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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

Last night at 11pm in Finland, the 2022 winter transfer window slammed shut and league champions AC Oulu are the talk of the town with a huge 23 signings this term.

The qualification to the Champions League group stage in 2021 left Aapo Virtanen with a pile of disposable transfer funds - reportedly around the €16,000,000 mark.

The average age of the 23 signings was 20 years old, and Virtanen stated in one of the press conferences surrounding the arrival of a new player that the reasoning for the mass amount of signatures this winter was due to the poor infrastructure in terms of youth squads at Oulu.

"For all of my time at the club, all the focus has been spent towards the first-team due to the lack of funding that all Finnish clubs suffer from," the 34-year-old stated in a conference in January. "Now with the amount of money accumulated from last season, I finally have the opportunity to expand Oulu's capabilities into the reserves and the youth teams."

With regards to players signed over the age of 20, all players with the exception of one - Daniel Kamy Ntankeu - have Finnish nationality and are therefore homegrown in the nation of Finland, making it easier for the club to comply with registration measures in the future.

A significant €1.3million deal was finalised on the Finnish transfer deadline day as Martin Madsen joined Virtanen from Oulu's past Champions League opponents FC Midtjylland and made substitute appearances in both legs of the 2021 Playoff fixture that granted the winner qualification to the group stage. Although only 19 years old, the striker looks set to overtake last seasons Veikkausliiga top scorer Teemu Savolainen in the pecking order at AC Oulu this season. His career tally so far is seven goals in seventeen league appearances for his former team.

On the same day, Mexican winger Antonio Guillén joined Oulu on a free transfer from Santos Laguna and with only fellow new signing Azzedine Rahmani competing with him for the right-wing spot in the team, he looks set to be the starting winger in this new-look Oulu side.

Another important signing looks to be Carles, who joins on a free transfer from his boyhood team Málaga in Spain. So far in the Suomen Cup qualifying round the centre-back has started every game as he partnered Daniel Almeida at the back and Virtanen's side haven't conceded a single goal since.

However, a key transfer policy for senior team signings seems to be taking key players away from fellow Veikkausliiga sides for small fees considering that they are rival clubs domestically.

For example, Virtanen snapped up three key players from 2021 runners-up Inter Turku, including the only non-Oulu player to get into last seasons Team of the Year Daniel Kamy Ntankeu. The centre-back joins alongside former teammates Tommi Taskinen and Mikko Kuningas.

Helsinki have also been raided by Oulu, as four players swap the capital city for the league champions with Aleksi Niemi, Moshtagh Yaghoubi, Tatu Tiihonen and Sebastian Dahlstrom all joining the ranks for a combined fee of €2million initially (which could rise depending on clauses). 4th placed Mariehamn have also had their key midfielder Thomas Makinen taken from them for a fee of €250,000.

It certainly seems like Aapo Virtanen has a plan for domestic dominance for the coming years and is doing so by weakening his opponents for Oulu's gain in any way that he can. Virtanen has also seen his youth teams bolstered by several new young signings from all over Europe, from Portugal all the way over to Ukraine.

Before the window closed, Oulu also saw one more permanent departure as Tommi Jyry left for Helsinki for a fee of €100,000.

LFCFan: Cheers mate, glad you've finally got up to speed :D

Scott: Sanogo for some reason has seen a drastic fall in ability, and that can't be tolerated especially in a title-winning squad with the new-found spending power that I have here. Rathbone is considered a 'foreign player' (Not from EU, EEA, Africa or North America) so it is tough getting him in a matchday squad and when there are better quality players who don't count as foreign, it really is no-contest when it came to selling him and bringing in new blood.
Thats a large amount of new faces joining in one window! Hopefully they blood in well and fit into the system. Good to see in strengthening you have also weakened your closest rivals! Seems a good window!

