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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
You can't complain at those results at all. Some excellent signings made too. Not looking too bad for Oulu!
With that many games in hand the league title looks like it is already yours

AC Oulu's Champions League group stage opponents were tonight announced in Zurich as Aapo Virtanen was drawn in Group F alongside Manchester City, AC Milan and RB Leipzig.

Oulu have dragged themselves all the way from the first qualifying round of the Champions League champions section. In comparison to previous seasons, Oulu's path to the group stage has been much easier. They started their journey against Maribor before facing Zrinjski Mostar and Dundalk FC. The playoff game that got them into the group stage was a huge 6-2 aggregate victory over FC Copenhagen.

Oulu will have to face the 1st seeded team Manchester City who are now led by Carlo Ancelotti who led Barcelona to their 2020 Champions League title. Ancelotti, who joined City in February has won the Champions League four times. His squad boasts some of the worlds best footballers in Kylian Mbappé and Mauro Icardi as a front two - a force that frightens every team who comes up against them.

The second team drawn into Group F are the seven-time Champions League winners AC Milan who are managed by former Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri. Milan possess star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma as well as Brazilian attacking midfielder Lucas Paquetá in their ranks.

The final team to be drawn alongside Oulu was RB Leipzig who have star striker Timo Werner at their service. The 27-year-old has been incredibly consistent for his side since he signed from Stuttgart in 2016. In 216 appearances, Werner has scored 143 goals for his team and will be a frightening force for the Oulu defence in their first group fixture.

Group F isn't full of Europe's best teams, but once again the group stages will prove to be a tough task for AC Oulu who made it into the knockout rounds last year before losing out against Paris Saint-Germain with defeats in both legs.
Tricky group, very tricky. But i have faith you can pull it out the bag.

In the past two months there has been tonnes of progress. We managed to break into the Champions League group stage for the third time in the three seasons we have entered into the competition, we have won the Veikkausliiga title with several games in hand still to play and we have beaten our current highest points total of 72 points (2021) with five games to spare.

August 2023 began with a 5-1 battering of Bosnian champions Zrinjski Mostar in the Champions League second qualifying round second leg, giving us a 6-2 aggregate victory in total, leading to a fairly kind third qualifying round draw against Irish champions Dundalk who we thrashed in August 7-2 on aggregate. Our final Champions League qualifying game was the playoff against Danish champions FC Kobenhavn at the end of August, and after anticipating a tough match-up, in both legs we hammered them with goal margins of two in both fixtures. As a result, our entire form in August was simply a 100% win record in both the Veikkausliiga and the Champions League.

September was slightly rockier for us as we began with a home win against Seinajoen, followed up by a surprising defeat to the same team in the corresponding away fixture in our first defeat since April when we lost to IFK Mariehamn. We shocked RB Leipzig in our first Champions League group fixture with a 1-1 draw with the Bundesliga outfit before losing to mid-table FC Lahti in the league. However, we closed the month off with two wins against Honka Espoo and Vaasan.

In August and September, we managed to confirm our title victory very early on as we still have five more games to play ourselves. We built up a 17-point lead on 2nd placed Helsinki which I can only assume is going to grow with our games in hand on every team below us. We broke our 2021 club record of the highest points total of 72 after our win against Vaasan, and we look all set to beat the Veikkausliiga record of points total which is held by Helsinki with their 2011 tally of 81 points in a season.

In 2nd and 3rd, both Helsinki and Inter Turku confirmed their Europa League spots for next season as 4th placed Mariehamn have to wait until next month to know if they are in Europe next term as they stand six points ahead of 5th placed Seinajoen with two games remaining.

In mid-table, Kuopion managed to drag themselves back up the table after mid-season nerves were hanging over the club as they sat in 11th place. FC Lahti have also become the first newly promoted club to remain in the Veikkausliiga for a second season since we did in 2019.

However, at the foot of the table are the doomed Turun Palloseura who currently are set to go into the Ykkonen as they sit five points adrift of any chance of potential survival with a playoff spot. Meanwhile, in the relegation playoff spot it is heating up as Honka, Vaasan and Ilves sit only two points apart from each other with 2/3 games remaining for the teams to fight for 2024 survival.

Our July signing Wilson Gutiérrez becomes our Player of the Month for August and September as he played integral parts in our wins in both the Veikkausliiga and the Champions League in these months. With 2 goals and 6 assists in 10 games in all competitions, Gutiérrez has settled in magnificently after being in Finland for two months following his €1million arrival from Atlético Nacional.

