakout season for RoPS, Lappalainen has returned to HJK and looked… more vulnerable? He was always going to get less space playing for HJK, and will need to figure out how to be more effective with what little he gets. He’s still very dangerous, and probably the most valuable asset in the Veikkausliiga, but is a bit of a square peg in a round hole at the moment. A move is on the horizon, and it makes a lot of sense for all parties.
2 (5) Lucas Lingman 21 RoPS 1419 MC
Is there a player in the league who is more important for his team than Lingman is for RoPS? At the moment, he’s doing everything – advancing the ball through passing, carrying the ball, creating, tackling, intercepting. He’s largely been carrying the team since he arrived – essentially playing every single minute he’s available for – and there are surely greater things waiting for him. Do look up his sumptuous through ball for RoPS’ only goal away at Aberdeen this Thursday.
3 (8) Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 22 Ilves 1032 AMC
I thought Ala-Myllymäki was heading abroad at the end of the season, and that he didn’t surely wasn’t for the wont of trying, seeing as he signed a two year extension with Ilves pretty late into the new year. In any case, he’s back with a vengeance. Ilves are flying high, and he’s playing a big part in their success. At the moment, he’s overperforming his xG quite a bit, but there’s more to his game then scoring, so no worries. Rumours are starting to swirl, and for good reason.
4 (9) Juho Hyvärinen 19 RoPS 1355 RB
Hyvärinen is an interesting player, in that he is still very young, but has been around for so long that his development has been quite visible to follow. When he came up, he excelled in the air, subsequently he has developed into more of an attacking threat, especially with the ball at his feet, running at pace. There are still massive questions about his game, but for now, being 19 and playing your third full season at the domestic top level, and performing well, is enough to carry you pretty far.
5 (2) Ilmari Niskanen 22 KuPS 1388 RW
Ilmari Niskanen is – unless he can do something about it – essentially Nikolai Alho. Right sided winger, loves a cross, doesn’t really score enough, flatters to deceive, loved by his club’s social media team. It’s not a bad thing to be, but there is potential for more. Last season was a pretty good one in terms of end product, but an exceptional one by expected end product – the start to this season hasn’t exactly indicated any change to that pattern, which is a shame. I would love to see him kick it up a gear.
6 (7) Eetu Vertainen 20 HJK 999 CF
Vertainen should probably have been loaned out last season. The pressure he’s under right now is massive, and he just doesn’t have enough of a track record in the past to refer to when he isn’t hitting the target in the now. His xG numbers are roughly fine, mind you, so continuing in the same way is essentially sort of what he should be doing, but the monkey on his shoulder is probably screaming for him to mix it up.
7 (20) Kalle Katz 19 RoPS (HJK) 907 CB
I’m an admittedly big fan of Kalle Katz, and that sort of kept me from hyping him too much last season as I didn’t want my biases to colour my analysis. I was also weary because he was benched in favour of Ville Tikkanen and Valtteri Vesiaho in the U19 Euros last summer, which is valuable information in its own right. Well, at this point, both Vesiaho and Tikkanen are playing third tier football while Katz is holding his own for RoPS. He has visible faults, which is probably what has held him back: his lack of size can be problematic in the air. But his strengths are worth building a team around: he’s an excellent passer, an aggressive tackler and an overall athlete (unlike Vesiaho, for example).
8 (N/A) Jasin-Amin Assehnoun 19 Lahti 978 LW
Assehnoun debuted last season for a Lahti in decline. He didn’t do much, mostly playing a seemingly unfamiliar wing-back position, but clocked a fair amount of minutes. During the winter he got called up to the U-21 national team setup, and has been an important player for Lahti so far in 2019. Would like to see more end product – naturally – but he is ranked this highly mostly due to being second in the league in successful dribbles. That’s fun, and has historically been a good thing for a player.
9 (34) Niklas Jokelainen 19 RoPS 653 CF
RoPS are on the lookout for a new striker according to media reports. I hope they’re unsuccessful in their search because I think Niklas Jokelainen and Matias Tamminen are worth extended looks, especially Jokelainen in the short term. For the year, he’s at 0.4 xG per 90, which is plenty good enough – even if he’s only scoring at a rate of 0.15 per 90 at the moment. There’s much to like about his game, and he’s in the right type of environment to cash in on his promise.
10 (27) Tommi Jyry 20 KuPS 683 MC
Shows up as an excellent passer. He’s handy at progressing the ball. Was unfortunately injured this past week, but seems to have recovered as he played in the Europa League Qualifier this Thursday.
11 (N/A) Anthony Olusanya 19 Jaro 595 CF
Olusanya got a couple of brief mentions last season for being a rare, young attacker in an Ykkönen deprived of just that. This season he seems to have taken some major strides forward, both in terms of personal development as well as literally, as he was mostly played on the right wing last season, while being deployed more as a centre forward now. That move seems to have payed off, as he is third in xG per 90 (0.58) in Ykkönen while assisting 0.54 per 90. Interesting.
12 (N/A) Severi Kähkönen 19 Jaro 528 AMC
I want to keep Kähkönen and Olusanya sort of grouped, because they’re the same age, play for the same team, play in roughly the same areas of the pitch, and are both having excellent starts to the season. Both appeared last season, and both showed some glimpses of promise, but this season has been something else so far, for both of them. Olusanya has the upper hand because he has a couple of assists already, but in truth, the difference is negligible because of the small sample size. Next month, it will be bigger, though, and we will be much the wiser. For now, suffice to say that Jaro should be excited about their current crop of youngsters.
13 (N/A) Mehdi El-Moutacim 19 EIF 1231 GK
Mehdi El-Moutacim played pretty well for a high-flying EIF last season when he played, but ended up sitting on the bench quite a lot due to the good form of Jonathan Jäntti. This season, Jäntti – by far the best goalkeeper in Ykkönen last season – has gone to AC Kajaani (of all places) and El-Moutacim has taken over full-time. He’s not been quite as good as he was last season, and he is on the short side for a goalie, but he’s interesting for many reasons. With Markus Uusitalo, Miika Töyräs, Teppo Marttinen and Rasmus Leislahti sitting on the bench for their respective teams, he takes over as the foremost goalkeeping prospect in the top two tiers.
14 (N/A) Eemeli Virta 19 Lahti 958 MC
Last season, Teemu Jäntti came into the Lahti first team setup, and played a fair bit as a sort of utility player, logging minutes at left back, centre back, central midfield, attacking midfield etc. His profile was kind of boring, but he got a bunch of playing time. Toward the end of the season, his place in the team had been taken by Eemeli Virta, and at this point in time, Virta has surpassed Jäntti in importance for Lahti, as well as in how highly rated he is. He profiles as a better passer and a more active defender, and although he doesn’t do much to excite, he’s constructing a decent platform on which to build.
15 (N/A) Axel Vidjeskog 18 Jaro 705 AMC
It’s nice to see Jaro embracing an identity revolving around their youth products. Vidjeskog, Kähkönen and Olusanya have all played an important part in their success so far. Vidjeskog is the youngest of the three, and he’s playing more of a withdrawn role. That being said, he’s still accumulating a fair amount of shots and chances created. A good start for an interesting player.
16 (N/A) Anttoni Huttunen 18 MyPA 1001 AMC
Huttunen is playing a lot in his age 18 season, albeit for a fairly dysfunctional team. He does most of his work in the opposition half, and would probably benefit from getting to spend more time there. At the moment, nothing really stands out – he’s shooting a fair bit, but mostly from distance, creating a fair amount of chances, passing a fair amount into the opposition box – but he’s young and improving.
17 (N/A) Aapo Mäenpää 21 IFK Mariehamn 969 RB
I thought Aapo Mäenpää looked an interesting prospect in 2017, but he struggled to repeat in 2018. In 2019, he has already surpassed his 2018 minute total, and his overall numbers are trending up. He isn’t a huge threat going forward – maybe by design, as left back Dylan Murnane is one of IFK Mariehamn’s key weapons going forward – but is winning more aerial duels than anyone in the league per 90.
18 (N/A) Salomo Ojala 22 FC Haka 1024 CF
Last season I followed Ojala a fair bit, but was put off by the low shot numbers (1.8 per 90), and although he ended up scoring pretty high in xG (0.36) it didn’t feel like enough to warrant a mention, especially at his age. This season, though, things are a little different. His shots are up to 3.1, his xG at 0.5, and he’s scoring at a better rate as well. It’s starting to feel more like a breakout, and even if he’s getting on slightly in age, there’s still time to take the step up.
19 (35) Martti Haukioja 20 VPS 1177 LB
Haukioja moved to VPS this winter, in a move that must feel like a mistake at this stage of the season (of course it’s possible that Ilves just didn’t want to extend him). For VPS, Haukioja has sort of surprisingly been quite an attacking outlet, leading the league’s under 22s in passes into the opposition box, although it hasn’t converted into end product so far. Defensively there are some holes in his game, and I wonder if he’s going to have to move central at some point due to his size.
20 (26) Mikko Kuningas 22 Inter 1093 MC
It feels like Kuningas is stagnating a bit. He has consistently been used more every season since breaking into the league in 2015, and is currently projected to exceed his 2018 total. It’s just that all his other numbers are trending down – shots, defensive activity, even passes. He’s still doing a fair bit of creating, but he’s passing less into the box and the final third. He’s completing his passes at a higher rate, which suggests that he’s being used in a more conservative manner – and overall, Inter are very different now compared to last season, so that may be the reason. Unfortunately I haven’t seen him play a lot, because he’s always been a player that has a certain feel to him and I wonder if he still does.
