It’s impossible to be a football fan and to not know a few things about Litmanen, the greatest player in the history of Finland. He was born in Lahti on 20th of February 1971 and since 1977 he played for the junior teams of Reipas, the local rivals of Kussysi. Until 1990, HJK Helsinki took him, but only for one year, after which he spent another season at MyPA, a team that won in that season the Finish Cup. A first trophy, but nothing announced his prodigious career that was about to started, but the transfer at Ajax Amsterdam in 1992 chanced everything. At Amsterdam he became an indispensable man for seven seasons. Litmanen appeared in 222 matches in all competitions for the Dutch side and he also scored a impressive number of goals: 128. In 1996 he became the UEFA Champions League top scorer, with nine pieces. But that prize is insignificant comparing to all the trophies Jari won with Ajax: UEFA Champions League (1995), UEFA Super Cup (1995), Intercontinental Cup (1995), four time Dutch champion (1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998), three times winner of the Dutch Cup (1993, 1998 and 1999).
This number of distinctions was a strong reason to make him a target for giants Barcelona, which transferred him in 1999. Arrived in Catalunya, Litmanen stood there only two seasons, but without winning a single trophy. In fact, he only played 29 games in the first one, because the first half of the second counted zero at the chapter matches played. Four goals scored were all that he gave for the Spaniards. So, it was time to leave. Jari reached 30, but Liverpool considered him a valuable striker and so he signed the Finish at the middle of 2000-2001 season. Litmanen did not play much (only 11 games with just two goals scored), but at the end of that competitive year he attached to his CV an impressive number of five trophies: UEFA Cup, FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the FA Community Shield. Another 32 matches in the next year with seven goals scored and it seemed that he was experiencing a second youth. But the bosses from Anfield weren’t so impressed anymore and he left him leave at the middle of 2002. He returned to Ajax and played here two more years, until he became 34. He won another title at the end of 2004, but he didn’t help too much to get this success.
When he returned home at FC Lahti he was 34 and it seemed that his career approaches its end, especially that he played only 13 games and scored 3 goals. Despite all the appearances, Litmanen decided to experience new cultures from other countries! First, it was Germany, where he played a couple of games for Hansa Rostock in the 2004-2005 season of Bundesliga. He continued by signing with Malmo, the most successful Swedish side. Jari stayed there until 2007, when he made a shocking comeback in Premier League, at Fulham. In one year he did not played a single game for the team from London but he discovered the strength to continue playing at high level, but again in his native Lahti. He stood there until 2010 and at the end of that year he was 39. A very high age for an attacker, but not for Litmanen, who took one more surprisingly decision and came back to play for HJK Helsinki after 20 years!
But do you think that he at least stop playing for the Finnish national side? No, he didn’t and he continues to improve his record for Finland. He played his first game in 1989, and since then, another 136 occasions made him bear the national shirt. And he did scored 32 goals during all this 22 years, despite Finland never made it to an important continental tournament.
I insisted a bit on Litmanen’s career and I forgot a little about his successor, Teemu Pukki, a youngster of 21 years that can became a new star. 29th March 1990 is the day when he was born at Kotka and at 18 years he signed a contract with Seville. He stayed there two years, but in Primera he did not played but a single game, on 25th of January 2009, against Racing. So, he found himself unused there and he decided to return and play in his home country, for HJK Helsinki. But after a few days after his decbut in the Spain first league, Pukki also played first time for the national team, coming in as a substitute in the 67th minute of the friendly against Japan, lost 5-1. But can you guess who he replaced? Yes, the one who exited was that great Litmanen.
Maybe it only looks like a coincidence, but on 18th of August 2011, the young striker became famous all over the World as he scored twice for HJK in a shocking 2-0 win against Schalke, the former semi-finalist of the UEFA Champions’ League last year, in the play-off for the Europa League stage. It sounds like a name that will be heard about in the next years!