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Aapo Virtanen: Don’t Look Back In Anger

Started on 6 November 2018 by Jack
Latest Reply on 5 September 2019 by Justice
Some incredible results in Europe there mate, Oulu could be a real surprise package this year
Scott: It'll certainly be a 'finding their feet' kind of test given the quality of Basel and they are without a doubt the best team we have come up against during my time at the club. Will be interesting for sure.

Griffin: I'd like to think we will be in there with a shout, but it's tough to call!

In the club's first ever year in a European competition, Finnish club AC Oulu has stunned the continent as they make their arrival in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Founded in 2002 after a merger between five separate clubs formed AC Oulu, the club spent its first four seasons in the Finnish First Division - Ykkonen - before its first promotion in 2006 to the Veikkausliiga. The club yo-yo'd between the divisions between 2006 and 2010.

However, in 2017 Oulu hired its current manager Aapo Virtanen and ended a seven-year spell in the second tier as Oulu finished Ykkonen champions in 2018. Just two years after, Virtanen went on to win the Veikkausliiga title and the domestic cup in 2020.

This led to qualification to the 2021/22 Champions League, starting in the Champions First Qualifying round against Armenian champions Alashkert, defeating them 12-0 on aggregate. Kazakh champions were also defeated in the next round by a 7-2 aggregate score.

However, it was in the third qualifying round that the pundits really began to sit up and pay attention to this plucky Scandinavian outfit led by a young 34-year-old. In front of a 33,000 crowd, Oulu obliterated the Swiss Super League champions FC Basel 4-0 in the first leg thanks to a Teemu Savolainen hat-trick. Basel were finished off in the second leg at Oulu's Raatin Stadion home despite Basel winning the game 3-1, the tie finished 5-3 on aggregate.

In the tournament's final round before the lucrative group stage, Oulu were pitted against the Danish Superliga runners-up Midtjylland in the Playoff. After bagging an away goal in the first leg in a 2-1 defeat at MCH Arena in Denmark, it was left to Oulu's Joni Makela to scrape the Finnish team through to the group stage with an 84th minute winner in the second leg.

Oulu are the only semi-professional team that has appeared in the later stages of the Champions League and most certainly in the group stage. However, with the qualification to the group stage raking in approximately £14,000,000, Oulu's chairman has at last announced the intention to take the club professional this December.

Virtanen's side may have stunned a few by victories over Basel and Midtjylland, but the semi-professional club have been put against three of Europe's biggest giants in Group G. Oulu will come up against Thomas Tuchel's Arsenal who boast the likes of Milinkovic-Savic, Lemar and Lacazette in their first fixture at the Emirates Stadium.

In their second game, Oulu will face 10-time Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, led by World Cup winning manager Didier Deschamps who has Neymar, Marco Asensio and Sadio Mané all at his disposal when the Parisians pull up at Ratinan Stadion (used due to Raatin Stadion's capacity is too small for this stage).

Finally, it is two-time Champions League holders FC Porto that have been placed in Group G with Oulu. Former Argentina and FC Barcelona manager Tata Martino leads the team who have Cameroonian star striker Vincent Aboubakar, Otávio and Felipe within their ranks.

Oulu's chances of getting out of this group are absolutely minuscule considering the teams put against them in comparison to the much kinder draws across this phase. One European giant will have to exit at this stage, which makes Oulu's chances of getting further even less likely. However, if Oulu can manage a 3rd-place finish, they will drop into the Europa League knockout contest later on.
Wow. What an achievement for both Oulu, the football club and the area and Aapo himself. Beating both Basel and Midtjylland is no easy feat, especially given the club's stature in comparison to the two. The financial impact the Champions League will have on the club is fantastic and should allow for further progression in the future; in terms of bringing in better players and being able to offer more money, alongside finally turning professional.

Long live Aapo, though!
Unbelievable achievement for you and the club, congratulations man

In August and September, we remarkably found our way past two big clubs in their respective countries of Switzerland and Denmark as we defeated both Basel and Midtjylland in the qualifying phases of the Champions League. This led to the clubs entrance into the group stage of the competition, raking in just over €14,000,000 in the process - a monumental financial gain for a club that has been operating on a balance of around just €1.5million before this. However, our time in Europe seems limited as we are being pummelled in the group phase by some of Europe's biggest powerhouses.

In the Veikkausliiga for the past two months we have had a 67% win rate as September was a fairly rocky month for domestic results following August's 100% win record.

