There were a few hiccups and dramas along the way, but in the end HJK Helsinki did what was expected of them and brought the title to Finland’s capital for the first time since 2003.
The biggest question mark over HJK’s march to victory was their coach, Antti Muurinen, who was under intense pressure from fans and the media after his refusal to give more playing time to youngsters from the club’s academy, which is widely regarded as the best youth-development programme in Finland.
This contrasted with Mika Lehkosuo’s Honka, who successfully integrated 18-year-old Rasmus Schuller into their side and retained a reputation as one of the most progressive and youth-orientated clubs in the country. Honka started the season badly, but improved over the year and pipped TPS to second spot on the final day of the season.
Muurinen’s cautious outlook, defensive tactics, reluctance to blood young players, and even his inability to swear properly, came under attack, but the mustachioed former national team manager had the last laugh when his side clinched the title by securing the single point they needed at home to FF Jaro on the last day of the season.
After losing the first Turku derby to Inter Turku in May, TPS went on a 16-game unbeaten run which was largely inspired by Wayne Brown, the midfielder signed on loan from Fulham, and Kasper Hamalainen, who was converted from skilful winger to solid defensive midfielder and is now expected to move abroad after breaking into the national team, where he plays in his original position.
Early title contenders Haka fell back into the pack after internal squabbling took its toll.
Owner Seppo Koskinen took a bigger and bigger role as the season wore on, and he finally fired Haka’s coach Olli Huttunen in early September, after much sniping and sabre-rattling in the press, and rumours of player movements undertaken against Huttunen’s wishes.
At the end of the season Koskinen also fired the club’s board and announced he would take an even more active role in player recruitment and all other aspects of the club’s operations. The nightclub magnate’s impatience might yet see further upheaval at Haka as the club, historically one of Finland’s most successful, restructures its budget and tries to cope with the de-industrialisation affecting Valkeakoski, the small town in which
it is based.
Finnish clubs failed to take advantage of UEFA’s reorganisation of the European club competitions. HJK were beaten by Vetra, Honka lost to Qarabakh and a Jari Litmanen-inspired Lahti put in a feisty performance but still went out at the hands of Brugge, all three exits in the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
Inter Turku’s first European campaign ended in disappointment when they exited the Champions League in the second qualifying round, losing to Sheriff Tiraspol.
At the bottom of the table, RoPS were relegated automatically, while JJK won their play-off against Kokkola side KPV. RoPS thought they might be reprieved after they were awarded three points from a game they lost 3-0 against KuPS when the Finnish FA found that KuPS had played Nigerian striker Dickson Nwakaeme before he was eligible. Nwakaeme had played a league match in Senegal during May and should therefore have waited until August for his debut.
KuPS appealed and somehow won their points back to finish safe from relegation, third from bottom. It was a difficult decision to understand, but Laplanders RoPS have few friends or advocates after their difficulties with the league’s ground requirements and their policy of bringing in a large number of cheap, mediocre foreigners to fill their squad.
Inter Turku will compete in Europe for only the second time after beating Tampere United 2-1 in a tense Cup Final. Tampere took the lead through Jonne Hjelm, but Kennedy Nwanganga equalised just before half time and sustained Inter pressure eventually told when Timo Furuholm scored the winner with 15 minutes left.