After a 100% win ratio was recorded all throughout the month of April, we slipped up several times and as a result we are now fighting a losing battle with league leaders Mariehamn at the top of the table. Our season began at the Raatin Stadion as we ran out 4-0 winners against Kuopion and followed on with a series of victories.

During preseason, we qualified from the Suomen Cup Veikkausliiga qualifying group, finishing top of the group and conceding no goals throughout. This took us on a marvellous run to the cup final where we won our 2nd Suomen Cup title in three years.

Everything this season was going perfectly up until we faced Mariehamn in our home stadium and suffered our first loss of the season. Throughout April and the first game of May, we picked up maximum points in the league and progressed into the quarter-finals of the Suomen Cup against FC Ilves.

However, Mariehamn who have been managed by former FF Jaro interim manager Ari Asukka for the past two years took us apart with a marvellous performance on their travels. Their former star midfielder - Thomas Makinen - stood stunned as his new club were defeated by the team he left his January on their own soil. This defeat led Mariehamn to take the initiative in the league as they glided into top spot, deposing us into 2nd place as they did so. The two league games that followed against Seinajoen and Rovaniemen caused further slip-up as we dropped a total of four points in those two games that we certainly should have won. Later in the month, we got revenge over Mariehamn as we beat them in the Suomen Cup final to take the trophy away from its 2021 holders. This result has so far led to an upturn in results for the corresponding two games against Mikkeli and Ilves.

In the league we can see a clear slip-up on our behalf as Mariehamn lead the way this season by a margin of six points. Ari Asukka's side have yet to lose a match in the Veikkausliiga this season and will be sure to maintain that record for as long as it is possible. However, we have a game-in-hand on the leaders which could bring their lead to a narrower three-point gap at the top.

With regards to the other teams in the top half, Ilves are currently the closest to the leading pair as they sit five points behind us and eleven points behind the leaders with no games in hand available. Below them are both Vaasan and Kuopion who sit level on 17 points after eleven games played.

Our destruction of the playing squads of last seasons runners-up Inter Turku and 3rd place finishers Helsinki seem to have had a profound impact so far on the two teams with Inter Turku sitting exactly mid-table, 14 points off the pace at the top of the table, and Helsinki are even worse as they find themselves in 8th place and only on 12 points after hiring their former player Rami Hakanpaa to take charge of the club in November following Alexei Eremenko's sacking after the 2021 campaign.

At the bottom end of the table are the newly promoted FC Haka, who are clearly finding it hard to adapt to the top division following their title-winning escapade from Ykkonen last season. However, last seasons promotion play-off winners Mikkeli find themselves only just hovering above the relegation play-off spot by one point as Honka Espoo currently sit in 11th place but with a game in hand on the team above them.

June begins with a fixture against the struggling Helsinki as they visit Raatin Stadion on 2nd June. Their new manager Hakanpaa is under growing pressure for better results after playing well below preseason expectations of Europa League qualification, so a win against Oulu would be vital in salvaging his job. At the end of the month we play our most important fixture so far this season as we travel to Idrottsparken to take on the league leaders Mariehamn in what could prove to be a decisive result after taking the Suomen Cup away from them in May.

In July, we expect to see our first opponents in this seasons Champions League campaign in the first qualifying round of the competition. However, in the Veikkausliiga our most difficult fixture in relation to current league position would be the home tie against FC Ilves later in the month, but that game is subject to change dates due to our involvement in the Champions League.

LFCFan: It's a massive amount of new players! But like I say in the update, most of those are to a). improve our youth system currently and b). to weaken our domestic rivals. Our first-team signings all look to be fantastic prospects too. :D
I did not expect that. It seems like it's very much going to be a two-horse race! Sometimes things don't work out the way you may think, but this is now the test to see whether the squad are ready to fight for the title. Things can change very quickly in football, so a good run of results again could easily see you in charge again.