21 (25) Enoch Banza KPV/HJK 812 RW
Banza is playing a lot at the moment, which is nice, but he isn’t exactly displaying a lot of signs that he’ll be stepping into the HJK starting lineup next season. He’s not a bad player at all, but I’m still waiting for something more – more shots, more chances created, more goals, more dribbles, more something – because it’s all a little middle-of-the-pack at the moment.
22 (32) Evans Mensah 21 HJK 497 RW
I don’t quite know what to think of Evans Mensah. Since he joined HJK, he’s been fairly hyped, and he’s consistently had a fair amount of end product, but there’s always been a lingering feeling about him that he mostly just performs against the bottom feeders. I can remember notable performances against JJK and PS Kemi but I struggle to remember anything beyond that. That’s obviously true about most players – it’s easier to play against poorer opponents – but in his case it feels especially poignant. Has started the season well, is still very young, and there are some positive indications (his xG/Shot is higher now than it has been before, a problem in previous seasons), so maybe this is his season?
23 (N/A) Niilo Mäenpää 21 Inter 754 AMC
Mäenpää is a fairly nondescript midfielder who doesn’t really excel at any particular facet of the game, but does well enough overall that he keeps playing. Seems to be liked enough by the new look Inter setup, which bodes well for the future, but would still like to see something pop for him.
24 (15) Santeri Väänänen 17 HJK 196 MC
I’ll admit, Väänänen’s placement is not at all influenced by his statistics, but he’s looked quite bright for HJK so far, and he’s lauded as one of the biggest prospects of his generation. That Toni Koskela has given him a couple of starts already shows that his organisation has trust in him, and that he’ll be given a chance to repay that trust this season. Will rise quickly if his playing time does.
25 (17) Akseli Ollila 19 EIF 838 LW
Ollila was a welcome breath of fresh air last season, in an Ykkönen devoid of interesting attacking talents. This season, he seems to have regressed a bit, as he’s no longer overperforming his xG. Is still an interesting player, and would expect him to play in the Veikkausliiga next season.
26 (N/A) Sampo Ala 17 RoPS 305 CF
Ala is the player born 2002 with the most minutes in the league this season – and he’s already scored his first goal! That’s about it, though, as he’s mostly looking a little overmatched. At the moment it’s better than nothing!
27 (30) Omar Jama 21 EIF 1079 MC
Jama took a step down this season in search for playing time, which is respectable in its own right but a bit worrying for the sake of his development. He’s a metronomic passer and an active dribbler but suffers from being a little light in terms of physicality. Would need to add some dimensions to his game in order to go further, but as he is, I think he’s a perfectly fine Veikkausliiga-level midfielder.
28 (N/A) Momodou Sarr 19 VPS 941 RW
Like most of VPS players on this list, Sarr is here because he is young and is playing a lot. Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge amount that’s worth noting about his statistics. He’s shooting less than once per 90, isn’t creating a lot, nor is he dribbling or winning a lot of headers. Will get a chance to develop, and will get a bump up the chart if he does.
29 (N/A) Johannes Kytilä 19 MyPA 1228 CB
I’m not a huge fan of Johannes Kytilä, but there’s enough there to be interested: he’s young, he’s big and he’s playing a lot (albeit for a bad team). He isn’t a particularly accomplished passer – or he isn’t allowed to be because he’s hoofing it long so often. Either way, the question is whether his step is quick enough to go further – at the moment, he’s picking up a lot of interceptions, but that sort of happens when you’re the worse team more often than not.
30 (13) Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 20 HJK 317 RWB
Kouassivi-Benissan hasn’t quite broken into the HJK first team, even if he’s played a handful of matches for them. A loan wouldn’t be an awful thing for him, and I could see it being beneficial for whichever team picks him up. Can be a force with the ball at his feet, and it feels like that part of his game has been a bit restricted so far this season for HJK.
31 (N/A) Kevin Larsson 18 HIFK 428 RW
Young attacking midfielder who signed for HIFK this season. A bit surprised to see him play as much as he has, but pleasantly so. Hasn’t showed much yet, but he has time.
32 (N/A) Daniel Rantanen 21 EIF 1182 MC
I’m unsure about Rantanen but in theory I think he fits well alongside Omar Jama. Rantanen is a worse passer than Jama, but offers more going forward. He likes a shot, sometimes too much, and has contributed with 0.38 assists per 90 so far this season. If he can keep it up, maybe it suggests he’s figured something out?
33 (N/A) Tuomas Ollila 19 KTP 847 LB
Ollila is an energetic full back, with a nice burst of pace. I thought he looked pretty decent for Klubi 04 last season, and he’s playing a fair bit in 2019 as well.
34 (19) Teemu Jäntti 19 Lahti 641 MC
Jäntti’s calling card is his versatility, which is also what makes it difficult to analyse him based on statistics, as it’s difficult to know what to compare him to. Last season he played large parts further forward, this season he’s being deployed more conservatively which means he sees more of the ball, but does less with it. Should try to shed the utility label and find a niche that works for him.
35 (N/A) Yussif Moussa 21 Ilves 634 AMC
Moussa is a shot-happy young midfielder for Ilves, with decent chance creation numbers and decent defensive activity. Something like a Mosa-lite, maybe?
36 (46) Paavo Voutilainen 20 KTP 947 CB
After struggling to break into the FC Lahti team for a couple of seasons, Voutilainen decided to take a step back in order to get a better chance of taking two steps forward. A member of the Finnish team at the U19 Euros last summer, Voutilainen has some stock as a prospect, and it’s nice to see him finally play regularly. He’s a good passer, but has some work to do in terms of his defensive ability.
37 (44) Tommi Jäntti 19 RoPS 485 AMC
Jäntti is ostensibly more of an attacking midfielder, but hasn’t shown enough so far to convince me that he’ll be much more than a Veikkausliiga-player. Needs more end product (wrote this before he scored a potentially crucial goal away at Aberdeen!)
38 (N/A) Matias Lahti 20 EIF/Inter 869 MC
Lahti came out of nowhere to start a handful of games for Inter last season. This year he’s been loaned out to EIF for some additional experience, where he seems to be enjoying himself. He’s doing well both defensively, while contributing in attack, so there’s a decent chance that Inter might have some use for him next season if he keeps up the pace.
39 (N/A) Tiemoko Fofana 20 Ilves 712 CF
Fofana had a memorable debut last season, scoring a penalty and getting injured for the rest of the season. This season he’s playing alright for his age, hovering around 2 shots per 90 and 0.3 xG/NPG per 09, in around 700 minutes. If Ilves want to stay on top of the league, he’s going to have to get better at getting into scoring positions.
40 (48) Rony Huhtala 21 MyPA 953 CF
I tried to include Huhtala as much as I could last season because I really like him, but he ended up suffering a goal-drought for the ages and so a higher placement wasn’t warranted. The thing is, though, that he’s pretty unique in Finland, and that’s something that someone’s going to pick up on at some point, and when they do, I believe he has the raw materials to go far. He’s like a Finnish Jamie Vardy – quick, energetic, tireless – and would be well suited for a team playing an active press or a lot of counters.
41 (36) Joel Mattsson 20 HIFK 627 RW
Mattsson joined HIFK this season from IFK Mariehamn, and has been rewarded with a fair amount of playing time. Like Nikolas Saira, he feels a little too much like a tweener type – not quite enough end product to be a winger, not quite good enough defensively to be a right back. Can hopefully pull it together in Helsinki, HIFK need some young success stories.
42 (N/A) Alexander Jibrin 21 AC Oulu 1042 CB
After a year as something of an understudy, Jibrin has stepped into the AC Oulu backline permanently this season. He looks a capable player – decent defensive numbers, alright in the air, capable passer – but needs to show more in order to move further up on the list.
43 (N/A) Anton Eerola 20 KTP 928 MC
Eerola is an all-rounder in midfield, who stands out in the interception stat. One to follow.
44 (12) Diogo Tomas 22 Ilves 351 CB
Biggest dropper on the list, mostly because he’s out of the team more this season than he was last season, and you can’t say Ilves are looking worse for it. Defensive statistics still like him though – he’s good in the air, has a high amount of interceptions and tackles.
45 (N/A) Juhani Pikkarainen 21 KPV 487 CB
Profiles as a decent passer whose pretty good in the air. The form of his team raises some question marks, but his youth provides some solace for the time being.
46 (N/A) Antti Ulmanen 20 EIF 634 CF
Hasn’t achieved major success so far this season, but has played more than last season, which is something. Will need to start scoring if EIF want to climb the table, and his 0.2 xG per 90 isn’t exactly an indication of that happening any time soon.
47 (N/A) Jonas Häkkinen 20 VPS 1171 MC
Häkkinen has the 6th most minutes among under 22s, and profiles as a decent passer whose pretty good in the air. The form of his team raises some question marks, but his youth provides some solace for the time being.
48 (N/A) Samu Alanko 21 VPS 862 LW
Alanko left VPS for the Austrian lower leagues a couple of years ago, and returned last season. He hasn’t been great this season for a struggling Vepsu, but stranger things have happened than a 21 year old left winger suddenly developing into a star (see: Karjalainen, Rasmus).
49 (N/A) Nuutti Laaksonen 20 MyPA 930 RB
Laaksonen debuted for Lahti last season, but was deemed surplus to requirement after his contract ended in December. Playing time is easier to come by at MyPA, naturally, and he’ll want to make the most of the opportunity. Wins a fair amount of his headers, and contributes defensively, but the way his team plays doesn’t exactly give him a huge amount of licence to show what he can do in attack.
50 (N/A) Nikolas Saira 20 HIFK 932 LW
Saira has played a fair amount already for a player his age, and although that’s usually a good thing, in his case I’m not so sure. I’m still not quite sure I know what he’s about, as he doesn’t look particularly quick nor technical for a winger, and he has never really stood out statistically.