August began with an easy 3-0 thrashing of persistent domestic strugglers Seinajoen in the game before our Champions League clash with Basel. Other clean sheets against Helsinki and Vaasan also complimented the performances of our defence and goalkeeper. In September, we found proceedings slightly more challenging with the prospect of upcoming European games and therefore only won two out of the five Veikkausliiga fixtures put before us, including a 4-0 crushing of Rovaniemen.

In the Champions League, our first game treated us to an unbelievable 4-0 domination of Swiss champions FC Basel at their own St. Jakob-Park. This was followed up in the second leg with an unfortunate 3-1 loss back in Finland, but a 5-3 aggregate victory was recorded, leading to the final step before the group stage. We were drawn against Midtjylland of Denmark and Antti Huhtamaki's away goal in the first leg defeat at MCH Arena proved crucial as we advanced into the group stage on the technicality of away goals. Despite receiving in the region of €14million for reaching the group stage, we have taken batterings from giants such as Arsenal, who decimated us with a 5-0 win in London before Edinson Cavani took control of the game at Raatin Stadion as Paris Saint-Germain floored us 7-0 on our own turf.

Our great form in the league during August extended our lead at the top, but after dropping points in September our position has gotten slightly less certain. Due to our continued involvement in European football, we have several games in hand on those teams below us, as well as a five-point gap between ourselves and 2nd placed Inter Turku. So far, we have guaranteed involvement in the Europa League next season, along with Suomen Cup winners Mariehamn but obviously we will be pushing further for the Champions League qualification with only five games remaining for us.

In the battle for Europa League spots, the current top four seem to be in prime position. Inter Turku should have no issues qualifying, and even if Mariehamn do go ahead of Helsinki in the last few games, Helsinki will qualify on the basis that Mariehamn have already qualified for Europe this season following their Suomen Cup victory. Only Kuopion and FC Ilves really have an opportunity to go ahead of their top-four rivals - particularly if Ilves make good use of their game-in-hand.

At the bottom end of the table, Seinajoen were finally confirmed as safe from relegation as both Jyvaskyla and Ekenas have been confirmed as the teams involved in relegation proceedings. Neither have been officially condemned to automatic relegation as of yet, but it is in Jyvaskyla's hands currently for the relegation play-off place which leaves them with some form of hope of staying up for the 2022 campaign next year.

The Finnish footballing season comes to a close in October and we have five domestic fixtures left to play in this month. We face the two relegation candidates one after the other in our first two games, before we go on to face Ilves twice in a row in the Veikkausliiga. Our last game of the season will take place at Kuopion's Keskuskentta ground where we will hopefully finish the season with the domestic top-flight title in our hands.

We only have one Champions League fixture in October as FC Porto welcome us to their Estádio de Dragao stadium in Portugal. With the domestic season finished by November arrives, both FC Porto and Arsenal will come to Finland to take us on at the Ratinan Stadion, due to the Raatin Stadion being too small to host a Champions League group stage fixture.

New Signing:

During the transfer window, we made just the one signing as Nigerian left-winger Ikechukwu Mohammed joined us on a four-year deal. The 20-year-old signed for an initial fee of €275,000 which could rise up to a maximum of €550,000 depending on clauses. He joined from Owerri-based club Heartland FC, who compete in Africa's main continental competition.

The youngster joined the Heartland academy in 2014, aged just 14 years old at the time and has worked his way up to become a first-team player in 2018, making his debut in the CAF Confederation Cup against Enyimba. Since then, he has made 36 appearances in all competitions for his boyhood team, making 7 assists and scoring once for his club.

Internationally, after making six appearances for the Nigeria Under-20 team, scoring three goals, he subsequently became Nigeria's youngest ever senior team player at the age of 18 years and 155 days as he debuted against Congo's national team in October 2020. Since then he has made six caps for the senior team. It has been rumoured that Oulu's Nigerian goalkeeper David Obi convinced Mohammed to make the move to Finland while on international duty with the winger.


Scott: Honestly, when I was watching us put the first couple of goals past Basel in the first leg I was not expecting us to do not only that game but actually go on all the way to the group stage! The finances are about eight times better than ever before in my entire tenure here, and coinciding with the decision (at last!) to go pro in December, times really are changing and my influence here is really beginning to show.

Griffin: Thanks man, it really did stun me, but for this season I think we have finally reached our line and the group stage really is enough for me at this current stage in my career here.
The title is pretty much yours. It would take a rather silly slip-up in order for you to lose that. The Champions League group mauling was expected, let's be honest. It's still a fantastic moment for the club and the supporters nonetheless. Things to work towards in the future on that front.

The new signing looks to be a good piece of business!
The Mohammed signing should be a great piece of business!