Congratulations on another piece of silverware, too.
Your achievements with this club continue to defy belief
Yaghoubi <3 An favourite of mine from FM18, although I'm slightly disappointed that you only signed 23 players. I do, however, have a new chant for you Oulu for you. It is quite creative, inspired by the Chelsea fans..... "OULU! OULU! OULU!"

"We all feel very special here, and everybody needs to know that."

This week we turn to Finland in our 'This Is...' series here on COPA90. We have travelled all over Europe, witnessing some of footballs most intense rivalries in Eastern Europe, as well as the community-based clubs over in Spain with Athletic Bilbao and Rayo Vallecano, but today we look at an interesting merger between four clubs that has really began to blossom into Finland's biggest success stories.

AC Oulu was officially founded just after the turn of the millennium in 2002, however, the history stretches back way over 100 years when in 1880 one of the original merging clubs - Oulun Luistinseura - was one of the first ever football clubs on the continent. Oulun Luistinseura never competed in the top-flight of Finnish football despite their long history, despite becoming professional in 1941 and their huge success in the hockey function of the sports club.

Due to a lack of success on the pitch, Oulun Luistinseura decided to merge with fellow Oulu-based football club Oulun Tyovaen Palloilijat (founded 1946) who had already spent five mid-table top-flight finishes. However, when the Veikkausliiga took over from the 69-year-old Mestaruussarja as the top Finnish division in 1990 the two clubs became known as FC Oulu, departing from their previous names.

Following a fall from grace in the late 1990s after relegation, a merger three years in the making began in 1999 between Oulun Luistinseura, Oulun Tyovaen Palloilijat, Oulun Palloseura and a conglomerate of small Tervarit clubs. Eventually in 2002, AC Oulu was launched as a joint initiative between the four teams in an aim to bring back successful top-flight football to the Oulu community. Although a select few were unhappy with yet another merger and formed independent phoenix clubs of the previous teams, most of the town was well behind the AC Oulu decision.

"The merger in 2002 was a fantastic idea from all four of the negotiating corners. We were well aware of the stir it would cause after FC Oulu became defunct in 1995 and the town were left with any promising football team to follow once it collapsed.

"In 2003 we started our first season in the second-tier of Finnish football due to the correlation the division had with the highest ranking club that we merged with which was Oulun Palloseura. The first season was rough, there was a lot of disorganisation that we simply had to let slide due to the disruption that the merger had caused.

"However, we really reaped the benefits of such a decision just four years from the decision. We finished 2nd place within 4 years of forming as a club and therefore were promoted immediately to the top-flight. It was incredible, and it really shut up the critics.

"However, from then on it was very up-and-down regarding league positions, although we never fell below the second-tier in this clubs history."

"The 'Oulu Sosiaalinen' formed as a fan club almost immediately after the merger in 2002, although I was only very young at the time I do remember it because my dad was so busy helping the club get on its feet.

"I'm 20 years old now so I'm pretty much as old as the football club itself and I obviously never really got into the game as much at such a young age, even though I took trials at AC Oulu when I was about nine or ten.

"It was when Mika Lahderinne - the manager before Virtanen - left the club that my ears really pricked up. We had been in the second-tier of the league system for 7 consecutive years and all we wanted was a return to the Veikkausliiga just so that we could prove ourselves as a forward-thinking club again.

"That's why I was stunned when I saw that Aapo was selected as the official new manager. I was just so disappointed seeing that rather than plucking someone from the top division, we had chosen to go with someone who was an internal appointment and hadn't even been involved with a first-team training session. He was a nobody.

"But I remember it so well, it was against Jyvaskyla in the second-tier and we won 3-0 at Raatin Stadion and it was our fifth win in a row at the time, putting us top of the league and I think it was then that everybody in the stands turned to each other and was thinking like 'yeah, this guy's the real deal somehow'"

"I was one of those who was pretty loyal to the Tervarit club after the merger and I worked at the phoenix club up until 2010 when I finally cut my losses and moved to AC Oulu as a first-team coach when Jani Luukkonen was manager. Oulu had literally just been relegated from the Veikkausliiga for the second time in three years.

