Jari Litmanen

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Jari Litmanen
Litmanen jari.jpg
Litmanen playing for Finland in 2009
Personal information
Full name Jari Olavi Litmanen
Date of birth (1971-02-20) 20 February 1971 (age 43)
Place of birth Lahti, Finland
Height 1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
Playing position Attacking midfielder
Second striker
Youth career
1977–1987 Reipas
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1987–1990 Reipas 86 (28)
1991 HJK 27 (16)
1992 MyPa 18 (7)
1992–1999 Ajax 159 (91)
1999–2001 Barcelona 21 (3)
2001–2002 Liverpool 26 (5)
2002–2004 Ajax 20 (5)
2004 Lahti 11 (3)
2005 Hansa Rostock 13 (1)
2005–2007 Malmö FF 10 (3)
2008 Fulham 0 (0)
2008–2010 Lahti 40 (10)
2011 HJK 18 (1)
Total 449 (173)
National team
1989–2010 Finland 137 (32)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

Jari Olavi Litmanen (About this sound pronunciation ) (born 20 February 1971 in Lahti) is a former Finnish footballer. He was the first-choice captain of the Finland national football team between 1996–2008 in an international career that ran from 1989 to 2010.

He is widely considered to be Finland's greatest football player of all time.[1] He was chosen as the best Finnish player of the last 50 years by the Football Association of Finland in the UEFA Jubilee Awards in November 2003. Litmanen also finished 42nd in the 100 Greatest Finns voting in 2004. The Association of Football Statisticians' (The AFS) compendium of 'Greatest Ever Footballers' listed Litmanen as the 53rd best footballer ever.[2]

In Finland, he is often called 'Litti' (after Pierre Littbarski), which dates from his early years, and is also known as 'Kuningas' ('The King').

During his club career, he represented Reipas, HJK, MyPa and Lahti in Finland and Ajax, Barcelona, Liverpool, Hansa Rostock and Malmö abroad. Once considered one of the best attacking midfielders in the world,[3] he became the first Finnish footballing superstar while playing for Ajax in the mid-1990s, winning the Champions League in 1995, the peak year of his career.

His later career was marred by injuries, and he was unable to repeat the success of his Ajax years either at Barcelona or Liverpool, often finding himself on the bench, despite some impressive performances for the latter. Writing about Litmanen in 2009, Paul Simpson, former FourFourTwo editor, went as far as to assert that "his career has not been worthy of his talent".[4]

Club career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Litmanen made his first-team debut for Reipas in Finland’s then top division Mestaruussarja at the age of 16 in 1987. After four seasons with Reipas he moved to HJK, Finland's biggest club, in 1991. A year later he joined MyPa, where he was coached by Harri Kampman, who later introduced him to his agent, the late Heikki Marttinen. Litmanen did not win any medals in the Finnish league, but he did win the Finnish Cup with MyPa in July 1992 in a 2–0 win over FF Jaro in the final at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium. His performance in the cup final, including a goal, convinced a scout of Ajax that the club should sign him. "For me, he was the player," the scout later told Finnish television. His transfer took place during the same summer, and he did not complete the Finnish football season with MyPa.

Ajax[edit]

Jari Litmanen's Ajax shirt in the Sports Museum of Finland

Before his move to Ajax, Litmanen had failed to gain a contract with the Romanian club Dinamo Bucureşti. A number of European clubs, including Barcelona, Leeds United and PSV Eindhoven,[5] had shown an interest in him, but in the end it was Ajax that bought him.

David Endt, who was the Ajax team manager in the 1990s, described his first impression of Litmanen to the Finnish broadcasting corporation YLE in 2010:[6]

During 1992–93, his first season at Ajax, he played mostly in the reserves. The manager, Louis van Gaal, was apparently not overly impressed with him, but the team physiotherapist suggested using him as a stand-in for Dennis Bergkamp, who was injured at the time. Van Gaal liked what he saw, and knowing that Bergkamp was about to leave for Internazionale, he announced that Litmanen would be Bergkamp’s successor, something that people in Litmanen’s native Finland found difficult to believe.[6] However, this turned out to be true, and he inherited from Bergkamp the famous number 10 shirt, which is often given to playmakers. He went on to score 26 goals in the 1993–94 season, becoming the league's top scorer, and leading Ajax to the title. He was also voted Footballer of the Year in the Netherlands in 1993.

Litmanen was one of the star players of Louis van Gaal's team that won three consecutive Dutch championships and reached the UEFA Champions League final twice in a row. From the beginning of the 1994–95 season to the middle of the 1995–96 season, Ajax went undefeated in both the Eredivisie (a run of 52 games) and the UEFA Champions League (19 games). When Ajax beat Milan in the 1994–95 final, Litmanen became the first Finnish player to win the European Cup or the UEFA Champions League. In 1995–96, he was the Champions League top scorer with nine goals, including the equaliser in the final against Juventus, which Ajax lost on penalties. In 1995, he also won the Intercontinental Cup against Grêmio and came third in the voting for the Ballon d'Or (European Footballer of the Year), having finished eighth the previous year.

