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Up to seventy professional footballers are shaping up for their chance to earn a new contract with a professional football club. In Oslo, player associations from Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden will participate in the fifth FIFPro Winter Tournament for out of contract players, this Thursday January 8.

A statement by former Finnish youth international Roope Riski illustrates the opportunity that awaits all participants of the 2015 Winter Tournament.

Last year, Riski was a member of the winning Finland squad. "I played well and I was chosen Most Valuable Player of the tournament." He earned a two-year contract with Norwegian second league side Hønefoss, where he impressed by scoring 12 goals in 23 matches.

"The FIFPro Tournament is a good opportunity for players without a contract", Riski told all participants via a video message. "I wish you all a good tournament and I hope that this will help you find a club for next season."

Riski was part of a successful team, from which each member found a new club. "This year we once again have a very strong squad", says Tero Koskela, coach of Finnish Team JPY, that has been preparing itself in Helsinki since Sunday. "We have a mixed group with both young and experienced players."

"I am pretty sure that each player will find a new club, most of them in the Finnish premier league. And I hope that up to three players can join a team from abroad."

Teams from Finland are also keeping their eye on Team JPY, as four coaches will accompany Koskela and his men to Oslo, expecting to bring home players. "One of them is thinking about signing five of our players."

Two of the players who will be closely observed by the scouts and coaches in Oslo are forward Juho Mäkelä and returning midfielder Patrick Byskata. "Last year, Byskata played very well. This time, he hopes to make a move to a foreign club."

Koskela already had to say goodbye to one of his players. "When we published the names of our squad, we immediately lost our best man, Pekka Lagerblom." The 32-year old Lagerblom made 12 appearances for Finland and played nine years in Germany, among others for Werder Bremen. Later this week, he will be presented at a Finnish premier league club.

 

Players Guide FIFPro Winter Tournament 2015Finland will meet Ireland in the opening match of the tournament. The Irish players association (PFAI) already gathered the players on December 4th. Each week, coach Stephen Bradley (former Arsenal player) organised three training sessions. His team also played two friendlies, resulting in a win and a draw, and a new contract for a couple of players.

In previous years, Ireland always brought a strong squad to Oslo, as many of the country's premier league players were out of contract immediately after season's end, including top players. This resulted in the remarkable story of Eamon Zayed. In January 2011, Zayed starred at the first FIFPro Winter Tournament and earned a contract with Derry City. In November that year, he was named Player of the Year. Another member of that year's Team PFAI, Daryl Kavanagh, was also mentioned on the 5-player shortlist.

"That situation has changed", says Stephen McGuinness, PFAI President. "There is more financial stability at in the clubs now, which leads to more players signing at an earlier stage, especially the more experienced players." As a consequence, Team PFAI will be bringing a younger squad to Oslo.

"Still I expect that all our players will find a new club. In previous years, a majority ended up playing for a better team than before, or playing with improved conditions."

Players to keep an eye on are midfielders Craig Walsh, Peter McGlynn and Eric Foley. Another player to keep an eye on is Daryl Kavanagh, the MVP of the first FIFPro Tournament. He has been working out with Team PFAI to regain his fitness. "We hope he can perform at his best level again", says McGuinness.

The Norwegian team NISO started its training camp on Monday, January 5th. Former national team player Raymond Kvisvik is once again in charge of Team NISO. He has a young and talented team at his disposal. One of them is Tom Skogsrud, a defender and former trainee of the Manchester City and Glasgow Rangers academies. Another player to keep an eye on is Sigurpáll Melberg Pálsson, an 18-year old midfielder from Iceland and former trainee at the Reading academy.

"To improve the level of the FIFPro Winter Tournament, we have invited five players from Iceland", says NISO President Joachim Walltin. "Three players have joined the Swedish team, and two are part of the Norwegian squad."

All players will find a new club, Walltin predicts. "For sure. The only question is, at which level. In Norway it is difficult finding a club at the highest level, as the squads are small. Most of the clubs only have 20 players. I expect half of our players to sign at a real professional club from our 1st or 2nd division. All players hope to reach a higher level, that is their goal."

2015 Oslo Poster 650Unlike his colleagues in Ireland, Norway and Finland, Swedish player union secretary general Magnus Erlingmark had a hard time finding first and second league players in his country. Most of the players in the Stockholm training camp played in the Swedish third division in 2014.

"We called all out of contract players from the first and second division, but it was hard to get them. They think they are too good for this tournament."

According to Erlingmark - a bronze medalist at the 1994 FIFA World Cup – these players are wrong: "It is the other way around. The clubs visit the tournament. If a player has a good tournament, they will sign him to a contract."

Experienced Kjell Pettersson will be competing with a young Swedish Team Spelarföreningen. "He will have a very motivated squad. All players want to go to Oslo to earn a professional contract. They are hoping to make the next step to a higher level."

Players to watch are midfielders Daniel Badjelan and Liridon Makolli.