"Then between 2010 and 2017 it was just the wilderness years for us here. Every season it was a mid-table finish no matter what. I think Aapo Virtanen joined as a youth coach back in about 2014 and he had a similar feeling because as backroom staff we chatted a lot.

"Then was Lahderinne left in December 2017 and the board told us it was going to have to be an internal appointment, so then both me and Aapo knew it was between each other for the job because Lahderinne's folks all left along with him. We both agreed that whoever gets it, there's no bitterness. Obviously, Aapo got the job and we've been working together ever since and I'm quite thankful it was him who got the job. I really couldn't have imagined me doing the job that he has done and creating the sort of vibe about the place, he's been fantastic."

"It's been magnificent. Truly magnificent. I joined here in 2014 and became the top boss in 2017 on a very limited budget to say the least, but that first season was a dream. I think I only brought in about three first-team players and the rest of the squad were pre-existing but somehow we managed it and got up there at the first time of asking.

"Once we were up in the Veikkausliiga, it was staying up by the skin of our teeth that was the minimum aim simply because this club had never reached the Veikkausliiga and stayed in it for more than one season. It was just pure elation in 2019 when we steered well clear of relegation in 9th place - probably a bigger celebration than the promotion itself because there were always them nerves.

"From then on, it just went from strength to strength. I remember the furore around the fans every single game, knowing from the previous season that we'd survived. The fans dragged us through that first period of our first title-winning season. Everyone was so excited - from the stands, to the dugout and especially on the pitch. I think it got to about July and we had a really good run of results and we were turning round to each other asking if the title shout was actually on! In 2020 in came down to the last fixture of the season to know if we'd won it or not because it was between us and Inter Turku and the atmosphere at Raatin Stadion was just phenomenal. Honestly, I've never experienced anything like it than when we won the league in our second season in the top-flight.

"I don't think I've experienced anything like that until last season when we were defying all the bookmakers in every stage of the Champions League, with beating Alashkert, then Astana. Then we were drawn against Basel - a massive, massive club. Nobody thought we had a sniff, but we turned up in Switzerland that night and smashed them 4-0 in their own back yard. The celebrations when we reached the group stage on away goals against Midtjylland went on all night, it was unbelievable. I'm not sure if there's anything capable of topping those experiences, but I thought that about when we won the league!"

It was really amazing going to Oulu this past week to really understand the magnitude of how much this clubs and the teams before them had gone through to reach the point of the Champions League group stage in 2021. It really does seem to be getting better for them and new experiences every single season for Aapo Virtanen and his players.

We will certainly be keeping an eye on their progress this season as they take on Hungarian team Ujpest FC in their first Champions League qualifying phase of the new campaign!

Scott: That fixture when we lost to Mariehamn was like a punch in the gut watching them take top spot and now we really have got to work hard to retain that spot in the coming months.

Griffin: I can't believe it myself :))

Justice: Yaghoubi's been an absolute star this season - huge standout performer. About the song, you're not quite Elton John yet...
That's a beautifully composed update. It really details the journey of the club perfectly. Bravo, Jack.
This is an incredible update man, possibly one of the best ive ever seen!!
Jeez Jack, I'm fully expecting an iPhone app detailing the life and on-goings of the manager, called 'The Aapo App' , for your next update.

In what was a grotty first couple of months in April and May, our mid-season form has picked up and I can confidently say that we are back on our feet and back to being almost certain favourites for the league title this season. We played eleven league games in this period and we picked up a total of 24 points from a possible 33, which is not bad going considering the poor form of those teams around us and who were at one point shock contenders to snatch the throne away from us.

In the boardroom, there is more positive news as the club have agreed to an expensive improvement and development of our training and youth facilities at the club.