Bubbling under

So that’s the first prospect list of the season. As it’s still fairly early, some notable players have been left out due to not playing enough. Here is a list of the ones foremost on my mind:

Abion Ademi, Elias Mastokangas, Arlind Sejdiu, Naatan Skyttä, Pyry Lampinen, Eetu Rissanen, Martin Salin, Eemeli Raittinen, Jeremiah Streng, Maximo Tolonen, Matias Tamminen, Tomi Kult, Valtteri Vesiaho, Ville Tikkanen

Thanks for reading, I’ll be trying to update the list at a monthly pace, so follow me on Twitter if you’re interested!

What to think of Sebastian Dahlström in 2019

What to think of Sebastian Dahlström in 2019

Sebastian Dahlström debuted in 2016, and immediately raised some eyebrows with his performances. He was a dynamic presence in the middle of the pitch who wasn’t afraid of getting forward when the opportunity presented itself. For his team, 2016 was difficult, but he had given the public a taste of what was to come.

In 2017, Dahlström arrived.


It was maybe difficult to tell at the time, especially considering the star-studded company he kept at the heart of midfield for HJK, but he was having one of the top central midfield seasons in recent Veikkausliiga history, at least in terms of attacking output. He certainly didn’t have the name recognition of Moshtagh Yaghoubi or Anthony Annan, but he was staking his claim for a place in the starting XI.

Granted, Dahlström has been deployed in a variety of different roles throughout his time at HJK, sometimes playing further forward as a #10, but he has mostly been played in a midfield two. His probing, positive passing, and well timed runs into the box became a staple of a HJK that romped the league, and 2018 looked like it was going to be the season for him to break out as one of the true household names in Finnish football.

And maybe he did. Dahlström debuted for the senior national team in January of 2019, a well deserved recognition for his performances for both HJK and the U-21’s. He played an important part in a HJK side that ended up winning the league by a clear margin. But something was different.


After a couple of seasons of demonstrable growth in attack, there was a sudden drop-off in 2018. Goals were down, assists were down, xG was down, xA was down, shots and key passes were down, and those are only the attacking statistics. Defensive interventions were down, secondary shot assists were down, dribbles were down. The only things that were higher than 2017 were tackles (at the expense of interceptions) and aerial duel wins. What happened?




There are some indications that Dahlström was deployed slightly differently than previous seasons, with less licence to go forward and a more aggressive defensive role, or that the midfield deployment was different in general. This aggressive defending, however, is not something that can be seen on the team level, as HJK posted lower scores in both PPDA and Opposition Pass% in 2017 than 2018 – indicating that they were more actively trying to hinder their opponents’ passing game the prior year.

Dahlström’s chance creation locations also show an interesting development. In 2016, he mostly created from deeper central locations, while in 2017 he managed to get closer to goal and occasionally even into the box before giving the ball to his team-mate. In 2018, however, the areas from which he created chances has a much wider spread. In 2017, he seemed to have a stronger presence in the middle, whereas in 2018 there was a more pronounced horizontal focus in front of the box.


Compare and contrast to Moshtagh Yaghoubi, who – when playing alongside Annan – arguably played the same role as Dahlström. There isn’t the same central focus (in 2018 he played some as a left winger which can be seen from the map), but rather more of a spread, with a vertical band in the left half-space in 2017.


In terms of shot locations, for Dahlström 2018 and 2017 were pretty similar, although there were a few more shots from further out, and some fewer shots from inside of the box in 2018. Generally, the big difference seems to be the volume, rather than the quality.


Again, comparing to Yaghoubi, you can see how the two players differ. Yaghoubi is a more active shooter, known for his long shots but almost allergic to the box.


So what could possibly be the reason for this kind of development? Maybe Dahlström was carrying a knock in 2018 that stunted his dynamism? Or maybe it was a purely tactical decision, a preference for him to stay more disciplined in his positioning. The worst case scenario would probably be some type of regression in his development as a player, or that 2017 was just a period of unsustainably high production. The optimistic take would be to put it down to a lack of stimuli from essentially playing alongside the same players, under the same manager for an extended period of time. Maybe he’ll get a boost from being one of the first names on the team sheet while playing next to Kaan Kairinen rather than Annan or Yaghoubi.

If, however, it can be traced to a tactical decision, it would probably be worth it to consider reversing that decision, because although Dahlström was a perfectly decent midfielder in 2018, he can be an exceptional talent – potentially one of the best players in the league – if allowed to contribute more significantly in attack. Having an extra runner from deep can be especially effective against a low block, as long as you can live with the gaps it can leave in your midfield. If you ask me, it’s a risk worth taking.


The Season of Change – HJK in flux

The Season of Change – HJK in flux

HJK had the league won in about late August. I’m not sure of the exact date, but a couple of days before the transfer deadline I did a quick simulation of the remaining games which produced this graph.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.31.21
Expected points calculated using xG as the base for team quality, and a Monte Carlo-simulation. Top row numbers indicate final league position.

100% isn’t really 100% – it seldom is. I think I only made 1 000 simulations, instead of the usual 10 000, as I was trying to prove a point rather than produce academic rigour. Do it a couple of thousand times more and you’ll get a couple of versions of events that lead to a dramatic collapse at the finish line. That’s beside the point, though. HJK had been dominant all season, doing well in most measures – both compared to the rest of the teams in the league and to previous vintages. HJK were virtually champions about two months before lifting the trophy.


There are three fundamental institutions in Finnish professional football. The federation, the league and HJK. It might seem like an exaggeration, but I think it’s true. HJK’s position in the league hierarchy is such, that whenever you talk about the league, you have to split it into two: the teams that aren’t HJK, and the team that is.

The league underwent some fundamental changes in the weeks immediately following the end of the 2018 season, with an expansion considered. Increasing the amount of teams would make sense from the point of view of equality: in its simplest form, with 12 teams, you have to play every team thrice to get enough games, which means that some teams are going to play more home games than others – both in terms of head-to-head matchups, and, since you’re playing an uneven amount of matches, on a seasonal level.

