Big Sam’s Mr Con­sis­tent is not ready to stop yet

The Football League Paper - - PROFILE ON - By Chris Dunlavy

LIKENED to leg­end Peter Sch­me­ichel, ad­mired by Arsene Wenger, a by­word for con­sis­tency and a bona fide Bolton leg­end. Jussi Jaaske­lainen is, with­out doubt, one of the finest goal­keep­ers the Premier League has seen.Yet that tal­ent was far from ev­i­dent when he stepped off the plane from Helsinki in the sum­mer of 1997.

“Jussi was a very dif­fer­ent player then,” said Fred Bar­ber, Jaaske­lainen’s coach at Bolton and the man who would be­come his friend and men­tor for the next 15 years.

“He couldn’t han­dle wet weather. In Fin­land, he’d played in snow and they trained in­doors, so his kick­ing was er­ratic. We had to bring in a spe­cial­ist to help with that.

“He was the fourthor fifth-choice goal­keeper and I re­mem- ber one coach turned to me and said he’d cost me my job.

“But I be­lieved in Jussi’s abil­ity and we worked on all his weak­nesses. He worked hard, lis­tened, tried to dis­sect ev­ery­thing he was told. To see it pay off was fan­tas­tic.”

So en­dur­ing was the bond be­tween Bar­ber and Jaaske­lainen that, when Owen Coyle brought in his own ‘keep­ing coach in 2010, the Finn threat­ened to quit un­less his friend was re­in­stated. Last sum­mer, fol­low­ing the goalie’s re­lease from West Ham, Bar­ber trav­elled to Bolton to put on a train­ing ses­sion in Jaaske- lainen’s back gar­den. Yet this meet­ing of minds may never have hap­pened had Nor­wich not been ruth­lessly gazumped.

The son of an elec­tri­cian, Jaaske­lainen was born into an in­dus­trial com­mu­nity and had in­tended to fol­low his father’s lead be­fore ea­gle-eyed scouts spot­ted his ap­ti­tude.

In 1992, aged just 17, he made his Veikkaus­li­iga (Fin­land's first divi­sion) de­but for home town club Mikke­lin Pal­loil­i­jat. Four years later, he was snapped up by VPS Vaasa, one of the big­gest sides in the land.

Un­der-21 hon­ours fol­lowed and, dur­ing a tour­na­ment in Ro­ma­nia, Jaaske­lainen was in­vited for a trial with Nor­wich. Ca­naries boss Mike Walker was on the cusp of of­fer­ing a deal when he was struck by per­sonal tragedy.

Em­braced

Back in Fin­land, Jaaske­lainen was un­aware of the rea­son for the de­lay and, when Bolton nipped in with a bid of £100,000, player and club ac­cepted.

Th­ese days, the Finn and his wife, Tessa, have em­braced life in Bolton. Sons Emil, Robin and Wil­liam were all born in the Lan­cashire town, with the el­dest now a goal­keeper in the Trot­ters’ Un­der-18 ranks.

Back then, how­ever, it was tougher.“I did not speak a word of English,” he re­calls. “And, dur­ing my first three months here, we lived in a Trav­elodge.”

Nor did he much en­joy the tough love of Bar­ber, whom he chris­tened “Pa­ho­lainen”, the Fin­nish word for ‘Devil’.

But the seeds planted by Bar­ber soon bore fruit. From the day he made his de­but in 1998 to the day he de­parted in 2012, Jaaske­lainen barely missed a game, mak­ing 530 ap­pear­ances as the cor­ner­stone of Bolton’s trans­for­ma­tion from Divi­sion One also-rans to Euro­pean con­tenders. It wasn’t all plain sail­ing. Jaaske­lainen was prone to the oc­ca­sional howler. But they were far out­weighed by mo­ments of match­win­ning bril­liance: the sen­sa­tional dou­ble save to deny Paul Sc­holes and Andy Cole in 2001, the two penalty stops in one game against Black­burn.

Then there was the 2006-07 sea­son, when the Finn walked away with ev­ery player of the year award as Bolton fin­ished sev­enth, sub­se­quently spurn­ing top-four in­ter­est to sign a new four-year deal.

Sam Al­lardyce, who once cal­cu­lated Jaaske­lainen was worth 9-12 points a sea­son, said: “When you talk about cen­tre­for­wards scor­ing and cre­ative play­ers mak­ing goals to win games, you some­times over­look just how much of an im­pact keep­ers have on the out­come.

“He made great saves at cru­cial times. With­out want­ing to heap too much praise on him, I would have to de­scribe him as our Peter Sch­me­ichel, be­cause I can’t think of any higher praise.”

Kevin Poole, the vet­eran stop­per who vied with Jaaske­lainen for the No.1 shirt at the Reebok, added:“He has been Mr Con­sis­tent over the years and he’s a great lad who works re­ally hard at his game. I do think he could have gone higher, but he stayed at Bolton and he de­serves all the credit he gets be­cause it’s rare to see loy­alty like that th­ese days.”

Tri­alling

Jaaske­lainen fi­nally de­parted in 2012, fol­low­ing Bolton’s rel­e­ga­tion to the Cham­pi­onship, but not be­fore pass­ing his knowl­edge to Adam Bog­dan, the Hun­gar­ian stop­per who took his place.

“He gave me so much im­por­tant ad­vice,” said the 28-year-old, now at Liverpool. “The big­gest thing was just how to be pro­fes­sional, and the im­por­tant ba­sic things that are needed to reach the top level, such as de­ci­sion-mak­ing.”

Jaaske­lainen would spend the next three sea­sons with Al­lardyce at West Ham be­fore join­ing League One Wi­gan af­ter a sum­mer spent tri­alling with sev­eral clubs.

“That was typ­i­cal of Jussi,” said Bar­ber. “He was never go­ing to lounge around and sit back on his rep­u­ta­tion.”

Time is run­ning out and other in­ter­ests – he owns sev­eral horses – will soon take cen­tre stage. But not yet.

“Peo­ple have told me ‘Stay in the game as long as you can be­cause once you are done, you are done’,” he says. “And I am not ready to stop yet.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

WET BE­HIND EARS: The young Jussi Jaaske­lainen strug­gled at first to cope with our rain

LOY­ALTY CARD: Bolton fans re­spected their goal­keeper’s long ser­vice

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