June got off to a poor start following on from the near-unbeaten run that we had in May as we lost 1-0 to a plucky Helsinki team in our home stadium. In fact, it took us four games to reach our first victory in this time period as two losses and a draw was ended by an emphatic 3-0 victory over Honka Espoo. This win saw us start an unbeaten streak that has yet to be stopped even going into August. At the end of May we managed to gain a point against our main title rivals of the time, Mariehamn when we travelled to their stadium.

In July, we started our Champions League campaign against Hungarian opponents as we faced off against Ujpest - a team who had won their top domestic division for two straight years. Our first leg in Hungary was a scrappy win, but as they returned to the Raatin Stadion we completely destructed them in a 4-0 win. In the second qualifying round of the competition we came up against the Swiss champions for the second year in a row after defeating FC Basel last year. This time around it was BSC Young Boys who, similarly to Ujpest we struggled to beat at their home ground in the capital city of Bern. But once again, as soon as they came to the Raatin Stadion, we took them apart in a 5-0 win with help from a Moshtagh Yaghoubi hat-trick. In the league, we had spectacular form too as we went top of the league by the end of July.

After fantastic form in both months in this time period, we have taken an extended lead at the top of the table as Mariehamn suffered a spectacular fall from the top of the table in these two months through shockingly poor form for a side that was in prime position to take hold of the mantle this season after being six points ahead of us at the end of May. With our Suomen Cup win already guaranteeing Europa League football next season, we always aim for top spot in the league and we have done exactly that by taking a six-point lead on joint-2nd place Vaasan, Kuopion and Mariehamn as well as a game-in-hand on both Vaasan and Kuopion which could extend our lead to nine points potentially.

In 2nd place, Vaasan have enjoyed a hugely impressive run of form in June and July this season and have gained 24 points in this period alone. Similarly, Kuopion in 3rd place and level with Vaasan have also played marvellously well. This is juxtaposed to Mariehamn's recent form, who despite being in the strongest position of the three teams tied in 2nd, have had the worst run in these past couple of months after losing top spot and now dropping out of the official European qualification spots in just a small amount of time.

In mid-table, Helsinki continue to disappoint for the third season running as they sit in 6th place despite their 3rd place finish last season. However, perhaps most shocking is the disarray that 2021 runners-up International Turku find themselves in as they lie in 9th place, six points adrift of 8th placed Seinajoen who also have a game in hand on Turku. Such poor form has led them to sack their manager Jani Honkavaara and replace him with former Liverpool defender and former Helsinki manager Sami Hyypia in an attempt to perform some sort of mid-season revival.

However, despite such a profound fall from grace, they are in no way involved in relegation trouble as FC Haka seem pretty much certain to take the fall back down to the Ykkonen for 2023. Mikkeli, on the other hand seem to be putting up a brave fight to survive the drop this season as they have a game in hand on 10th placed Honka but linger five points from official safety and away from the relegation playoff at the end of the season. If Mikkeli do survive the drop, they will be the first team since Oulu to stay in the Veikkausliiga for a second season following promotion from the Ykkonen the previous campaign which highlights the gap in quality between the two divisions.

In August we will begin the month in the Champions League as we come up against the Bulgarian champions Levski Sofia who have won the domestic division two times in a row following almost a decade of dominance by Ludogorets in Bulgaria. This will be the third qualifying round and if we win, we will be drawn in the Champions League playoff which will take place in August and potentially lead to another appearance in the Champions League group stage. In retrospect, so far this campaign the draws have been kinder to us than last year when at this same point we had to play FC Basel before Midtjylland in the playoff and arguably the strongest team we could come up against in the playoff would be Shakhtar Donetsk.

However, in the league in the coming months we have an opportunity to put to bed any title contender as we face both Vaasan (2nd) at home in August as well as Mariehamn (4th) at home in September.

Scott / Griffin: Cheers lads, really took a lot of time to organise that update so it's lovely to hear that kind of feedback :D

Justice: I believe I might run into a stumbling block at the board request meeting when I ask Ihalainen for funding for so-called 'The Aapo App' :))
Jack's avatar Group Jack
4 yearsEdited

AC Oulu signed one new player but let three players leave this summer.

