With Mika Väyrynen’s transfer to Leeds United complete, what kind of player have the Yorkshire club signed, and after being left out of the starting line-up for Finland’s last two matches, what is his future role in the national team?
|Information correct as of 15 September 2011|
|Date of birth||28 December 1981|
|Place of birth||Eskilstuna, Sweden|
|Current club||Leeds United, Leeds, England|
|Previous clubs||SC Heerenveen, PSV Eindhoven, FC Jokerit, FC Lahti|
I must confess, I am a big fan of Mika Väyrynen. When following a small club or country who are not expected to win very often and who do not have players of great technical ability, like Finland, one begins to appreciate the players who work hard, do the simple things well, and at least make things difficult for the opposition. Väyrynen is definitely one such player, and I have enjoyed watching him play for the national side. Looking back at what I have written about him before, over the course of the past year, I have variously described him as strong, combative, and having a good presence in the midfield. In short, he’s a scrapper.
Väyrynen’s football career began at the youth level with teams from Lohja and Kirkkonummi, but his senior debut came for FC Lahti, alongside his future Finland team-mate, defender Petri Pasanen. He was only 17 years old at that time, but quickly established himself as a regular first-team player, playing 36 times and scoring 11 goals in two seasons for his club. Those statistics reflect that he has played most of his club football in fairly attacking roles, whereas nowadays he usually plays in a more central position for the national side – see comment.
For the 2001 season, he moved to FC Jokerit, who had finished six places above Lahti in both of the two seasons Väyrynen had been playing for them. The move did not pay off for him, however, as the Helsinki-based Jokerit finished second from bottom and were relegated, despite Väyrynen’s 30 appearances and four goals. The team’s performance was not a reflection of Väyrynen’s own ability, and after relegation he secured a move to SC Heerenveen of the Dutch Eredivisie, a big step up in his career. Interestingly Heerenveen held negotiations to buy out Jokerit in 2004, but Väyrynen’s former club was eventually bought out by HJK and reformed into their reserve team.
Väyrynen’s career continued its upward trajectory at Heerenveen, where he made 40 appearances in his first two seasons and then 61 in the two after that, when the club finished fourth and fifth in the league. He played in a variety of positions, including behind the strikers and on both wings, scoring a total of 17 goals. It was as a Heerenveen player that he was first called up to the national team, making his debut in 2002 in a 2-0 friendly defeat to South Korea. He broke into the Finland first team about a year later, after being considered one of Finland’s best players in two important qualifying matches for which he had originally been omitted and was only called up due to another player’s injury. He has represented his country at least six times in every year bar one since then.
His performances for club and country were enough to secure him a transfer to PSV Eindhoven, one of the Netherlands’ three biggest clubs alongside Ajax and Feyenoord. Things did not get off to the best of starts with PSV, as he picked up an ankle injury in his first match which kept him out for four months. He managed only 11 appearances in his first season with the Eindhoven club, and unfortunately never managed to cement a first-team place after that. A potential move to Derby County fell through due to another injury, this time to his calf.
The move to PSV was an opportunity for him to play at a much higher level, but it didn’t materialise, primarily due to factors outside his control. His time there drew to an end after he was asked to vacate the number 7 shirt ahead of the 2008/09 season, even though there wasn’t another player to take it. He was then quickly sold to his previous club, Heerenveen. Three seasons there went reasonably well, though not spectacularly, and he succumbed to yet another injury, to his knee.
That brings us up to the end of the last season, when Väyrynen’s contract was not renewed, despite playing 30 matches and scoring eight goals for Heerenveen. He took his time finding a new club, waiting until after the transfer window had closed before going for a medical, as he was permitted to do as a free agent. He seemed to be on the verge of re-joining his Finland and former Lahti team-mate Pasanen at Red Bull Salzburg, travelling to Austria to have a medical with the club. That move was so advanced that Heerenveen even published a story about it on their website, before it fell through due to Leeds United’s interest.
Väyrynen’s move to Leeds has now been completed, meaning the midfielder joins up with Finland striker Mikael Forssell, best known in England for a prolific goalscoring spell with Crystal Palace and Birmingham City in the first few years of the previous decade (I have also written a profile of Forssell, if you’re interested). Suddenly Finnish football fans have two reasons to follow Leeds’ progress in the Championship.
Without wanting to stereotype them completely, Väyrynen’s new club Leeds United have something of a reputation for being, let’s say, tough. Stronger and more unpleasant words have been used, but they have their origins in the past, and I have a suspicion that they are somewhat unfairly used these days. Nevertheless, on the surface at least, Väyrynen would seem to be a good fit for Leeds, and vice-versa.
As for the national team, Väyrynen came on as a substitute in both of Finland’s two recent qualifying matches, perhaps indicating that head coach Mixu Paatelainen wants try some younger players in central midfield. I am quite sure he will return to a regular starting position once he has found his feet again in club football. I have suggested he could captain the side before, and I still believe that. At the very least, he will continue to be an important part of the squads, and at 29 years old, he’s still some way short of retirement.
In summary, Väyrynen’s long career has taken him to the Champions League and international qualifiers, playing alongside such illustrious team-mates as Patrick Kluivert and Phillip Cocu at club level, and Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä at international level. He has been all-too frequently the victim of injuries, which have been the main thing holding him back and which could yet return to hamper his career as he approaches his 30th birthday. He is an able and willing box-to-box midfielder, and once he has regained full fitness, I fully expect him to succeed at his new club.
And just how do you pronounce his name? Finnish players tend to have their names mangled by English fans and commentators, so here’s a guide to make sure you don’t make the same mistake. Admittedly it’s not an easy name, mainly because of the “äy” vowel combination, but try saying it like this: Mick-a (not Mee-ker, the short “a” at the end is like the “u” of “udder”) Vow-roo-nen. Emphasis is on the first syllable in all Finnish words, and roll the “r” for extra points. If you want to hear me saying it, you can listen to this short MP3.