And there we have it! We have arrived at the end of my fourth full season at the helm at AC Oulu. Although we missed out on the Suomen Cup earlier in May, we retained the Veikkausliiga title by a much healthier 12-point margin on runners-up International Turku. However, perhaps more remarkably we reached the group stage of our first ever appearance on the European stage in the most prestigious club competition on the earth.

However, we must go through the monthly results of October and November as the Finnish footballing season comes to a close. A run of three consecutive 1-0 victories in October sealed the title in mid-October as Jyvaskyla and Ekenas were first put to the sword in our first games before the title was sealed against Ilves. Sadly we could not finish our league season on a high with a last game victory against Kuopion or Ilves for that matter but regardless, the silverware fell into our hands no matter what score the last two league games ended.

In the Champions League, it is simply more predictably bad news. As the only semi-professional club left in the Champions League at this stage, we are bound to be outclassed and we have been. Two 1-0 losses to FC Porto are hardly embarrassing results to say the Primeira Division club have won the Champions League title twice in their existence, meanwhile the financial superiority showed in the quality of players that Arsenal displayed against us as they rounded off a 4-0 win at the Ratinan Stadion as they boasted the likes of Thomas Lemar, Lewis Cook and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in their lineup against us.

We finished the 33-game season on 72 points - twelve ahead of our nearest rivals Inter Turku - which subsequently led to us winning the league title. We are the only club in the country to represent Finland in the 2022-23 Champions League campaign and hopefully we can reach similar levels at the next time of asking.

In the Europa League spots of 2nd and 3rd sit Inter Turku and still arguably the most reputable side in Finland, Helsinki. Both deservedly stand in the positions with equally impressive campaigns despite Helsinki's board seeing fit to sack their manager Alexei Eremenko after just one year at the helm at Toolon Stadion in the capital city, just one year after their last manager Sami Hyypia was met with the same fate. However, Inter Turku keep their manager Jani Honkavaara who enters his third season next year after attaining two consecutive 2nd place finishes with the one-time Veikkausliiga champions. IFK Mariehamn also qualify for the Europa League despite finishing outside the top three as they won the Suomen Cup earlier in the summer to guarantee their European spot next season.

However, at the other end of the table it is both of the Veikkausliiga new boys who will drop straight back down into the second tier for the 2022 campaign as Ekenas finished bottom on 13 points, meanwhile Jyvaskyla lost in their relegation play-off salvation attempt as Seinajoen remained comfortably afloat. The two teams will be replaced by this years Ykkonen champions FC Haka who return to the top flight after ten whole years adrift, joined by Mikkeli who won the relegation play-off against Jyvaskyla and return to the top-flight for the first time since 1996.

An immensely impressive showing from ourselves in the 2021 Veikkausliiga awards. In the team of the season, ten out of the eleven positions were filled by Oulu players, with Inter Turku's defender Daniel Kamy Ntankeu the only exception in the best eleven.

For the second year running, I retain the Manager of the Year award with a win ratio of 69% across the 33 matches we played this campaign.

The Veikkausliiga Player of the Year was won surprisingly by our very own Lorenzo Di Livio, who has had a fantastic season but shocked many due to his lack of games in comparison with other contenders for the award. In 19 appearances the Italian winger scored six goals and assisted with nine in the league season.

The top goalscorer award was never a close call as Teemu Savolainen netted sixteen goals throughout this season, with his closest contender being Kuopion's Dejair Guimaraes and Helsinki's Lassi Lappalainen who both finished on twelve goals.

The Veikkausliiga Rookie of the Year award - given to young players in their maiden season in the top-flight - was awarded to our 20-year-old attacking midfielder Oliver Antman who made 24 appearances and contributed to seven goals by manner of goals and assists.

This season for the first time ever, I release the financial figures for the 2020-2021 year. I do this simply because as a result of European competitiveness this season, the clubs financial situation has increased around 14-fold since the year before. At the beginning of this season, our overall bank balance stood at around the €1,400,000 mark following our first ever Suomen Cup and Veikkausliiga titles in 2020. Now our balance stands at approximately €19,000,000.

Of course, as you can see this is mainly because of the influence of reaching the Champions League group stage which netted the clubs coffers around €14,000,000 following on from the knockout rounds prize money. However, even if we hadn't even competed in the Champions League, we have kept well within our budget this season that without any Champions League money we would have netted an annual profit of just over €3,500,000.

The low wages and continuity of the squad from the days of the Ykkonen and our first season in the Veikkausliiga has led to extremely impressively managed finances and as a result, we can look forward to dominating the domestic league financially and to hopefully make even more European headway with a much stronger playing squad in the coming seasons.