After a spending spree amounting to around €8,000,000 in the winter, Aapo Virtanen has chosen to cut his transfers for the 2022 season down to just one addition as the June-August transfer window slams shut. AC Oulu signed up no less than 23 new players earlier this season but despite reportedly having lots more money in the transfer budget to splash out, Virtanen has restricted himself in going into signing anymore expensive deals.

The only new face in the AC Oulu squad for this season is divisional rivals Mariehamn's star striker Darren Cooper. The Finnish striker, who also has British citizenship through his father was a Mariehamn academy graduate after being signed up for his hometown club at the age of just 13 years old.

Cooper signed his first professional contract at Idrottsparken in 2020 at just 18 years old and has been playing back-and-forth for Mariehamn's first-team and the club's lower league B Team - FC Aland. Cooper made his Mariehamn debut in 2020 and finished that season with one goal from four games whilst also playing for FC Aland in the Finnish third tier, scoring six goals from 18 starts.

However, it was 2021 when Cooper started making his name known in the Mariehamn hierarchy with his performances for FC Aland, netting 15 times in 34 games for the clubs' competitive B Team. In 2022 his services were rewarded by being given the number nine shirt and playing full first-team football this season. He had scored five goals in 15 in the league whilst also finishing as this seasons Suomen Cup top scorer with six goals in just four fixtures as his team finished runners-up to his new club Oulu.

In July, AC Oulu finally announced that they had signed the 20-year-old homegrown striker for a final fee of €250,000 with no clauses which could cause the fee to rise depending on circumstances.

Moving straight onto the departures, the first player to leave the club was Oulu's young English left-winger Tony Hammond who was snapped up by Steve McClaren's Stoke City who currently play in the Premier League.

Interest in Hammond began with Crystal Palace inserting a small six-figure offer for the player which was knocked back without negotiation by Aapo Virtanen. This was followed by Hammond handing in a transfer request to push through a dream move back to the high tiers of English football after being signed by Oulu from fifth tier Solihull Moors back in 2020 for a minuscule fee of €4,000.

After numerous clubs put in offers, it was Stoke City's lucrative €2,300,000 offer that was ultimately accepted among the scrap for his signature. The fee indicated a 575,000% increase in his value that Oulu had paid for him just two years earlier. Hammond had scored 23 goals and assisted 10 times in 61 appearances for Oulu in his two-year spell. Following his arrival at bet365 Stadium, Hammond was sent immediately out on a season loan to Championship strugglers Oxford United for first-team experience.

The second - and perhaps most significant - departure from Raatin Stadion was the transfer of Taron Molyneux to Watford for a fee of €5,000,000. As a result of this move, Molyneux's career almost exactly replicates the career of the previous departure Hammond.

Oulu signed attacking midfielder Molyneux for a tiny fee of €15,500 from National League side Solihull Moors - the same team Hammond signed from. He joined in 2021 and immediately became a starter in the Veikkausliiga title-winning side of that season, making 19 league appearances that year and scoring three league goals while assisting four.

Newly promoted Leeds United put in a reported €1million starting offer for the Solihull-born 19-year-old which was shunned by Oulu who had no intention of selling. After seeing his career teammate Tony Hammond hand in a transfer request to eventually leave, Molyneux did the exact same and after a flurry of English clubs pursuing Molyneux for registration reasons more than anything due to the fact he is homegrown and promising, it was Gaute Helstrup's Watford who finally got their big chequebooks out to obliterate any competing offers with a €5,000,000 bid which was accepted after Molyneux's unhappiness became public knowledge.

