Straight talking from Savo

December 28, 2007
By Egan Richardson

Finns have a joke they tell about people from the Eastern Finnish province of Savo. Roughly translated, it goes 'when someone from Savo is talking, the responsibility lies with the listener', meaning that what they say should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

GettyImagesJaaskelainen has been between the sticks at Bolton since 1997

This is because they talk so much in comparison to other Finns that some people believe they cannot possibly be telling the truth the whole time. These regional stereotypes are known by the altogether more exciting term heimoerot, or 'tribal differences', rather than 'provincial p*ss-taking' as they might be called in the UK.

Jussi Jääskeläinen, a native of Mikkeli in southern Savo, blows this stereotype right out of the water. Like all footballers coming to the end of a contract, Jääskeläinen is angling for the best possible deal. At the end of this season he will be a 33-year-old free agent, and has a responsibility to his family to make sure his next contract is the right one.

This means he really does not want to talk to the media about his contract right now. Meeting ESPNsoccernet before the Christmas programme got underway, Finland's number one dealt with a question about the recent Galatasaray speculation without fuss.

'Obviously my contract finishes at the end of this season and you never know what will happen in football. Ideally I'd like to stay here, but at the same time, I'm not going to say I'm not going anywhere else.'

Jääskeläinen is a qualified electrician, having made his breakthrough when the Finnish top flight was still semi-professional, and you sense that he appreciates a stable family life as well as a big salary. What might be platitudinous coming from another footballer actually sounds plausible when Jääskeläinen says it. Even if he is from Savo.

He has certainly acquired the same priorities as the club he's spent 10 years at now. Bolton are by necessity focussed on maintaining Premiership status, as that is the only way they can keep the kind of squad they have now.

Two minutes after the UEFA Cup draw our interview began, and one of the first questions was whether he was looking forward to playing Atletico Madrid.

'Definitely, but the main aim is now in the League. We have to get some points over the Christmas period and see if we can get some distance on that bottom three.'

Doesn't that seem a little bit negative, that you can't go all out for glory in the cup competitions because you have to prioritise the league?

'No, it's not negative, but the football club is based on success in the Premier league and staying in the Premier League. We played below our standards for the first ten games, but then we bounced back from that and hopefully we can build on that now.'

And just like that, the modern Premiership player flits from a brief flirtation with a death or glory tie at the Vicente Calderón to the much more important task of securing three points from Birmingham in Horwich.

You can't blame the players, but there has to be something fundamentally wrong with the economics of modern football, if that is really what people think when told they are going to play Atletico Madrid in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.

Jääskeläinen is grateful for the stability provided by Gary Megson, after a turbulent start to the season saw Allardyce's long-standing assistant Sammy Lee sacked after a poor run.

'Of course it takes some time to adjust, but that's in the past now. You have to look to the new manager for the ideas that he's going to bring in. Sammy tried to build on the base Allardyce put in place, but everyone makes different decisions.'

'When Gary Megson came in he brought a few more ideas, putting the basic organisation back together on the field. I'm happy with the way he's managing the team and the club, and he's a manager who deserves the chance to have these kind of players around him.'

'At the end of the day a manager's a manager and I'm a player, and I just want to play for the football club.'

At this point your correspondent was reaching for the heimoerot cliches, but this is of course what any footballer would say in Jääskeläinen's position. The turmoil that followed Big Sam and Little Sammy's departures were bad for the club, and Jääskeläinen understandably wants a period of calm. After ten years under one manager, he is willing Megson to succeed to provide a measure of continuity.

Having wrested the keeper's jersey away from Antti Niemi to become the undisputed number one for Finland, Jääskeläinen was bitterly disappointed to just miss out on qualification for the European Championships next summer.

'I think in qualifying we proved that (Finland are able to make the step up). The two teams that qualified from our group were Poland and Portugal. We beat Poland away, drew with them at home and then we drew both games with Portugal, so I think that proves everything. We just had a few bad games away from home, Azerbaijan away when we could easily have won with a bit more luck.'

GettyImagesJaaskelainen feels the pain as Finland fall short

'We need a strong manager, because that's what Roy Hodgson was for us. He knows what he's doing, he knows how to get the best out of players. We need someone who can build on what we did. You can't really call it a success, but the foundations were laid, and hopefully we can go one step further next time.'

Jääskeläinen has played under three managers this year, four if you include Hodgson. Comparing Hodgson with his predecessor Antti Muurinen, or Allardyce with his successors at Bolton, might involve some unflattering comments. The Bolton keeper was having none of it when asked to discuss the merits of Hodgson and Muurinen.

'Obviously the results speak for themselves, but I'm not going to start comparing two managers. I never do that, because everyone has weaknesses and strengths.'

Speculating about the future for Finland is not a hobby of Jääskeläinen, and he cuts in sharply when a question is posed about the possible international retirement of Hyypiä and Litmanen.

'Obviously you don't know that, so you can't really speculate on what they're going to do in the future.'

Obviously we don't know that, and we look forward to finding out. The new year will bring a lot of changes for Finland, Bolton and possibly Jääskeläinen, but it's hard not to believe him when he says he wants to stay at 'the Wanderers', as he calls the club he joined back in 1997.


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