To my understanding, there are two reasons why an expansion is considered a bad idea. One, is that there aren’t enough teams that are financially able to meet the requirements for play in the top tier, which… fair enough. Two, is that you don’t want to water down the competition with more bad teams, which… really only is something that concerns HJK. Think of it like this, which would be a more equal league: the current setup, or a 16 team league with no HJK? The single most effective way to produce more meaningful games for everyone involved would be to cull from the top, rather than the bottom, not that I’m advocating for any such thing.

Another thought experiment: which version of events would improve Finnish football as a whole to a larger degree, if HJK’s player development suddenly became 10% better in some arbitrary way, or if the same happened to all of the other teams in Finland?

So yeah, the third Finnish football institution.

HJK’s status within Finnish football isn’t a unique situation on a global scale. A lot of football countries are dominated by one or two actors with both recent and historical dominance. But it puts that team in a weird spot where the traditional measures of performance become insufficient. For HJK, winning the league every year is only one half of their objective, the other being progress in Europe. Winning the Finnish cup – something that is held in great regard by all of the other clubs (that can be bothered to enter) – is seemingly considered unimportant as long as the wins keep on flowing – it only takes on added importance if there would happen to be an inopportune defeat.

It also makes it very difficult for a team like HJK to improve and develop. When you’re maxing the scales from year to year (give or take a standard deviation) how are you going to motivate yourself to push further in the league? In a game that is so heavily influenced by chance, how can you live with such a big part of your season being essentially a playoff where you are the underdog every time?

This isn’t to complain or criticise. I don’t think anything I’ve written so far has been especially contentious. It’s a situation that has arisen from a structural competitive imbalance, and from competence on the side of HJK rather than incompetence on anyone else’s part. It’s more to illustrate the difficulty of the task at hand for HJK, how difficult it is to win even when you very definitely are winning.

An example: I was in the stands at the cup final, as HJK fell to Inter in a pretty unforgettable game. In the dying minutes, as what was happening was becoming apparent, a chant echoed across the stadium: “Bana ulos!”. Bana out, a sentiment that had been stewing for probably three or four years now, something that seemed to be voiced every now and then, whenever an inevitable dip in form happened. It reminded me of a situation five years prior, when I had been in the same stand witnessing HJK limp out of European competition to Nõmme Kalju. Then, the object of the chant was different but the purpose was the same: a change was needed.

At that point in 2013 – much like at this point in 2018 – HJK were steamrolling the league. No-one in sight, nothing to worry about. When you set the standards so high, even absolute, total domination is insufficient, to the extent that even a slight hiccup can be enough to cause doubt.

The change didn’t come in 2013, it came in 2014. Then, like now, the foremost reason for the delay was that there weren’t any clear improvements available. When Mika ‘Bana’ Lehkosuo left Honka, HJK made a quick, ruthless, opportunistic – yet understandable, and wholly defensible, such was the growing status of Lehkosuo at the time – switch – a move that, after the fact, was probably ill advised. Now, there aren’t any similar slam dunk appointments to make, and so Lehkosuo stays another season – which, despite the narrative, is probably for the better.HJK 5 game rolling xG

The above graph shows the rolling five game xG differential for HJK from 2013 through 2018. The red vertical lines separate different managerial reigns, whereas the black vertical lines separate seasons. The graph naturally only contains league play, and so leaves out relevant information. It also shouldn’t be taken as a pure judgement of managerial talent, as team composition varies from season to season.

Caveats aside, what it shows is that it’s taken HJK about three seasons to get back to the level at which they were playing under Sixten Boström. That three year period includes two narrow league concessions and a trip to the Europa League Group Stage, which is probably why Lehkosuo’s spell in charge wasn’t ended at the end of 2016.

The graph contains three major decision points: the hiring of Lehkosuo early in the 2014 season, the decision to stick with Lehkosuo at the end of 2016 and the decision to continue to stick with Lehkosuo at the end of 2018.

Firing Boström started a slide in the underlying numbers that was only arrested in the beginning of 2017. At that first decision point, the trend lines have a slight negative slant, so it’s impossible to know whether the slide had already started at that point, or whether it was just a natural variation. The xG differential at that point was not at its lowest point under Boström, so I would gravitate towards thinking that it was probably just natural variation. That being said, hiring Lehkosuo set in motion the chain of events that lead to the Europa League Group Stage, so even if league play indicates that it was a bad decision at the time, there is some serious vindication for the decision that isn’t shown in the numbers.

At the end of 2016, Lehkosuo was probably at the lowest point in his coaching career. Two consecutive seasons without a league win is a death knell for most HJK coaches, and although I have no insight, I’m pretty sure that Simo Valakari was courted quite heavily at this point. As it turned out, no decision was the right decision, and Lehkosuo has enjoyed two seasons of dominance after that point. The big difference between the pre-2017 and post-2016 eras of Lehkosuo’s reign is on the defensive side of the game, which begs the question: why so? My best guess is that the appointment of Jose Riveiro mid-season 2016 played a part. I have no insight about the working relationship between the two men, but my understanding is that usually defensive organisation is something that the assistant manager tends to work on.

Which brings us to the end of 2018. Lehkosuo has been extended for one more season, Riveiro has taken over at Inter Turku and been replaced by Jani Sarajärvi. A previously stable team of above average players, HJK have already announced that they’re going to embrace the disarray, shedding experienced professionals like Mikko Sumusalo, Ville Jalasto and Hannu Patronen while not picking up options on Jordan Dominguez and Mackauley Chrisantus, neither of whom seemingly impressed the brass. Add to this that Klauss has returned to his parent club, Moshtagh Yaghoubi has already been released, Juha Pirinen has all but announced his departure, and question marks surround the continued employment of Anthony Annan, Faith Friday Obilor and Nikolai Alho, and stability isn’t the first word to come to mind. There is a very real possibility that 60% of HJK’s minutes played in 2018 will need to be redistributed ahead of next season. There’s no two ways around it, this is going to be a rebuilding season.

Rebuilding, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The major complaint about the past couple of seasons for HJK haven’t been about the game, but rather about the composition of the squad. HJK have had some serious talents that other teams have ended up benefitting from, while the squad has been bloated with good Veikkausliiga players with little upside. A rebuild is an opportunity to answer that complaint, to change the face of the team. A more streamlined squad should give more playing time to young players, while freeing up funds for investing in a few quality players in key positions. For most of the outgoing players, there are already internal, relatively experienced, solutions – a natural effect of having a bloated squad – but will HJK, a traditionally very conservative squad builder, have the risk tolerance to go with the internal solutions?

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 11.54.20.png
HJK are shedding players from the right side of this graph – in both senses of the word

Returning briefly to the idea about HJK as the third major institution in Finnish football, there is an argument to be made that one of the quickest ways for the level of the league to improve would be for HJK to stop acting as a retirement home for Finnish players returning from abroad. Player acquisition is extremely difficult for HJK due to the status of the league, the summer-centric schedule, the low payroll – but it’s significantly easier than it is for any other Finnish team. Acquiring Finnish players returning from abroad is the easiest way to get guaranteed quality because few players manage to go abroad in the first place (identifying talent), and because Finnish players want to play in Finland more than foreign players do (attracting talent).

If we play with the idea that returnees are generally good players, then HJK is the only team in Finland that could consistently be expected to attract equally good foreign players. What follows is that if returnees were more evenly distributed within the league – if, say, Riku Riski played for Inter, Ville Jalasto and Hannu Patronen for Honka, Akseli Pelvas and Nikolai Alho for SJK – and if HJK would manage to recruit equally good foreigners, the league would be better off. Would the players acquiesce to such an arrangement? Ask them today, and they’d probably say no. But if HJK were off the table, what would be the option?

Would the fans acquiesce? Usually, as long as you’re winning, everything goes, but for HJK, as determined, that isn’t exactly the case. A part of the solution would have to be to rely more heavily on academy players, as having a domestic identity is something that seems to be highly valued.

Would HJK acquiesce? As a team competing against other teams on an even playing field, no – why should they? As an organisation concerned with the long term development of the league, willing to take a couple of risks to become better prepared for the true tests mid-season, maybe? As an institution with a responsibility toward the whole…?

It may sound unheard of, but there is precedent for big teams carrying more of the weight for the good of the league.

At this juncture, then, was it the right decision to hold on to Lehkosuo for one more year? It depends on how you feel about the rebuild, but the xG trends point to an affirmative answer. On a seasonal level, they are about as high as you can feasibly expect from the best team in the league. The prospective challengers for next seasons’s title also have their own problems – with KuPS and maybe Honka seemingly being the strongest candidates – so maybe this isn’t such a bad time for a do-over.

