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Norway, Sweden, Finland and Ireland were extremely well matched last Friday at the first FIFPro Winter Tournament for out-of-contract players held in the Vallhall Arena in Oslo.


Since 2005, there has been an annual FIFPro Tournament for out-of-contract players held in the summer in which Western European countries such as the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia and Denmark have participated.


This year, the Scandinavian players’ unions within FIFPro, plus that of Ireland, took the initiative to organise a FIFPro Winter Tournament which took place last Friday on an artificial pitch at the Vallhall Arena. It was an very well organised tournament of which Norway was the host, but the other countries also played their part in helping to organise it.


There were no less than 20 Norwegian clubs present in the Vallhall Arena. The other participating countries had sent their scouts to Oslo and representatives from Sheffield United and Everton were also in attendance.


They will not have been disappointed. The players played in two matches lasting one hour each and showed that the fact that they are currently looking for a new club certainly does not always have to do with their quality as players.


 widthFor example, in the Irish second division 95% of players are without a contract immediately following the end of the last league game at the end of October. They then receive an unemployment payment and once preparations for the new season begin again in mid-January the clubs then look to see who they will offer a contract to.


Stephen McGuinness, secretary general of the Irish players’ union PFAI: ‘Our participation in this year’s FIFPro Tournament meant that the clubs had to act quicker. Eight or nine of the players who attended our training session have already received contracts in the past weeks in order to avoid them showcasing their talents at the FIFPro Winter Tournament. As a result, the FIFPro Tournament was already a success for us before a ball had even been kicked.’


However, the Irish still had enough to offer: under the leadership of experienced playmaker Stuart Byrne, players such as the young Karl Moore (pictured), 22 and with a six-year apprenticeship at Manchester City under his belt, and Daryl Kavanagh, 24 and eventually chosen as player of the tournament, showed great promise.


The Irish finished in third place after beating Sweden 1-0. The Swedes were disappointed with the result (two 1-0 defeats) but they too had showed a great deal of potential during their two games. Goalkeeper Benny Lekström who has played in the top division for the past five seasons and Simon Ogunnaike, just turned 21 and with 53 appearances over the past two seasons at the highest for Valsta Syrianska IK, were the stand-out players of young and talented Swedish team which had no less than nine players aged 22 or below.


The final was an engaging match between Finland and Norway with all the goals in a 2-2 draw being scored in the first half. The Finns had already indicated that they were not too concerned about the result because the most important aim of the day was to put individual players in the spotlight as much as possible. The Finns seemed to find the right balance. Jukka Santala, very comfortable on the ball, aged 25 and already with experience in Scotland, Sweden and Denmark linked up with the livewire Zakaria Abahassine and the clever Tommi Siekkinen, who were always able to find each other easily.


Finland also had some attractive young players lining up in midfield and defence in the shape of Kaarlo Rantanen, 22 and previously of FC Lahti, and Jussie Äijälä, 22 and with 45 appearances in the top league in the last two seasons.


It proved just enough to beat the strong Norwegian team in the final on penalties. The Norwegians had an experienced central defender in Eidjer Freid, formerly of UD Las Palmas and who was still playing in the Premier League last season for Kongsvinger. In the final, his position was taken by 25-year-old Arnar Forsund, a player who hopes to return to the highest level via the FIFPro Winter Tournament: ‘This is an excellent initiative. Over 120 minutes you can show what you are capable of and what your strong points are. I hope that my performance here will see me get a new offer within a week.’


 widthJoachim Waltin, president of the Norwegian players’ union NISO, also looked back with great satisfaction on the FIFPro Winter Tournament: ‘I have only heard positive noises: from the players, the visiting scouts and the press. And from now on it will only get easier. Many out-of-contract players from the Norwegian Premier League did not register for our training session and this tournament. When they hear who was here, they will be scratching their heads. Next year it will be much easier to get players from the highest level.’


This view was also shared by Daniel Nannskog, who finished his career last year at Stabæk IF and is now coach of the club: ‘Some players could not swallow their pride. That was very stupid of them because this is a perfect platform for coming to the attention of Norwegian and foreign clubs.’


FIFPro, the international players’ union which provided assistance in organising the tournament was enthusiastic about the new initiative. Tijs Tummers of FIFPro: ‘The standard was good, the attitude of the players perfect, and there was also outstanding interest from the clubs. Compliments for the organisation. Our advice will certainly be to continue the initiative.’