WEDNESDAY, 26TH AUGUST 1998
The night that Antti Muurinen and his HJK Helsinki side made history.
Two weeks after hosting French side FC Metz and grinding out a narrow 1-0 victory, HJK made the trip to Stade Saint-Symphorien and secured a 1-1 draw, and with it a place in the UEFA Champions League Group Stage – a feat not achieved by a Finnish side before or since.
HJK were easily the biggest underdogs of the entire group stage, not just their group. Finland’s 1998 UEFA Country Ranking was 31st, meaning 14 nations separated them and Ukraine (represented by Dynamo Kyiv), the next lowest at 17th. This was no side of amateurs though, the squad contained several regular Finnish internationals, most notably Aki Riihilahti and Shefki Kuqi, as well as emerging talent Mikael Forssell.
In defeating Metz, they knocked out a side who had only lost out on the Ligue 1 title on goal difference the year before, and then found themselves drawn into a group with Kaiserslautern (Bundesliga champions), PSV Eindhoven (2nd in Eredivisie) and Benfica (2nd in Primeira Divisão).
They certainly didn’t disgrace themselves.
PSV were the only side to take full points from their two meetings, with HJK securing a home draw against Kaiserslautern and an incredible four point haul against Benfica, beating the Portuguese side 2-0 at home before snatching a point in a thrilling 2-2 draw away from home.
HJK are the powerhouses of Finnish football, with a record 31 (32 just sealed in real time) league titles and 14 Finnish Cup wins, plus the prestige of holding the nation’s most successful ever European campaign. What they have achieved within Finland is incredible, but they aren’t our next love…
They’re our nemesis. There are new kids on the block.
Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho (the only time you’ll see their full name in this blog!) are a Veikkausliiga (Finnish Premier Divison) side who were formed just 15 years ago in 2007. In that short space of time they’ve already been able to make quite an impact on Finnish football.
After three years in the Kakkonen (third tier) SJK won promotion at the fourth attempt, winning the league with an unbeaten season in 2011. From there they went on an incredible run, where they finished second and then won the Ykkönen (second tier) in consecutive years in 2012 and 2013, and even more impressively repeated the feat in the Veikkausliiga, finishing second plus winning the Finnish League Cup in 2014 and then stunning HJK to win their first ever top flight title in 2015.
In just eight years, the side went from forming from a merger of two sides that spent just a combined three seasons in the top flight and now focus only on youth football, to earning two promotions and becoming the champions of their nation. A club with such ambition and drive to achieve early success should have been destined to keep rising, push HJK all the way and continue their momentum, but they haven’t been able to maintain what they started, and are starting to stagnate slightly.
In the past four seasons their highest league finish has been 6th, achieved in 2017 and 2020, while they’ve finished 9th in a 12 team league on the other two occasions. They’ve also had zero success in any of their brief European campaigns, with just one win and two draws from 10 matches in varying qualifying campaigns. (This info is correct at the time of writing, I’m unsure as to whether it will be reflected in game or not). It’s time for a reset and a fresh impetus, that’s where we come in.
GOALS FOR THE SAVE
For the third year in a row, I’m starting a save that I think is an interesting project with an interesting side, and that for me is more important than the tangible things that can be achieved within a Football Manager save. Of course there are always the basics, and they will apply to this save as they do every other save – we all want to be successful, win trophies, develop wonderkids etc. I’ll talk about this briefly at the end of this section, but once again this year, for me it’s more about me as the player of the game than the manager of the club.
That’s what I need to do. Two of the pieces of content I’m most proud of are ‘Applying a Pragmatic Approach to Football Manager’, and ‘How Mentality Affects Player Roles’, partly because I just think they’re good posts, but also because since I’ve written them I’ve genuinely noticed a subconscious shift in how I play Football Manager. My tactics are more pragmatic and balanced, my in-match tweaks and more thorough and more thought out, but in other areas I’m still rushing through because I want to make progress through the save. I want to play more slowly and be thorough, but I also want to progress a good distance into the future in the save. To do that, I need to commit.
My main area of focus this year is going to be scouting. It was going to be anyway, even before the announcement of the recruitment revamp, but after reflecting on my last two saves I think it’s the area of the game I’ve slipped on the most.
In El Violeta back on FM21 I developed some incredible newgens and sold a couple on for really good money, but I never actually spent a penny on a transfer fee, every single signing over 8 seasons was on a free transfer. If this was what I set out to achieve I’d be really pleased, but the truth is my scouting wasn’t good enough and so when I finally made some money I had no targets to go out and get. I don’t have regrets about how the save went or ended, but I do wonder if with better scouting I may have been in a position to win the Copa Libertadores rather than falling at the last hurdle.
Then this year with FC Volendam I only had two seasons, but I never set a single scouting assignment, every player brought to the club was from the scouting recommendations but they were just looking for generic targets with no input, meaning that even early in a save I was missing out on some gems no doubt.
I don’t have a set plan yet for my scouting, I’ll have a look at how it works in my BETA save and try to set something up for when this save starts, but as always it will be a progression, a Finnish side isn’t going to have the infrastructure to perfect scouting straight away even if we know how to!
In terms of actual in save aims, I’ll split them into short and long term goals.
So there we are, my FM23 save has officially been revealed! Let me know what you think on Twitter @adam_otbfm or down in the comments below this post!
Catch you next time!
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