Anyway, who could come in and improve on the figures? No-one I can immediately come to think of, and with the amount of players being turned over, maybe it’s a good thing to have a constant to work with. If HJK actually decide to rely more on young players – which Kaan Kairinen’s loan move might be an indication of – it could fit Lehkosuo to a tee. Before joining HJK, player development was something he was particularly known for, traces of which can still be found at Honka and HJK in particular, but also elsewhere in the league and abroad. Although it might seem like a lower priority function, its importance shouldn’t be discounted, especially for the foremost producers of young talent in the country.

The major red flag for HJK seems to be Riveiro going to Inter, a move that should be considered shrewd for the Turku club who have had significant struggles finding a long-term replacement for Job Dragtsma, who left in 2016. The inbound Jani Sarajärvi is a competent successor, however, who has profiled himself as one of Finland’s most progressive, knowledgeable young coaches. After two seasons as assistant manager at VPS, he spent a year in Lissabon honing his football know-how at the local university, which is an indication of a desire to learn and a willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone, at the very least.

Autumn is the season of change, and as we transition to winter, we’re going to start to see the extent to which HJK embrace this opportunity – and it should be considered an opportunity. Change is necessary to keep ideas fresh, and even if there is significant risk in changing a working system, there is a severe downside in delaying the inevitable as well. Just ask HIFK and IFK Mariehamn, teams who, after performing well in 2016 with the oldest squads in the league decided against restructuring, and are now, after two seasons of mediocrity, facing many of the same questions that should have been addressed then.

Rebuilding is nothing to be afraid of, as long as you know what you’re doing, and it represents an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. A younger, more vibrant – and, inevitably, more volatile – HJK could be a win-win for Finnish football, as the rest of the league can get an opportunity to inch closer, creating a more interesting fight for the title, and as prospects can get more experience at the absolute top of the league hierarchy. In the end, the best, and maybe only, way for HJK to acquire players who can make a difference in Europe is either to develop them themselves, or go the Morelos route – identifying young, overlooked talent from abroad and investing some capital in them. No peak-age player is going to come here without any wrinkles, so going young should be considered the most likely long term way to progress as an organisation, as long as you can stomach the inherently risky nature of it.

A risk worth taking? Well, let’s just say that we’ll learn a lot about HJK in the upcoming months.

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2018 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking: Final Update

2018 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking: Final Update

This is the fifth update of my prospect ranking series that I kicked off this summer (you can read the July update here, the August update here, and the September update here – I did a breakdown of the final top 10 here).

This represents the final update of the season. Some of the players are already on the move, some players will disappear off the list next season as JJK and Klubi 04 have been relegated and some players will outgrow prospectdom. At the moment, however, these are the results based on the performances delivered during 2018.

A reminder that 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 from abroad). 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 (2800-3000 minutes is a lot of minutes for a Veikkausliiga player, 2300-2500 for an Ykkönen player).


Previously, we’ve had the following players move abroad:

Ulrich Meleke, Onni Valakari, Benjamin Källman, Marius Noubissi and Leo Väisänen.

