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The team of the Finnish professional footballers association JPY won the FIFPro Winter Tournament in Oslo, where players from Ireland, Norway and Sweden also tried to capture the spotlights in search of a new contract as a professional footballer. A report.

Entering Oslo’s Valhall Arena, you are struck by the reality of what a FIFPro Tournament entails. No glamour, just football. Or in even starker terms, this is a day-long job interview, where unemployed professionals hope to impress 18 club scouts sitting in the stands.

To experience a FIFPro tournament, held indoors away from the winter chill, is to sit on the periphery of the football world. This is one of four events annually, staged by the World Footballers’ Union, which fly in the face of the notion that footballers are all rich and famous.

Here, in Oslo, all they want is a club, a secure contract, to keep things ticking over, to help pay the rent or mortgage on time and maybe put a little extra away. They persist, knowing full well that life as a professional footballer is but a brief existence.

FIFPro’s Director of Player Services, Tijs Tummers, sums up the essence of a concept which has been active since 2007, in this interview with FIFPro TV.

For some, it’s a chance to revive their careers. Others, if they fail to secure a contract in 2014, they might decide to hang up their boots. Either way, there is hope and energy in the air, as explained by Joachim Walltin, President of the Norwegian players’ union, NISO, to FIFPro TV.

The four-nation FIFPro Winter Tournament includes a strong Finnish side which boasts its fair share of players with youth and senior international experience. Confidence is high among the Finns, who are coached by the country’s former Under 21 national team boss Mika Laurikainen.

In goal for Finland, there is veteran Peter Enckelman, capped 12 times, who, at 36, is trying to figure out if he still has something to offer. Enkelman’s appearance in Oslo coincides with his former Aston Villa team-mate Thomas Hitzlsperger declaring his homosexuality to the world, a fact seized upon by a journalist from the Irish Daily Star, “Fair play to him (Hitzlsperger),” Enkelman said. “There is a still a big stigma and it must be hard. But I hope it’s a weight off him and he is relieved and he can be himself.”

A team fielded by the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland, PFAI, attracts a good deal of interest back home, as Stephen McGuiness explains here.

With a new domestic season approaching, a healthy Irish media contingent make the trip to Oslo, only to see their team’s hopes dashed in the opening match against Finland. Irish attacker Don Cowan describes the loss as “heartbreaking”.

Finland, or Team JPY, come from behind to book their ticket to the final, with a 2-1 victory over Ireland. Among the standout performers is Roope Riski, a 22-year-old who enjoyed a brief spell in Italy’s Serie A with Cesena. Enkelman spoke to FIFPro TV after the win.

Host nation Norway, coached by former international Raymond Kvisvik, makes a good first impression and joins Finland in the final after a 3-1 victory over defending champions Sweden.

Coach Roland Nillson, who won 116 caps for Sweden, is left to wonder what might have been after declaring to FIFPro TV his intention to go on the attack in Oslo.

Sweden and Ireland play out a scoreless draw in the third-place match, which saw the Scandanavians prevail 3-2 in a penalty shootout. This is a stage for individuals to shine, but results, it would seem, are just as important given the inherent competitive nature all professionals possess. Just ask Magnus Erlingmark, who represents the Swedish players’ union, SFS, a former international who helped his country reach the World Cup semi-finals in 1994.

In the final, Finland beat Norway thanks to a solitary goal from Kim Palosaari who, in some ways, encapsulates the immense challenge facing players with a professional dream. Still only 21, having represented his country at youth level, Palossari perhaps thought he was destined for bigger and better things. Instead, he is fighting to be noticed in a tournament for players who have no job.

The same can be said of Roope Riski, who picked up the Most Valuable Player award. For Riski, he could be forgiven for contemplating how his career took such a turn, three years after moving to Italy’s top flight as a teenager. Many have been in his position, where the only guarantee is that it will be tough at the pointy end of football’s international pyramid.

RESULTS

Finland-Republic of Ireland 2-1 

Norway-Sweden 3-1 

Third Place Match: Sweden-Rep of Ireland 0-0 (Sweden wins 3-2 on penalties)

Final: Finland-Norway 1-0

 

FIFPro received technical support from Scout7, where clubs can access footage of the players and all four-matches staged in Oslo.

 

For more infomation, contact the FIFPro Communications department on +31 23 5546970