We will finish off our remaining five Veikkausliiga fixtures in October as the season comes to a close on the 30th October with our home fixture against relegation-threatened Honka Espoo. The title is already in the bag so all that is left to play for is the breaking of the points tally record held by Helsinki.

In the Champions League, our first fixture of October is up against Carlo Ancelotti's Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in what is certainly lined up for a pummelling for us. Our first fixture against AC Milan - who beat Man City in their first fixture - is on 24th October before the group stage comes to an end on the 6th December with the away fixture against RB Leipzig.

We have been very active with the departures at Oulu in the summer transfer window as we let four first-team players leave on permanent deals with seven-figure fees involved.

The first to leave was our Norwegian centre-back Erik Dahl who joins Leicester City for a fee of €3million after three years and over 80 appearances for the club in that period following his €60,000 arrival from Stabaek in 2021. He has immediately been sent on loan to Ligue 1 side Nice by Leicester.

Our Cameroonian attacking midfielder Nicolas Kamga also departed the club in a €2.5million transfer to Stromsgodset in the Eliteserien. After signing on a free transfer from FC Lyon in 2021, Kamga went on to make over 50 appearances for Oulu before being sent on loan to Esbjerg earlier this season as his Oulu competitors took his starting eleven spot.

In perhaps our biggest current loss, Ikechukwu Mohammed left the club for AS Monaco in a €7million fee. The left-winger signed in 2021 for €250,000 from Nigerian side Heartland and this season he scored 14 goals and assisted 18 times in 36 starts for us. Mohammed has been given the number 17 shirt at Monaco so it may be that he becomes a starting player for the Ligue 1 side.

In our biggest loss in potential terms, I finally gave in to Carles' demand to leave the club that has been a debate all season. With interested suitors all over Europe, it is Barcelona who snapped up the 19-year-old Spanish centre-back in a €7.5million fee. After 65 appearances for Oulu, he has been a fantastic player and he could be well worth the money in the future. However, as part of the transfer, it is written that 50% of Carles' next move will go to Oulu and Oulu also have the option to buy back Carles at any point for a set fee of €30million in the future.

In temporary moves, goalkeeper Ahmed Mohamed went on loan to JS Hercules with Silvio, centre-back Daniel Almeida has been sent on loan to Serie B outfit Perugia, Sebastian Dahlstrom joins Ponferradina for the season and perhaps the most significant loan move is Martin Madsen's loan departure to Danish club Sonderjysk.

We only made one more signing this window as 16-year-old Slovenian striker Miha Topic joins us on a free transfer.

SonsOfAnarchy: In fairness, I don't think it looks as bad as last seasons group which we got out of, but it has a certain level of quality that strikes fear into any team.
Smashed the league. Goodluck in the Champions League.

24th November 2023

Stepping off the Finnair plane that just flew me from Oulu to Helsinki I was surprised that I hadn't been ambushed by the press or fans. The season had finished in Finland, everybody living in Oulu knew my face from being on the back pages every single week for the past six years. I had obviously booked first class to avoid any disturbance from local fans as has been the case on plenty of my travels before.

I had simply taken hand luggage on my trip to the capital as it was all I needed - I didn't think I needed to stay any longer than two days before I had to head back to Oulu to regroup and go to Germany for our Champions League tie midweek with Leipzig.

The Finland Football Association administration side were based in a huge stone building in the capital city and despite its size, it was difficult trying to find it among all of the winter tourists with their wide maps of Helsinki.

Walking past a few newsagents with its newspapers hanging on outside stalls, I stopped to check out the big nationals on the stall. The back pages were covered with headlines of 'Kanerva Resigns' and the sort after the long-serving Markku Kanerva resigned from his role as manager of the Finland national football team after seven years in the position. This was the reason I was in Helsinki today.

All the newspapers I read regarding Kanerva's resignation yesterday were all talking about his successor in the role. Surprisingly, out of the five newspapers that I read only one newspaper even wrote about me as a contender, and that was because the journalist stated I would be 'unlikely to take on the role' given how successful I had been with Oulu and that my reputation had outgrown the managerial appeal of the Finland job. To me, that was not the case.

I had only come through as Oulu manager by chance, I had always felt I was pushing it too far in the opening years of my career and that eventually I was setting myself up for a fall. To be considered 'too big' to take on the role of my national team - regardless of its quality - was the exact opposite of the reality.