Rank (previous in brackets) Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 (2) Lassi Lappalainen 20 RoPS 2155 LW
2 (1) Ilmari Niskanen 21 KuPS 2905 RW
3 (3) Rasmus Karjalainen 22 KuPS 2141 CF
4 (4) Sebastian Dahlström 21 HJK 2844 MC
5 (5) Lucas Lingman 20 RoPS 2838 AMC
6 (9) Sterling Yateke 19 TPS 816 CF
7 (6) Eetu Vertainen 19 HJK/Klubi 04 1500 CF
8 (7) Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 21 Ilves 2322 AMC
9 (8) Juho Hyvärinen 18 RoPS 1302 RB
10 (10) Santeri Hostikka 21 Lahti 2047 LW
11 (19) Albion Ademi 19 Inter 1634 LW
Ademi was the player to make the most out of October garbage time, and ended up improving on almost all metrics from 2017. At this point, he’s a player to build around, especially as Inter are a bit short on attacking prospects (with apologies to Lassi Viholainen and Joona Järvistö). Needs to improve on shot locations, but if he can do that, he’ll be one of the best overall players in the division.
12 (11) Diogo Tomas 20 Ilves 2226 CB
Ended up being a very important piece for Ilves as their season came to an end. Will be even more important next season, as Jani Tanska was the first player to leave after the season ended. Still needs to improve, but the platform is there for him to build on.
13 (13) Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 19 HJK/Klubi 04 2124 RB/LW
Last time around, I wrote that he was out of contract in the winter, but it turned out that HJK had an option on him which they have exercised. Such is the life of someone who relies on transfermarkt. Not sure it matters, though. Would still expect him to play somewhere else next season, albeit on loan. Biggest question mark is his final position. I like him as a right back if he’s allowed to bomb forward, otherwise he needs to play further upfield.
14 (14) Otto Ollikainen 17 HJK/Klubi 04 1979 MC
Ollikainen will be happy with his season: a good amount of Ykkönen minutes and a first appearance in the Veikkausliiga. Will want to avoid the third tier next season. Will he be considered for the new look midfield in 2019?
15 (22) Santeri Väänänen 16 HJK/Klubi 04 1225 MC
Väänänen will be happy with his season: a good amount of Ykkönen minutes and a first appearance in the Veikkausliiga. Will want to avoid the third tier next season. Will he be considered for the new look midfield in 2019? (Is there a sliver more upside than in Ollikainen, I wonder? Is a regular goalscorer for the U-17 National Team, whereas Ollikainen wasn’t…)
16 (12) Samu Volotinen 20 VPS 1897 GK
VPS suffered their annual late-season collapse, but Volotinen ended up being one of the players in the league whose status has improved the most. Out of contract in the winter so next season is slightly uncertain. Best young goalkeeper in the top two levels of Finnish football.
17 (16) Akseli Ollila 18 EIF 1650 LW
One of the disappointing aspects of this Ykkönen season was the lack of young forward talents on display (outside of Klubi 04, for obvious reasons). Ollila was an exception, ending up being a big contributor for high-flying EIF. His performances were fuelled by overperformance, but the lower the quality of league, the less i think that’s a problem. Ended up with 8 goals (6 NPG) and 2 assists. That’s good for 0.33 NPG/90 and 0.16 A/90 which adds up to almost half a goal contributed per 90. You’d take that from your 18 year olds. Has another season at EIF, it seems. Will probably play Veikkausliiga football in 2020 at the latest.
18 (15) Oskari Jakonen 21 TPS 1997 RW
Did a lot of things right, including providing 4 goals and 4 assists, but also lacked a lot of the the things you’d like to see from a winger. Didn’t dribble a lot, didn’t cross a lot. Some of his goals were a little… lucky, maybe? I don’t know, will go down a division but could be considered a decent option for someone looking to strengthen their flanks.
19 (18) Teemu Jäntti 18 Lahti 1267 MC
Jack of all trades, master of none is what comes to mind. Should be satisfied with the amount of minutes he managed in his rookie season, the next step is to hone the profile. What is his competitive advantage?
20 (17) Kalle Katz 18 HJK/Klubi 04 1645 CB
I’ve written a fair bit about Katz. I like him, his strengths are pronounced, his profile is unique. He stands out when he plays. Still, he needs to find a way to combat his aerial weakness. The football world is chock full of central defenders who are short, but they are exceptions to the rule, and that has the potential to be a deal breaker. Should see playing time in the Veikkausliiga next season.
21 (17) Nooa Laine 15 JJK 723 AMC
Laine is young and played a lot for his age, but will get relegated out of the list. At the moment, he is filed under flash in the pan. The near future will decide how harsh that is.
22 (21) Tariq Kazi 18 Ilves 964 RB
Ended up with a respectable amount of minutes. Not yet much of a presence further up, but put up some decent defensive numbers. Will follow with interest.
23 (23) Mikael Almen 18 Ilves 849 CB/LB
I wonder the extent to which Ilves are going to rely on academy products next season. They could feasibly play a full defensive line of youngsters who had around 1000 minutes in 2018, and still have a backup on the bench with a similar profile. (Edit: Haukioja’s move to VPS solved that problem!) It’s a risk, no doubt, but it makes them an interesting team to follow. That Almen came out of nowhere to play 850 minutes is a credit to the player development work being done in Tampere.
24 (24) Valtteri Vesiaho 19 HJK/Klubi 04 1674 CB
Will likely get a lot of responsibility in 2019 with the departures of Hannu Patronen, Ville Jalasto and (most likely) Faith Obilor. Has earned his shot, will be intriguing to see if he takes it.
25 (25) Enoch Banza 18 HJK/Klubi 04 1468 RW
Expectations were high, injuries got in the way at exactly the wrong times. Didn’t post particularly impressive numbers, also didn’t always look right. I think (at least) one of Banza and Kouassivi-Benissan is going to go on loan next season, and I’m leaning Banza – which should be seen as an opportunity more than a risk!
26 (26) Mikko Kuningas 20 Inter 2065 MC
After a couple of years of jumping around Kuningas settled down in a more withdrawn midfield role. Feels like he’s been around for a long time but is still young. That being said, we’re still waiting for a true breakout.
27 (27) Tommi Jyry 19 (Free Agent) HIFK 2000 MC
Jyry left HIFK at the end of a season that should be considered a success both for him and his team. I don’t imagine he’ll struggle to find a home in the league, and his departure will further emphasise the potential problem that is the current age profile of HIFK. Was last seen training with KuPS, is a player I’m expecting to follow closely.
28 (28) Aatu Laatikainen 21 VPS 2154 DMC
Laatikainen contributes little in attack, but retains possession well, wins a decent amount of his aerial duels and appears fairly high on the defensive metrics. It’s a boring profile but also one that is pretty rare in the league.
29 (29) Eero-Matti Auvinen 22 VPS 2531 CB
Played a good first Veikkausliiga season for a uninspiring team. Decent passer, will age out of prospectdom in time for next season.
30 (30) Omar Jama 20 VPS 1697 DMC
Much the same as Laatikainen, except with less defensive involvement and more expectation of forward involvement.
31 (31) Maximo Tolonen 17 SJK 807 RW
A decent amount of minutes for a dysfunctional team. Is a promising player but it’s difficult to separate the promise from the hype, which is why the expectations are higher. Should start adding some end product next season.
32 (32) Evans Mensah 20 HJK 1102 RW
Lots of promise, lots of involvement but struggles with decision making and ended up with almost half the minutes compared to 2017 – with injuries playing a decisive part in that. Needs to step up in 2019.
33 (33) Hanson Boakai 22 EIF 1677 RW
EIF is the team that got the most out of their young players last season, with Boakai, Ollila and Meleke earning mentions from yours truly. There were others as well, but these stood out. Boakai has end product and is a good dribbler which is a nice combination.
34 (39) Niklas Jokelainen 18 (RoPS) Ilves/JJK 1119 CF
Jokelainen is the most recent arrival at the RoPS talent factory (more on that a little later). Spent a year at Stoke, divided his time this season between Ilves and JJK. Is very raw, but should be an intriguing player to follow in 2019.
35 (40) Martti Haukioja 19 (VPS) Ilves/JJK 1026 LB/CB
Haukioja is mostly a left back but he’s tall and physical so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him transition infield. He played a couple of games at centre half for JJK so it isn’t without precedent. Will likely fight for first team minutes with Mikael Almen in 2019, hopefully both will play. (Edit: No he won’t, as he just signed with VPS.)
36 (34) Joel Mattsson 19 IFK Mariehamn 1730 RB/RW
Is an interesting player but suffers from playing for a team that’s rebuilding and from being moved around the pitch. I’d say it’s pretty likely that IFK Mariehamn will get worse before they get better so questions abound.
37 (35) Miika Töyräs 19 KuPS 773 GK
Earned a contract extension. I’m not a huge fan of Otso Virtanen so would like to see more of Töyräs.
38 (36) Ville Tikkanen 19 SJK 1056 CB
Decent, but unspectacular debut season in the top tier. Started brightly but fizzled out, and didn’t play for a while toward the end (maybe due to injury, I don’t know).
39 (37) Markus Uusitalo 21 HJK 576 GK
Firmly stuck as second fiddle at this point, which is worrisome. Rudakov is back for 2019 so will likely do a fair bit of bench sitting again next season. Should he consider a loan?
40 (38) Tatu Varmanen 20 Inter 1270 RB
I like him as a player, hopefully the new coaching structure will give him more of a platform to use his strengths.
41 (41) Joonas Vahtera 22 VPS 900 AMC
I’m a big fan of Vahtera, and he’ll play a big role in 2019 with Juha Hakola on his way out. Unfortunately injuries played their part this season, because if he had been capable of building on his previous seasons he would have been one of the standout players in the league. Will outgrow prospectdom ahead of next season.
42 (44) Joonas Sundman 20 SJK 1994 LB
Respectable amount of minutes, poor team. Something of a mulligan. Next season it is, then.
43 (45) Kristian Heinolainen 19 PS Kemi 1930 RB/LB
Heinolainen perked up towards the end of the season after being mostly a defensive specialist for large parts of the season. It’s difficult to know what to make of a team that was so insipid for such a long time. Apparently he’s signed for another year with Kemi, which must be considered something of a blunder unless there’s a relegation release clause.
44 (49) Tommi Jäntti 18 (RoPS) Klubi 04 2327 MC
Jäntti just moved to RoPS, which is interesting. He had some struggles in the final third, but that’s to be expected from a young player. Was one of the most used players in the second tier this season, and will likely get a lot of minutes in the league next season.
45 (42) Väinö Vehkonen 16 JJK 1409 CB
Same as Laine, played a fair bit for his age, but didn’t perform and will be relegated out of this list. Flash in the pan, or something more?
46 (47) Paavo Voutilainen 19 Lahti 862 CB
Voutilainen came into the side towards the end of the season, and will hopefully play a bigger part next season.
47 (48) Thomas Mäkinen 21 IFK Mariehamn 1731 MC
Apparently has already moved permanently to FC Åland – not sure if that’s true – which would indicate a career being put on hold. Is the purest midfield destroyer in the league, is a danger from set pieces, but apparently isn’t liked. I’m confused.
48 (N/A) Rony Huhtala 20 Klubi 04 666 CF
Did Rony Huhtala have a good season for Klubi 04? Not really. Was it better than you think? Almost certainly. His xG was roughly on par with Eetu Vertainen (only Ykkönen numbers) and was only bested by 8 players. That big fat zero in the goals column will do his chances of finding a Veikkausliiga job no good, but he represents the best chance of getting a good young forward on a free. And, honestly, he plays better than his numbers suggest – as long as you focus on anything other than finishing. I would be willing to place actual real money on him scoring, like, 8 goals or more next season if given the minutes – and he’s the only player under 21 in this year’s edition of Ykkönen for whom I would be willing to do that, make of that what you will.
49 (46) Teppo Marttinen 21 KPV (on loan from SJK) 2531 GK
Started off writing with Rasmus Leislahti in this slot, but realised that, really, Teppo Marttinen deserves it more. Young enough to be mostly projection, but also enough minutes under his belt to tell what the trajectory is, and he did well in 2018, playing every minute of every game. Question is, will he play for his parent club next season, or will he return somewhere on loan? KPV will probably hoping for the latter.
50 (50) Julius Tauriainen 17 Klubi 04 1727 MC
Will likely be playing third tier football next season, which is a disappointment, surely, but also closer to his level. Still young, though, and will likely be hoovered up by RoPS when out of contract anyway.

These players also received mentions during the season, but were dropped out of the list due to reasons, usually either a lack of quality of performance or lack of quantity:

Tuukka Kurki, Anton Popovitch, Patrik Alaharjula, Lassi Järvenpää, Roni Peiponen, Anthony Olusanya, Daniel Rantanen, Jarkko Heimonen, Henrik Ölander, Tuukka Andberg, Juho Montola, Hussein Mohamed, Hamed Coulibaly, Rasmus Leislahti.

Thanks for reading this series in 2018, follow me on Twitter to stay up to date in 2019 as well!

2018 Finnish League Prospect Power Ranking: Top 10

2018 Finnish League Prospect Power Ranking: Top 10

This is the fourth update of my prospect ranking series that I kicked off this summer (you can read the July update here, the August update here, the September update here and the final update here). The idea behind this series has been to cover a lot of bases: to look at the top prospects likely to move abroad, the slightly lesser prospects who could be in line for a breakout within the league, the young players taking their first steps and make wild predictions about their future trajectory. This update serves as a punctuation of sorts, as next season players will be older, teams will be different and circumstances will shift. See it as a snapshot of the situation right now, before we start to look toward the future sometime in the spring.

This list will be slightly different than the previous ones. I’ll write a slightly longer passage about the top 10 players, adding some stats and graphs and whatnot, while the rest of the list will be published a bit later in full.