However, despite not being loaned out like Hammond, Taron Molyneux has been placed in the Watford Under-23 squad and has not as of yet been given a squad number even as the clubs fourth most expensive signing of the summer

Perhaps the most unusual transfer of the window was the move taking Georgian defensive midfielder Khvicha Abashidze to Serie A club Atalanta for a fee of €600,000 at the beginning of August.

The transfer came to a surprise to many as Abashidze had not set foot on the pitch in any AC Oulu first-team fixture after his arrival on a free transfer from Tbilisi Saburtalo in November 2021. Aapo Virtanen didn't trust Abashidze to play in his system at Oulu this season as the formation never adapted to having a defensive midfielder at any point, so the 19-year-old was abandoned into the reserve team where he made 21 appearances for AC Oulu 2 in the lower Finnish divisions.

Despite having 12 full international caps at for Georgia, Abashidze has been placed into the Atalanta Under-20 team upon arrival, although he has been assigned the squad number of 38 which could suggest some first-team football is on the way for the first time in two years.

In terms of temporary departures, Ludovic Fabre has left on loan to Oulu's divisional rivals IFK Mariehamn meanwhile Haris Bergh - the club's €1.1million winter signing - has joined on a season loan to Swedish Allsvenskan outfit Hacken BK, with an additional loan fee of €22,000 until December 2022.

This windows lucrative nature has meant that despite Oulu's heavy additions earlier in the year, their net transfer spend sits at exactly €0 following Khvicha Abashidze's departure to Atalanta in a feat of marvellous negotiating skills and shrewd winter spending.

AC Oulu are set to face Atlético Madrid and Benfica in group stage

After another sensational run in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League, Aapo Virtanen's AC Oulu have bagged their second consecutive group stage achievement in two years.

Competing in the 'champions' section of the qualifying rounds, Oulu had to play the reigning champions of Hungary (Újpest), Switzerland (BSC Young Boys), Bulgaria (Levski Sofia) and finally Ukraine in the Champions League playoff round.

In just eight matches, Oulu have scored an outstanding 20 goals so far in the competitions, the 2nd most in the competition just behind Slavia Praha's 26 goals and the competitions current 3rd top scorer Moshtagh Yaghoubi has a lot to do with that as he has contributed six goals to that team tally.

Nobody expected Oulu to make it this far last season, and even though that they proved the predictions wrong, experts still said that the team were not good enough to reach the group stages once again after losing all six of their group games last season.

The day after Oulu's 5-4 aggregate victory over Shakhtar Donetsk at Raatin Stadion, the Champions League groups were announced and Aapo Virtanen's side find themselves as the fourth seeded team in Group D this season.

Comparatively with last season, the draw has been a lot kinder to the Finnish champions who are looking at sealing their third consecutive domestic title this season as they sit top of the Veikkausliiga by a four-point margin. Last season, Oulu had the misfortune of being drawn in the same group as the eventual champions - Arsenal, as well as semi-finalists Paris Saint-Germain and Europa League quarter-finalists FC Porto. Oulu finished on 0 points, with 0 goals scored and 24 goals conceded in what was evidently them out of their depth.

However, last night gave Oulu a much friendlier group, with the first seed being Atlético Madrid, managed by Pep Guardiola and boasting the highest paid player in the world in Antoine Griezmann who earns €875,000 per week at Metropolitano de Madrid. Atlético finished 3rd in La Liga last season as they ended up 19 points adrift of the eventual dominant side, their city rivals Real Madrid. The club have already gotten off to an unbeaten start in their first four games this month though. AC Oulu will face Guardiola's team in their first two group fixtures in mid-September.

After facing FC Porto last season, Oulu have been drawn against the Portuguese reigning champions SL Benfica this time around and are managed by Nuno Espírito Santo, but the club were drained of quality in this summer transfer window as €210million of talent was snapped up by other teams across the continent, including the €60million sale of Joao Soares to Liverpool. Benfica will be Oulu's 3rd and last opponents in the group phase.