I was due to meet the head of the Finnish FA Henrik Heini at 3pm today and I was almost running late, underestimating the traffic in midday Helsinki.

"Aapo! This could turn out to be a very big day for both of us," Heini said as I walked through the automatic doors to the reception desk where he was waiting. Heini had only just been appointed as the head of the FA four months before so Kanerva's resignation turned out to be a blessing in disguise to start his role as the boss with a huge positive by hiring arguably the best manager that Finland has ever produced domestically.

"Aapo, I don't care what you do with the national team. You're much better in your field than I will ever be able to get my head around. I just want you in as manager. No restrictions. You do whatever you want on a day-to-day basis, it doesn't bother me. I just want you in the dugout at the next national fixture," we hadn't even been talking for ten minutes before Heini came out with his statement to hire me.

I smiled at Heini. He was only a couple of years older than me and he knew he was being ambitious by approaching me given the names that the media were touting following Kanerva's departure. "Listen Henrik," I started. "You don't have to persuade me to take this. The national team job is something I've had my eye on ever since winning my first Veikkausliiga, but obviously you don't disrespect Markku by admitting any sort of interest without him signalling that he is leaving as he did the other day. Put me on whatever you like, show me the dotted line and I'm signing it."

Heini held out his hand after I said he didn't have to try and convince me. We shook hands firmly, knowing that us two men, relatively too young to be in the positions we both held would become the face of a generation of Finnish football to come.

Following Markku Kanerva's resignation after Finland's 6-0 win over Liechtenstein earlier this month, the Finnish FA have announced that AC Oulu legend Aapo Virtanen has accepted the offer to become Finland's new manager.

Kanerva's final game in charge against Liechtenstein meant that Finland remained unqualified for any major international tournament as France and Bosnia & Herzegovina took the two qualification spots for the 2024 European Championships being hosted in Germany.

Markku Kanerva had been in charge of the Finnish national side since December 2016 after taking over from Hans Backe's disastrous 13-game spell in which the Swede failed to deliver a single victory. Despite being more successful in the role and holding his position for just short of seven years next month, Kanerva never qualified for a major tournament. In fact, the EURO 2020 qualifiers went horribly wrong between 2018-2020 as Finland came 4th out of 5, finishing just four points above Kosovo.

Similarly, Kanerva's 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign went terrible as well, as even Lithuania finished above them with ease and Kanerva's only two wins during the campaign coming against Malta who finished bottom of the group with no points.

However, with one last throw of the dice in his third major tournament qualifying campaign for the recent EURO 2024 qualifiers, Kanerva showed much improved form. Finland came in 3rd place out of 6 teams, finishing just three points behind 2nd place and qualified team Bosnia & Herzegovina with 17 points. This means that Finland will have to play a playoff against the Republic of Ireland to try and win a place in the competition

With the Finnish FA appointing a new head in Henrik Heini, the 40-year-old started putting pressure on the 59-year-old Kanerva as Finnish football fans demanded a fresh face after seven years of failure under Kanerva. With Finland's 3-1 loss to Bosnia & Herzegovina in September added onto the fact that Finland had been relegated to League C in the UEFA Nations League in 2022, Kanerva took it upon himself to resign after the confirmed knowledge of his failure to qualify for the 2024 EUROs automatically.

Although Aapo Virtanen is the most acclaimed and decorated manager based in Finland as his dominance with Oulu through the years, many fans and sources within the FA thought that Virtanen was simply too out of reach for the national team, with Virtanen being reportedly approached for huge jobs abroad with Roma and Newcastle United both interested in Virtanen.

With eight trophies to his name at just 36 years old, including four consecutive Veikkausliiga titles with AC Oulu, added on to unbelievable ground made in the Champions League as his side reached at least the group stages for three years in a row, it was thought to be a tough ask for Virtanen to manage his national side.

However, according to new head of the Finnish FA Henrik Heini, Aapo Virtanen was 'easily convinced' to take on the role as head coach. Aapo Virtanen will also be remaining as AC Oulu manager and will take on both roles.

It remains to be seen if Virtanen will be more biased to his Finnish players at his own club, of which the national side has selected five players already. Domestic stars like Oliver Antman, Antti Huhtamaki and Teemu Savolainen have served Virtanen very well at club level for years now and it will be interesting to see if he chooses more from his club ranks.