A reminder that 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 from abroad). 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.


Previously, we’ve had the following players move abroad:

Ulrich Meleke, Onni Valakari, Benjamin Källman, Marius Noubissi and Leo Väisänen.

1. Lassi Lappalainen

I’m a big fan of the so called fancy stats, but at the end of the day most clubs probably aren’t. Present them with the choice of a player who is expected to score a bunch of goals, and a player who actually did, and nine times out of ten, they’re going to go with the player with the actual track record. Whether that is the smart way to operate or not is another question – in fact, I think there are merits to both approaches. This is a long-winded way of saying that Lassi Lappalainen just had a pretty special season, a season that is difficult to describe using statistics.

Well, maybe not that difficult…

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 15.03.02
Behold, all of the attacking midfield player seasons in the Veikkausliiga since 2013 in which the player in question managed to score 8 goals and provide 5 assists.

Note that Lappalainen is the only player under 24 on the above list, he is also the player with the fewest minutes played. He also didn’t record a single set-piece shot or key pass all season. His 14 goals and assists were a third of the total goals that RoPS scored, and he did it as a winger – he was also naturally their top goal scorer. He was probably the league’s MVP – that is, the player most valuable to his team.

Now, this is the point where I point out that he overshot his expectation quite a bit, and that we should be conservative in projecting his future performances. The thing is, though: did you actually see him play this season? With your eyeballs? 14 of his 42 shots this season were taken with no defenders between him and the goalkeeper. That’s 33%! This is something that is reflected in his xG total, but what isn’t reflected is the separation that he is able to produce between him and the line of defence through searing pace. His clear cut chances have a tendency to be more clear cut than mere mortals’. He is also a very cool finisher, which, yeah… it’s easy to look cool when there’s no-one in your face.

Next season, at the very least, he’s going to take a step up in that he’s going back to his parent club, where expectations are higher and the playing style less tailored around his strengths. He scored most of his goals on the break this season, and that’s just not as likely when teams are packed around their box, which is the default setting when playing HJK. If he can’t find ways to get in behind the defence, he’s going to have to find more ways of being dangerous in front of it. Both Riku Riski and Nikolai Alho were decent but unspectacular this season, so he should be a shoe-in for a starting position – that is if he isn’t sold, which should be considered quite likely. In my humble opinion, he’s the one player in the league that could probably be expected to replicate his numbers in a more difficult league. He’s under contract for at least another season, though, so he’ll be pretty expensive if someone wants to take the punt.

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 16.39.42


2. Ilmari Niskanen

Ilmari Niskanen’s progress throughout the past six seasons has been remarkably consistent. Since appearing for the first time in 2013, his playing time has increased every season up until 2018 and will likely not increase anymore, as reaching 3000 minutes is incredibly rare – particularly for players who aren’t goalkeepers or centre backs.

Name Team Season Minutes
Niskanen KuPS 2013 1
Niskanen KuPS 2014 124
Niskanen KuPS 2015 914
Niskanen KuPS 2016 1251
Niskanen KuPS 2017 1856
Niskanen KuPS 2018 2905

He scored his first goal in 2014 and has shown glimpses of promise since then, but has suffered from being a career xG underperformer, which has also been the foremost narrative this season. Had he converted in line with his xG, he would have appeared on the above list of attacking midfield performers, and, most likely, taken the number one spot on this list. Honestly, it would probably have meant that he wouldn’t have signed his 1+1 year contract extension, as he would have had something better lined up.

It’s impossible to dismiss the gross underperformance (4G, 6A vs ~9xG, 7xA) but it shouldn’t be the sole take-away from this season. In fact, there are a couple of things that makes it quite exceptional. I usually tend to adjust figures for playing time, as that evens the board, but there’s something to be said for seasonal numbers as well, as there’s immense value to accumulating a lot of minutes. Having a good player who plays basically all the time is arguable more valuable than a great player who is only available for half of the minutes, as the seasonal numbers will depend on the replacement player.

In Niskanen’s case, this is illustrated by his 2018 being the only attacking midfield player season of more than 8 xG and 7 xA in the database. If you go by his per 90 numbers, there are two additional seasons of more than 0.25 xG/90 and 0.20 xA/90: Robin Lod in 2013 and Demba Savage in 2017. Neither of the two played more than 2000 minutes in their respective seasons. The meaning of all of this? Ilmari Niskanen is breaking out big time.

In terms of the composition of this list, there would be a legitimate argument for Niskanen in first place, which boils down to a discussion about production versus expected production (and maybe traditional scouting, floor and ceiling). For me, if I’d be sitting on a spare 500K€, I’d go for Lappalainen, probably. If I was on the receiving end of that 500K€ I’d probably take a significant chunk of that, spend it on Niskanen and feel pretty OK about the whole situation.

I like Niskanen, I really like him, but I like Lappalainen more. If xG is any indication, Niskanen will grab the headlines next season. Just remember that the breakout has been several years in the making.

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3. Rasmus Karjalainen

What to think of Rasmus Karjalainen? He started 2018 on fire, scoring goals for fun, getting called up to the Finnish national team, but as the season progressed he stalled a little, eventually getting replaced in the KuPS starting eleven by new signing Lucas Rangel. The major question mark in his case is his playing position. He started the season as a centre forward, but it seems like his coach soured on the idea approximately halfway through the season, after which he started to see more minutes on the wing, as well as a sub for Rangel. The problem for Karjalainen isn’t the things we traditionally associate with centre forward play – shooting and scoring – but rather the things that come with the territory – aerial and combination play. In the end, the good of the team was favoured over the good of the player, and Karjalainen’s playing time was limited, which seemed to correlate with KuPS starting to soar in the table.

Karjalainen in 2018 was unquestionably a centre forward, but the question is whether that is what he is going to be in the future. Between 2017 and 2018 his numbers were roughly similar, except his shots and xG almost doubled as he moved infield, but even with the lower numbers, he was a very productive player on the wing. Give them a bit of a bump due to general development as well as for playing for a better team and maybe you might have a more valuable player if you move him to the wing? Which is easier to find elsewhere, 0.30 xG from the wing or 0.50 xG from centre forward? Could Karjalainen’s overall game be developed?

I don’t mean to emphasise the negatives, but the way Karjalainen started this season there was a real feeling of striking gold about the whole situation. The positional switch, the quick promotion to the national team, the one-on-one with Klauss for the golden boot. That his season ended up fizzling out puts a bit of a negative spin on it, even if all-in-all there is much to like. He’ll outgrow prospectdom next season so even if he is absolutely a young player, he isn’t a very young player for the Veikkausliiga. The next move will be interesting, with a fair chance that it arrives in January, in which case KuPS will have a bit of money to throw around.

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Note that the scales, and some metrics are different between the radars. The top one uses the centre forward template and the bottom one is the attacking midfield/winger template.

4. Sebastian Dahlström

HJK strolled to the title with Sebastian Dahlström playing a lot, so there isn’t much to complain about, but on an individual level he had something of a down season, unfortunately. That’s more to do with setting the standards quite high in 2017 than it is with playing poorly. Last season, he would have been a shoe-in for the Top 3, but now I’m not so sure. There are some tactical considerations for sure: I’m not sure his having lower attacking numbers is totally down to him. His recoveries per lost balls seems to indicate that as well, as they have increased from 1.0 to 1.2 indicating that he is being deployed in a more conservative role.

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That’s unfortunate because at his best Dahlström is a devastating attacking weapon from deep – it’s his special sauce. If allowed to get forward, he is a genuine box-to-box threat. I wonder whether there was a concerted effort to reel him in a little though, because there can be some significant downsides to having a midfielder get so deep in the opponent’s half. On the other hand, facing a deep, compact defence, having midfielders running beyond attackers can be a really effective way of moving defenders around, creating awkward situations for the defence to deal with.

Dahlström is a good player overall. He’s a decent passer, he plays hard, covers ground. That’s a fairly boring profile – one that could be applied to a lot of Finnish midfielders in the league. Getting forward is what makes him stand out, it’s his carrying tool. I’m not suggesting he should play further forward, rather that he should be allowed to get further forward from a deeper position.

Considering Dahlström is likely to be the only regular HJK midfielder from 2018 to stick around in 2019, building around his strengths wouldn’t be a bad idea.