Perhaps the most promising thing about this group is the prospect of a Europa League spot should Oulu predictably lose out on further Champions League qualification. Lokomotiv Moscow are by no means a fantastic side and are arguably not even the best team in their home nation. Despite possessing former household names like Blaise Matuidi and Medhi Benatia, they are ageing and as a result, the presence of Lokomotiv Moscow could prove to be the opportunity of European football beyond the group stage continuing in the form of the Europa League. Having a team lacking quality as the third seed as opposed to a team like Porto who Virtanen faced last season could prove to be much more beneficial to Oulu.

With regards to exhilaration, these past couple of months have completely stormed ahead of any previous experience I have had with the club. Our progress in the Champions League has been nothing short of absolutely stunning for us and the league campaign is going just as well as we smoothly come towards our final few matches of the domestic season which ends in October.

After earning €15,250,000 by reaching the Champions League group stage after the Shakhtar Donetsk matches, we have boosted our income by an extra €4,300,000 by our results in the group stages which has provided a phenomenal boost to the clubs stature in general as we now possess a bank balance of over €30 million.

Our action in August began all the way over into Eastern Europe as we took on Levski Sofia in the Bulgarian capital city. A victory over two legs would put us into the Playoff match which would lead to the group stages and a very lucrative income. Our first leg tie at Raatin Stadion against Shakhtar was absolutely spectacular as our midfielders led the scoring in a 4-1 first leg win. Our second leg tie in the Playoff in Ukraine was rather more intense as we ended up winning only by one goal on aggregate. In the league, we only gained five points from three games which was hardly ideal, but expected due to our split duties in the Champions League.

Our 2-2 draw in our first fixture of September would never have prepared me for the biggest giantkilling that I have ever performed in my history of management. When Atlético Madrid seemed to be the immovable object of the group, we not only played well but over the two games we played against them in Group D, we managed to take four points off them - pivotal results given that the group sorting rules depend on results between teams over goal difference. We won our derby match against Rovaniemen as well as an emphatic 3-0 win against our early season rivals Mariehamn, which set us on the way to winning the league title. We finished the month with another shock result as our defence kept the threatening Benfica at bay in a scoreless draw in Portugal. We sit in 2nd spot in Group D with both of our fixtures against Lokomotiv Moscow still to come.

Looking at the table at this stage, with our game-in-hand on 2nd place, it seems we only need two wins to secure the Veikkausliiga title for the third year in a row. However, it has been a huge turnaround in the Veikkausliiga regarding the normal title challengers. Although there is no change at the top, Inter Turku have only just managed to confirm their survival from relegation in 9th place, meanwhile Helsinki have been completely out of the running from start to finish as they occupy a solid mid-table spot.

Instead, it is Vaasan (7th, 2021) and Kuopion (6th, 2021) who have replaced the normal challengers this season through a string of impressive runs of form and Vaasan in particular being goal-happy as they boast the most amount of goals in the entire division, with eight more goals than ourselves despite our league-leading position.

At the bottom end of the table, FC Haka have had their relegation playoff spot confirmed, which is expected to be followed by automatic relegation if their current form persists. Mikkeli seem destined to head for the relegation playoff spot as they sit eight points adrift of Honka. In this case, Mikkeli will face FC Lahti in the playoff as Marko Rajamaki hopes to send Lahti back into the top-flight after their 2020 relegation. Turun PS have already secured the title after surging ahead in the Ykkonen.

With only five league fixtures left, we only face one current top-half team when we play Ilves in the last game of the season. We could also confirm both Haka's relegation and Mikkeli's relegation playoff position in the space of two games in October.

However, in the Champions League, we play Lokomotiv Moscow twice in October at both home and away, before a months break in December when we will come up against SL Benfica for the final Group D match at the beginning of January 2023.
Wow! What brilliant results against Athletico! The Benfica result looks like it could see you into at least the Europa league aswell! Another league title all but confirmed and it looks like the signings from the top two contenders has paid off with them slipping down! Well done mate!

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