Scott: The title most certainly was ours ;) I really was not expecting anything in Europe this season, never mind reaching the Champions League group stage so that in itself is a huge achievement, not only managerially but financially! I really hope Mohammed can pull out some serious development in the coming years because he sure looks a prospect.

Griffin: Really hoping so! It's a shame he wasn't a little younger so there was time to make him a homegrown player, but he has the quality so I'm hoping he pulls it out the bag for us on the pitch :D
Congratulations on the title! Aapo has worked wonders at the club and this season is no different. The two results against Porto are particularly pleasing, too. To only lose by a 2-0 aggregate score shows real improvement. The TotS really highlights the quality of the squad these days, with complete domination. Could we be expecting Mr Virtanen to delve into the market to bring in Ntankeu? ;)

The financial implications of the Champions League are huge for sides like Oulu. Turning professional will be a massive step forward and money will be set aside for you to bring in further quality. Year upon year I expect progression from now. However, making it to the group stage will be a tricky task, but you catch my drift...

Long live Aapo Virtanen, anyway.

Ah, the final board meeting of the 2021 season. I thought to myself, walking through the revolving entrance doors of Raatin Stadion. At the beginning of this campaign I was completely distraught, devastated by the silly accusations thrown at me over the Niilo Makinen affair - that still hasn't yet concluded.

"Morning darling," I said to my girlfriend Leena, who was now head of club communications after a promotion from secretary. "Are you coming to mine after work tonight or are you busy?"

"Sure, I'll be round at your house at about seven o'clock, is that OK?" She replied with her beautiful gleaming smile.

"Sounds good to me," I smiled back at her. "Just got the end of season meeting through there and I'll be out of here."

I always thought of the first days of working at Oulu whenever I walked through the newly renovated corridors of the building, leading towards the boardroom. Memories of my initial hiring in late December 2017 flooded back every time.

"Good morning gentlemen!" I cheerfully said as I swung open the door of the boardroom.

"Ah! Aapo! How are you this fine afternoon?" asked the managing director Petteri Haapala. The rest of the room were standing, with great big beaming corporate smiles in their expensive suits, all ready to greet me.

Once the pleasantries were over, I took a seat opposite to the six board members as we prepared to discuss end-of-season matters.

"First things first, Aapo," the chairman Risto Ihalainen started. "This will be the last time we have meetings like this in the quarters of the clubs stadium. We'll be moving to a new operating office in March where pretty much all of the clubs paperwork and all the boring stuff will be done,

"But please, let us all thank you for what has been the greatest year of all our memories with running this club since we began almost twenty years ago now." the rest of the room nodded in agreement, with a thumbs up from one of the other directors. "This year, the club finished the season with an overall balance of €19,200,000 - quite frankly one of the biggest balances in the history of any club in Finnish football,"

"And to that, we owe it all down to you," chimed Ville Pukka, clasping his hands together on the far-right of the table.

"Absolutely Ville," agreed the chairman Risto Ihalainen. "And to really give back to you and you achievements in the past few years, but most of all this seasons outstanding performance, we have sorted a few great things for you,"

"I'd absolutely love to hear them!" I said gleefully as I anticipated the predictably good news.

The clubs financial director, Pasi Moilanen tapped a pile of papers that he was holding onto on the wooden table, asserting his upcoming introduction into the conversation.

"Yes, absolutely Risto," he said, picking out certain documents and passing them over to me on the other side. "What we have for the 2022 season are some drastically positive changes, as a result of the rewards received from reaching the Champions League group stage.

"We are handing you a transfer budget of sixteen million Euros as well as a wage budget of just over one-hundred thousand Euros per week."

The words 'sixteen million' rang around my mind as if I'd just been hit on the head with the entire weight of the sum! I had only ever operated on a budget of €3,000,000 at most!

"On top of this, the transition of the club from semi-professional to a professional football club has been successfully completed in the past few months," Moisanen continued, as if he was unleashing a train of good news hurtling towards me. "And even more great news is that the board have sanctioned a €2.3million upgrade of Oulu's training and youth facilities, expected to be completed in around mid-April this year."

Risto Ihalainen interjected once more in proceedings by adding: "Yes, it's all fantastic news, and to add to it all we sent Pasi down to the bank the other day and we have finally paid off the remaining €900,000 loan with immediate effect."

It was the perfect board meeting.