5. Lucas Lingman

I think it’s fair to say that RoPS was the biggest overperformers in 2018, when considering expectations heading into the season. For a couple of seasons now, RoPS has relied heavily on picking up intriguing talents from HJK (directly or indirectly), either on loan or permanently. Timo Stavitski, Saku Ylätupa, Leo Väisänen, Lassi Lappalainen, Lassi Järvenpää and Lucas Lingman have all provided excellent service to the Rovaniemi side, to the extent that only three of them still ply their trade in Finland (for the time being).

Lingman is probably most comfortable in a more advanced midfield position, but his skillset is not a bad fit for a deeper role either. He has good technique and an eye for a pass. He was one of the primary reasons for Lassi Lappalainen being allowed to display his prowess in front of goal, alongside Taye Taiwo.

From an attacking point of view, Lingman’s statistics don’t exactly stand out, which is partly due to RoPS being one of the lowest shooting teams in the league. If you were harsh, you could argue that Lingman is partly at fault for that, but I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. RoPS played some of the most deliberate football in the league, prioritising quality of chance over quantity.

It’s also worth mentioning that almost hitting 3000 minutes as a 20-year old is pretty rare – in fact, he is the youngest player to accumulate 2800 minutes since the start of the 2013 season. Usually players start doing the really heavy lifting in their age 21 and 22 seasons, so in terms of experience it’s a very promising start.

In terms of the future, transfermarkt tells me that there is a club option for two years in his contract that will surely be picked up by RoPS. That would give him a two year window to develop, something that he will certainly be given an opportunity to do. With Lappalainen no longer in the side, he will be one of the key pieces to build around for the foreseeable future.

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6. Sterling Yateke

I have been telling lies about Sterling Yateke. As it turns out, TPS did in fact have him locked down for 2019, which is a nice bit of news. I would expect them to be able to cash in on him this winter if they wanted to, and it is the option I would prefer, to be honest, as I think that playing in the second tier wouldn’t exactly be the most favourable option for Yateke. Not sure what the asking price would be, but he is the kind of talent that could be worth speculating on, especially for a low scoring team with some cash in the bank with an eye on selling him on in a season or two (yes, I’m specifically looking at you, lowest-scoring-team-in-2018 SJK).

He only managed to accumulate 816 minutes in 2018, so we’re still squarely in short sample size territory. The scoring record is gaudy, but there’s also much to like in the underlying numbers. There’s some polish needed in the overall game, as he has a tendency to give the ball away too easily, and you’d like to see him being more of a force in the air, but overall, this is quite nice for a 19-year old lottery ticket who came from nowhere mid-season.

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7. Eetu Vertainen

Eetu Vertainen’s 2018 is a case of sky-high expectations and maybe not quite disappointment but a distinct feeling that it could have been a lot better. That’s a little harsh, I admit. For his age he played a promising season, with more than enough indications that there’s more to come. It’s just that he’s such a promising talent that it’s almost too easy to dismiss his age: he is no player’s inferior physically in this league, he has the technical ability to match most anyone, he seems to have a mature head on his shoulders. It’s just that at times this season he seemed to be trying a bit too hard.

In 2018, Vertainen looked at his most comfortable playing for the U-19 national team (he had a good Euros tournament even if the team ended up flattering to deceive) and for Klubi 04 in the second tier. Maybe it was due to the lower expectations, maybe it was positional, maybe it was a mental thing, but at times it was palpable. When he’s loose, he can affect the game in so many ways. He’s capable in the air, with room to improve, he can run with the ball, he has an eye for a pass, he has a good shot and he is capable in the box.

I still think he profiles as a centre forward, even if the below radar is in the attacking midfield template (because he was moved around quite a lot, and accumulated the most time as an attacking midfielder), but I’m not sure the brass at HJK agree. If he’s to be a centre forward then the biggest hole in his game at the moment is his attraction to the ball, which sometimes draws him out of more dangerous areas. That becomes less of a problem if someone else is already occupying those positions.

Another potential problem is the poor areas from which he is shooting. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, but if its to be sustainable, he needs to pump up his shot rate. I’m looking at the 4 open play shots per 90 range as a target, which, admittedly, is crazy ambitious (Morelos x2, Klauss and Noubissi are the only players to reach it since 2013) but fits his profile, and the talent dictates that the aim is high enough. Get there, make slight improvements to the average quality of shot locations as well, and the future is bright.

Next season, I wonder if going on loan within the league wouldn’t be the best choice for Vertainen? RoPS seems like a pretty natural choice for many reasons, but I’m not sure I think it’s such a good idea from a personal development perspective – you’re not going to shoot 4 times a game in a team that totals 8 shots per game. KuPS, on the other hand, could be an interesting idea. There’s obviously also a gaping hole in the centre forward spot at HJK. Klubi tend to be quite conservative when it comes to squad building, so I don’t think that spot is earmarked for Vertainen, but if it is, that would obviously be quite an appealing proposition.

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8. Lauri Ala-Myllymäki

Lauri Ala-Myllymäki is, to my knowledge, the first free agent to appear on this list. His situation is somewhat complicated by the solidarity compensation that his next team will be required to pay, making him a not-quite-free agent. If a foreign club determines that he isn’t worth the outlay (I have no knowledge of it, but I would assume that it’s in the low six figures), he’ll likely sign a short term contract with another Finnish club before moving next year, as that changes the equation somewhat.

Ala-Myllymäki’s statistical profile is a bit wonky from playing just about everywhere on the pitch in 2018 – from centre half to centre forward – eventually clocking the most games as a central attacking midfielder. He’s been one of Ilves’ most important players for three seasons now, even carrying the captain’s armband this year. His strength is his versatility and his ability to use both feet. I particularly like his ability to carry the ball through midfield. Even if his dribbling ability doesn’t jump out in the data, it is something he displays regularly. He is a good shooter with both feet, and has a tendency to arrive late in the box to get on the end of cut backs from wide areas, which is reminiscent of Sebastian Dahlström even if their profiles are quite different otherwise.

Since the expectation is for him to move within the country, it will be interesting to see what happens next season. Playing for a better team, that can afford to assign him a position and stick with it, could mean a proper breakout in 2019.

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9. Juho Hyvärinen

Hyvärinen caught my attention last season by being exceptional in the air. It isn’t the sexiest of attributes for a fullback but with young players you’re looking for something that makes them stand out, and that was it. This season, his aerial play has been far less impressive, which is weird, as you would imagine it would be a metric that stabilises quickly and translates from season to season, and his overall numbers are quite pedestrian. He has suffered from some injury problems, however, which should be taken into consideration, and he’s still young.

Hyvärinen is quick and tenacious (and potentially good in the air) and in another system, could be a force going forward as well. He’s clocked some playing time further forward with some success. He gets a lot of credit for being young, but he has also showed some flashes of brilliance. Next season, if he manages to stay fit, the expectation will be for him to take that next step up, to start earning the credit rather than getting it by default. His coach has shown that he doesn’t care about age, as long as the performances are there, so there’ll be plenty of playing time up for grabs.

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10. Santeri Hostikka

Towards the end of 2018, Lahti seemed to sour on Santeri Hostikka. He appeared on the last day of the season, but missed out on a couple of games prior to that. He was at the end of his deal, so maybe there was a changing of the guard of sorts. Maybe he was carrying a knock, and since it was junk time, he was allowed a rest. We don’t know.

We do know, that for the past three seasons, Hostikka has probably been Lahti’s best player. He’s consistently among the top dribblers in the league, he’s a consistent producer of shots, for himself and for his teammates, he’s their danger man. It’s just… this season, nothing really worked for him. He ended up scoring his standard three goals (just like in 2016 and 2017) but only got one assist after getting eight in 2017. There isn’t really much of a reason why, to be honest. Lahti were without a proper centre forward and had to rely on punts into the box and shots from distance, and that’s a highly volatile style of play.

Hostikka’s down season couldn’t have come at a worse time. Had he been a free agent last winter, maybe an interesting team from abroad would have been ready to risk the solidarity payment to take a punt on him, but now, it’s going to be more difficult to argue for it. Which isn’t to say that someone shouldn’t – it’s just that there are far more ifs and buts now than there were a year ago, so somehow, he’s going to have to get around it.

A move within the division is looking like the most likely solution, and, to be honest, that sounds fairly appealing. Hostikka’s strength is his ability to run with the ball, to go past opponents. For Lahti, the only problem was, he’d only rarely use that ability to get in the box, and most of his chances would come from weird angles or distances. A team with a better plan in attack, could have a bargain on their hands, if only for a season. KuPS, Honka and HJK seem fairly set on the flanks, but RoPS are likely on the lookout for a left winger after losing Lappalainen. Could it be a marriage of convenience?

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