As the new season draws near, it's time to look at what we face coming up to the new Veikkausliiga season. Last season we went up as champions, leading the way by eleven points in the Finnish First Division. In the promotion play-off, Kotkan TP won the game and was promoted alongside ourselves as they won in both legs of the play-off, winning 4-2 on aggregate against Turun Palloseura which in turn sent them down into the second tier.
This season the obvious media favourites are the 29-time Veikkausliiga winners Helsinki who won the title last year. They will be playing against Europe's biggest sides in the summer when the UEFA Champions League begins all across Europe as they start the new season. They are closely followed by SJK who are 5/1 odds and finished runners-up last season, just four points behind the champions Helsinki.
However, at the bottom end of the table the relegation scrap could contain seven potential victims, with us and Kotkan the most likely to go down according to the media. However, other teams from last season are also being tipped for the drop into Ykkonen for 2020.
As we approach the 2019 season, the preseason schedule has been announced. We begin our campaign in the Finnish Cup in the Premier League Qualifying round against FC Lahti at Raatin Stadion as we look to progress in the cup competition that Kuopion won last season. We will later face tougher teams such as Seinajoen and IFK Mariehamn in the cup group but the friendly fixtures will not be much of a challenge and are merely just a fitness trip.
Although the transfer window doesn't shut until later in April when the league season begins, we have already made nine additions to the squad from last season, making a net profit of £37,500 in the process. Due to matchday squad rules, I have also put emphasis on signing Finnish-trained players rather than foreign players, with seven Finnish nationals joining in the transfer window as opposed to the zero Finnish players that signed last season.
This addition was quite possibly the most exciting that I have made and that the club has made in recent history. Cabezas
, at just 18 years old possesses one of the best potential that I have seen in my time at the club. The Colombian returns to the squad on the 11th February after his duty with the Colombian Under-20s squad as they feature in the South American Under 20 Championship group stages. His high determination makes him an incredible prospect alongside the impeccable technical ability that all South American attacking midfielders seem to have.
Signing a centre-back from the team that conceded the most goals in the Premier League last season is hardly the biggest endorsement of my new signing Tapaninen
, however, his experience of six years as a first-teamer in the Finnish Premier League speaks volumes of his ability as a defender. A physical player, Antto also possesses great aerial ability and is classy in his tackling from watching highlights from last season. He joins us at the peak of his career and could be pairing up with Mbae or Nurmos at the back this season.
After putting up with some inconsistent performances from Aleksi Gullsten on the right wing last season, it was a position we certainly needed to strengthen to stand a chance against Veikkausliiga defences. Makela
played for Oulu before way back in 2012 and had a fantastic season, becoming a fan favourite at the club with 16 goals in 21 games before top-flight Kuopion came knocking for the then-youngster. He made eight appearances for Kuopion last season in the top-flight before his release at the end of the season. He will certainly be starting ahead of Gullsten, who will be facing a season on the bench unless he picks up his quality.
One of my better signings of the window for sure. Ulmanen
spent last season in the First Division with us at our title challengers IFK Helsingfors. He performed exceptionally for a young striker, scoring more than our starting striker last season Donado in all competitions with 13 goals in 26 starts for his team. At 6'1", Ulmanen poses a threatening physical presence to defences and his finishing statistics speak for themselves. He will certainly be a starter in this season's team and with his young age, he looks like a regular for some more years.
Now this signing is perhaps my most underwhelming as Eriksson
is definitely one for the future. The attacking midfielder possesses great physical ability, but there is clearly some space for technical improvement that he needs. He joins for just £50 from our affiliate club Haukiputaan Pallo.
Like Ulmanen, Jyry
is a very exciting signing from our old friends IFK Helsingfors. Last season the central midfielder turned out 22 times for our title rivals from Ykkonen and made the bench in the divisional Team of the Year. At only 19 years of age, there is plenty of time for improvement on an already starting quality player. I hope there are many years that we can get out of Jyry.
As if one promising, young centre-back wasn't enough in the form of Safwan Mbae, we have signed another as Hoskonen
joins us on a free transfer from Inter Turku, who finished 5th place in the top-flight last season. Hoskonen has been a prominent member of the Inter Turku team, making 35 appearances over the space of three years for his former team. An extremely strong player in the air, he looks to be a very good addition for any Veikkausliiga side.
In a similar situation with the arrival of Makela, Romein
flies over all the way from Australia's Canberra United to join us in the top-flight of Finnish football. A free-kick specialist, the youngster is set to replace Josue Soto in the starting eleven for the coming season as working alongside star-man Cabezas and fan favourite Makela, I think Romein will turn out to be an incredibly shrewd addition to the side.
And finally for the arrivals at the club this winter is a whole concoction of nationalities in Kabashi
. The central midfielder was born in Germany, is half-Albanian but turns out internationally for Finland. Kabashi came through the Honka academy before signing for German side Braunschweig in 2015 before returning to Honka in Finland just three years later. At 23 years old, Kabashi is already used to regular first-team football at good levels as he has made 147 appearances throughout his entire career so far. He has all the attributes to make a good top-flight midfielder so I am sure he will be fantastic this season.
With the arrivals covered, it is time to move onto the departures. Academy graduates Aapo Heikkila, Driton Shala, Tommi Lindholm, Niko Ronkainen and Santeri Laatikainen
have all departed the club after their contract expiry.
Last season's back-up goalkeeper Juhani Pennanen
has chosen to leave the club after his contract expiry, too. Alvarado Morín
made a move across to Eastern Europe as Zimbru arranged a pre-contract deal to take him to Moldova at the beginning of January. However, it was our top scorer last season Jhonatan Donado
who made us the money this window. The 27-year-old striker who scored 11 in 26 for us last season moved back to his country of origin with Rionegro Aguilas for a fee of £37.5K
Two of last seasons squad retired at the end of the season. Walter Moore
ended his playing career to become a football scout after 16 appearances for Oulu last season as he won a trophy in his last ever footballing season. Massive news also emerged at the end of last season, as Markus Heikkinen's
proposed contract with OLS to become a coach was cancelled at the eleventh hour, and he retires from playing football but stays at the club in his assistant manager/director of football capacity on a month-to-month basis. I am trying to arrange a full-time contract with him but his wage demands are proving to be a difficult task - what you'd expect from a 61-time Finnish international.