Scott: Cheers mate, the Porto result did come as a slight consolation despite losing simply because it wasn't as bad as the other results earlier against Arsenal and PSG :)) But you're right, the financial boost has been astronomical this season as a result of our advancement into the group stages. Long live Aapo Virtanen!
Look at that! :O Some absolutely brilliant developments, especially regarding that huge transfer budget. The turn to professional will only add to that. The improvement of the training and youth facilities is just the cherry on top of the cake, one probably made by Mary Berry.

After a second consecutive Veikkausliiga title win and the most successful season in Oulu memory, departures at the club have began as transfer windows across the globe have opened.

Instantly after the Veikkausliiga campaign ended, offers flooded in from the Saudi Arabian Zain Professional League for several players playing in the Finnish top tier with its growing reputation following Oulu's entry into the Champions League group stages in 2021.

With promises of big wage rises, Al-Qadsiah pried AC Oulu's 25-year-old centre-back Sebastian Dolivo away from Raatin Stadion in a €350,000 transfer and with a 100%+ wage increase on his wage at Oulu.

Dolivo spent two title-winning seasons at Oulu after his previous side Kotkan Palloilijat fell from the top tier into the Ykkonen. In all competitions, Dolivo appeared 67 times under Virtanen. The player has already made two appearances for his new Middle-Eastern team in the league.

Following Dolivo out of Europe and over to Saudi Arabia is Oulu's 2020 star signing from AS Roma Lorenzo Di Livio. After being offered almost triple his earnings at Raatin Stadion by Al-Ettifaq, the young Italian winger departed for a fee of little over €500,000.

Di Livio only spent the one season in Finland for the 2021 campaign, making 33 first-team appearances across all competitions and scoring six goals and assisting 11, leading him to pick up the Veikkausliiga Player of the Year award in November 2021. Like Dolivo, Di Livio has already made two appearances for his new team El-Ettifaq.

Two months after Dolivo and Di Livio departed for Saudi Arabia, the English transfer window opened. For any player abroad, the prospect of playing in the English divisions is a great attraction.

On the 7th day of the January transfer window in England, Championship title contenders and one-time European Cup winners Aston Villa came in with an offer for Oulu's promising English youngster Darren Bradbury. The Midlands' outfit put in a €600,000 offer for the 19-year-old which was rebuffed, leading to a transfer request being handed in a day later for Bradbury, hoping to encourage Virtanen to sell.

A €1.1million bid was eventually accepted by AC Oulu due to Bradbury's desire to leave and the player subsequently quadrupled his previous wage at Raatin Stadion by linking up with Javi Gracia's Aston Villa. However, since his arrival at Villa Park, the youngster has already been shipped out on loan to fellow Championship side Bristol City for the rest of the season.

Bradbury initially joined Oulu in 2020 when he was purchased from then-Welsh champions The New Saints for a fee of just €1,700. From that season onwards, the Ellesmere-born midfielder went on to make 60 appearances across all competitions for Oulu and won two Veikkausliiga titles as well as one Suomen Cup.

Coming up to the most recent departure is another English midfielder in the form of Oliver Rathbone. The Manchester United academy graduate, who made his name in the lower tiers of English football with Rochdale was snapped up by Oulu on a free transfer when his contract expired at Rochdale in 2021. Despite only playing one season for Oulu, his reputation sky-rocketed due to his involvement in the clubs Champions League campaign last season.

After being put on the transfer list last month, Championship side Oxford United - led by Nigel Clough - bought the midfielder for a fee of €350,000 after making 38 appearances in all competitions, including 11 in Europe throughout 2021.

In departure related news, Oulu let 12 players leave on free transfers at the end of their contracts. Notable departures were Daniel Due, Joni Makela, Kalle Kauppi, Aleksi Lappalainen, Antti Ulmanen and Arttu Hoskonen.

Meanwhile on temporary deals, an important first-teamer in Yaya Sanogo has left on a season-long loan to Swedish outfit Orebro. Harouna Abou Demba and Olivier Verdon have both left on loan deals to title-rivals Inter Turku. Hugo Keto has joined Honka Espoo on loan, as Olexandr Vernydub joins Seinajoen and finally Preben Borve joins FC Ilves.

Scott: Good times are certainly brewing, and I'm particularly happy that the board are reinvesting my success onto the pitch into the accounts that matter in terms of budgets, facilities and status. A Mary Berry cake would only make this moment sweeter!
Finances are looking strong now and that budget will be put to good use I'm sure. Looking forward to keeping up with this story from now on! Good luck mate
Interested to see who comes in now that Sanogo has left on loan. A bit disappointed to see Rathbone go, but I trust Aapo to make the right signings to replace him and improve the squad as a whole.

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