Aapo Virtanen's first scheduled fixture at the moment is set to be the 2024 European Championships playoff semi-final against Ireland on 22nd March 2024 as he has a chance for immediate success on the international stage if Virtanen can lead Finland to their first ever major international tournament in the summer of 2024.
Congratulations on the new job. It'll be interesting to see how Aapo balances being manager of Oulu and Finland at the same time, especially if he can guide Finland to a major competition where both club and country would then be competing at the same time in the summer months.

As December arrives and I take on a new role as the manager of the Finland national team, we look back on the season of 2023 as the Veikkausliiga and domestic campaign draws to a close for the season. As already confirmed months in advance of the final fixture, we won the Veikkausliiga for our fourth consecutive year and in the process we beat the total points record for the league as Helsinki's 81 points was smashed by our 85 point finish.

The month of October got off to a rough but a very predictable start at the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City hammered us 5-0 with help from a scintillating Kylian Mbappé hat-trick. Our final games of the Veikkausliiga season were positive, as Honka and Helsinki were defeated by us with not a goal conceded by Nikola Boskovic. However, we suffered two losses on the trot against Inter Turku and Milan. This was quickly recovered as we finished our final two games of the season with two wins and eight goals scored in the process.

The final wins of the Veikkausliiga season seemed to become a catalyst for a revival in Champions League form as after three fixtures, we only had one point to show for with our 1-1 draw against RB Leipzig in September. After the Veikkausliiga ended, we didn't suffer anymore losses in the group stage. We came back from one goal behind to beat Milan 2-1 in our fourth Group F game, before unexpected draws against both Manchester City and RB Leipzig.

As is becoming a regular occurrence, we finished top of the league with ours and the Veikkausliiga's highest points total in history as we led the eventual runner-up Inter Turku by a huge 26-point gap. This means we qualify for another season in the Champions League for 2024/25.

Inter Turku returned to 2nd place after a shocking 2022 campaign, with Helsinki also returning to form this season as both teams as well as IFK Mariehamn booked their Europa League spots for next season.

In mid-table, FC Lahti became the first newly-promoted team to not be immediately relegated since our 2019 survival when we finished in 9th place.

At the bottom of the table, it was Vaasan who had to fight off the threat of JS Hercules in the relegation playoff. They won 2-1 over two legs which means that for the first time since 2019, only one team has been relegated from the Veikkausliiga as KPV Kokkola win the Ykkonen title and JS Hercules stay down despite finishing 2nd.

Going down are the unfortunate Turun Palloseura who did put up a better fight to stay up than previous teams. They finished six points from potential safety, but some team had to go down as is the case every season.

With regards to our Champions League group stage performance we were simply outclassed by Manchester City and Milan proved to be sturdy opponents. Group F was one of the most tightly fought groups in the competition this year though, and despite Man City and Milan going through to the Champions League knockout round, we remain in Europe.

The difference between ourselves qualifying for the Europa League 1st knockout round in February instead of Leipzig was so unbelievably tight that it had to be sorted by the 3rd-highest form of league sorting. We finished level on the results between us and Leipzig as both fixtures finished 1-1, we finished on a level goal difference of -5 which meant that we only stay in Europe literally by one goal. 3rd place was sorted by goals scored and we scored five compared to Leipzig's four goals.

This means that we enter the Europa League 1st Knockout Round against SL Benfica in February as they also finished 3rd in Group A of the Champions League as Barcelona and Internazionale qualified from that group.

The Veikkausliiga awards were announced after Vaasan confirmed their survival in the top-flight at the end of October against JS Hercules.

The Team of the Season contained eight Oulu players. Nikola Boskovic kept the highest amount of clean sheets this season with 15 in 28 games, combined with only conceding 20 goals after taking David Obi's starting place between the sticks.

For the third consecutive season, Mehli Altikulac takes up the Team of the Season's left-back position alongside Aleksi Niemi, Tatu Tiihonen and Helsinki's talented centre-back Tommi Saarinen.

Ikechukwu Mohammed takes the left-wing position despite sadly departing the club in July for Monaco in a €7million transfer. Teenage central midfielders Rostislav Hora and Mpho Ngubane take up the central midfield spots as Inter Turku's Hachim Kanis is on the right-wing.

As strikers, Teemu Savolainen took his place as he finished the top scorer, he is joined by Inter Turku's Matteo Cancellieri who scored 7 and assisted 6 in 18 starts for his side.

For the fourth year running, I have won the Manager of the Year award, but with my best win ratio yet as I finished with an 84% win record after winning 28 games this season - a Veikkausliiga record.

The top scorer was our very own Teemu Savolainen who netted 17 goals this season, averaging one goal every 109 minutes if accounting for minutes played throughout the campaign.

The Player of the Year went to the departed Ikechukwu Mohammed who scored 10 and assisted 9 from his left-wing position in 18 appearances. He left to join Monaco for €7million in July.

And finally, the Rookie of the Year award went to 17-year-old Rostislav Hora and deservedly so. The youngster had a fantastic first season after joining from Slavia Praha for €2million in February 2023. He made 25 appearances and finished the season with a 7.40 rating with eight goals and three assists to show for.

Justice: It is something I gave thought to before taking the job for sure, but at this moment in time I feel very comfortable domestically with Oulu, and I think a new side challenge on the international stage with Aapo's home nation would be interesting to see.
Comfortable league showing, in the end. Incredible achievement in Europe to guide the team to Europa League KO football. Benfica will, almost certainly, prove to be a difficult challenge to overcome but Aapo is proving that his Oulu side can match the big boys in European football, on their day.

22nd December 2023

"Leena, I have not ruined Christmas at all! This offer is one of the first of its kind. I've had offers from all over, believe me. Britain, France, Spain, you name it. I think this is right." I shouted at her.

So close to Christmas Day, I had unwrapped my personal present in its envelope, inviting me to Florence to discuss a move away from Finland and to take over ACF Fiorentina. They described me as the only candidate that they passionately wanted to manage their team. They had fallen to 11th place and sacked their manager Andrea Mandorlini.

"No, Aapo! You don't get it! It's so easy for you to just get up and leave because this is your job! You travel all over Europe doing exactly this - a decision like this is so simple for you because you do it every single week!" Leena was crying on her chair just outside our balcony overlooking the river. "I know that I am where I am in my own career because of you, but that doesn't mean I owe you anything! Especially not moving to Italy all of a sudden,"

I paced around the outdoors quickly, my fingers tapping my head in frustration.

"Leena, let me put this straight for you. In the six years that I have had my job, I have earned €375,000 Euros. In six years. In Italy, I make that amount of money in just thirteen weeks. The bosses, they think that they can keep me here, pay me whatever they want because they think I'll stay here no matter what. They don't even know I've ever been approached before." I tried explaining to her, trying to move closer to Leena to console her. "I have done everything I can here in Finland at the club, that's why I took the national team job too."

As I stood up again and looked over the river with my back to Leena, the sobbing noise that had been present ever since telling her any news today stopped suddenly. When I noticed, I turned back around to see that Leena was standing up straight, with a stony look on her face. An expression that I had never seen on her throughout all the years I had known her.

"Aapo, you might have made your choice," she trembled, trying to suppress her emotions. "So have I. If you leave for Italy or anywhere else for that matter, we are finished together,

"I'm sorry, but this is my home. I may work in the same place as you, but I don't have the same job as you. You may find it easy to become acclimatised to all the cities you go to as part of your job, but to me Oulu is my home. And I never want to leave my home, especially not because somebody else's decision has had any influence.

"If you take the job in Florence, I honestly am so proud of you. You have done so well here. You are loved by every single person in this town and you deserve so much more than what you have here. I've never seen anybody grow into their job so successfully and I am glad I have been part of it. I am an individual just like you though Aapo. I have my own life and I can't let somebody else lead me into doing something that I wouldn't have done otherwise."

After hearing Leena's speech outlining her stance on this situation, I had to walk off. I put my winter coat on and marched down the street with no intention of a destination. I needed to think.
Tough decision to make, personally. Professionally it’s a no brainer I think. Good luck.
Well these last few updates have been tremendous. Firstly, congratulations on your new job as Finnish national team manager. It is a job that will require someone of Aapo's quality to push them on and look to gain qualification to a major competition for the first time in the nation's history.

Secondly, congratulations on yet another (albeit expected) league title capture, as well as sealing a place in the Europa League through finishing third in the Champions League group. That's very respectable given the calibre of teams in the group.

Lastly, that update is extremely gripping and I can understand Leena's emotions given she has such attachment to Oulu. Aapo needs to be careful in the decision he makes, as it could lead to some very damaging consequences. Whatever decision he makes, however, has to be the right one for him. I look forward to seeing which way he sways and how it could affect things.
Surely she should know by now that football comes before relationships.

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