Litmanen spent seven years in Amsterdam, winning four Dutch championships and three Dutch Cups, and scored a total of 129 goals, 91 of them in the league. He is the club's top scorer in European competition with 26 goals in 54 matches (including two goals scored in the 2002–03 season). Litmanen has the honour of being one of just three players presented in a special video featurette at the Ajax Museum. The other two are Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff. Frank Rijkaard, Litmanen's team-mate in the 1993–94 and 1994–95 seasons, once said: "Dennis Bergkamp was brilliant for Ajax but the best No.10 we ever had was Jari." In his time at Ajax, some fans called him 'Merlin' because of the magic he brought to the pitch.

But his proneness to injury also earned Litmanen the name 'The Man of Glass', and injuries hampered his later seasons at Ajax causing him to miss many games (in his six seasons as a regular first-team player, he missed 57 out of a total of 204 league games, and in his last three seasons, he missed seven out of 24 European matches, playing only part of five others). Unfortunately, his injury problems were to worsen as time passed, undermining his subsequent career.

Barcelona[edit]

In 1999, Litmanen was reunited with his old boss Van Gaal at Barcelona. He was one of several former Ajax players recruited by Van Gaal in his time as manager, but his stint with the club was largely plagued by injuries:[7]

Litmanen also failed to adapt to his new conditions, and he was one of the players dropped by Van Gaal that winter. Van Gaal later expressed his disappointment with Litmanen at Barcelona:[8]

After an unsuccessful season, Van Gaal was replaced by Llorenç Serra Ferrer, and Litmanen was frozen out of the team, losing the number 10 shirt to Rivaldo, although he remained at the club until January 2001, when he moved to Liverpool on a free transfer.

Liverpool[edit]

"We have signed a world-class player. He comes with a massive reputation and I believe he's one of the most exciting signings we have made," said the Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier after the transfer had been completed.[9] Litmanen also expressed his pleasure with the move: "It has always been my dream to play for Liverpool. I have supported them since I was a child and there has been talk about me joining them before."[10] He wanted to wear the number seven shirt as worn by his boyhood hero Kenny Dalglish, but this had already been taken by Vladimir Smicer. As shirt numbers 17 and 27 were also in use, he settled for the number 37.

Litmanen made a good start at Liverpool but broke his wrist playing for Finland against England at Anfield in late March 2001 and missed the rest of the season. Although he was part of the Liverpool team that won the "cup treble" of the Worthington Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup in 2001, he missed all three finals because of injury. The following season, he was used sparingly by Houllier but did score goals against Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Fulham in the Premier League and against Dynamo Kyiv, Roma and Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.[11]

According to his profile on LFCHistory.net, "Litmanen had difficulties in training due to his ankle problems and was hardly able to play for ninety minutes week in and week out". Litmanen himself was frustrated by his lack of playing time at Liverpool:[9]

Litmanen was again given permission to move clubs for free after the 2001–02 season, having scored a total of 9 goals in 43 official matches during his one and a half seasons at the club.

Return to Ajax[edit]

Litmanen decided to return to Ajax, and was given a hero's welcome with the crowd again singing his name. He was one of the key players as Ajax reached the quarter-finals of the 2002–03 Champions League, but he continued to be plagued by injuries, and much of the following season was once again spent on the sidelines. In the spring of 2004, the club released him from his contract.

FC Lahti and Hansa Rostock[edit]

Litmanen's return to Finland, as he joined Lahti, was much hyped, and was hailed as "the return of the king".[12] However, Litmanen moved to German Bundesliga strugglers Hansa Rostock in January 2005 to help save them from relegation. In the end, though, Hansa were relegated, which ended Litmanen's stint at the club.

Malmö FF[edit]

Litmanen joined the Swedish club Malmö FF in July 2005 in an attempt to help them qualify for the Champions League. This attempt, however, failed, and Litmanen himself was injured during the whole of the autumn, only making a few appearances. He decided to continue his career with Malmö in 2006 but was again sidelined with a number of injuries for much of the season. However, the matches he did play showed he remained a brilliant player when fit. After an operation to repair a damaged ankle during the winter break, Malmö decided to extend his contract over the 2007 season, but an ankle injury suffered in June 2007 forced Litmanen to cancel it.[13]

Fulham[edit]

In January 2008, Litmanen received a 10-day trial invitation from Fulham, under former Finland manager Roy Hodgson,[14] and was signed on 31 January 2008 together with fellow countryman Toni Kallio.[15] Just weeks after signing with Fulham, Litmanen had to return to his native Finland to rest, after serious heart concerns.[16]

Litmanen eventually made his debut for Fulham in a reserve-team match against Tottenham on 31 March 2008 but was released in May of the same year without playing a single game for the first team.[17]

Return to Lahti[edit]

On 8 August 2008, it was announced that Litmanen would join his former club Lahti of the Finnish Premier Division for the remainder of the 2008 season. Although he only played 34 minutes in his first match, he scored twice and provided the passes for two other goals. He played an important role in helping Lahti to finish third in the league and qualify for Europe for the first time in the club's history. He signed a new one-year contract with Lahti on 16 April 2009. Litmanen scored his first European goal for Lahti in a 2–0 win against Gorica in the second qualifying round of the Europa League, with the final aggregate score being 2–1. This was his 30th goal in 83 European matches. On 18 September 2010, he scored a bicycle kick goal against AC Oulu in a 2–1 away victory.

On 23 October 2010, he scored his 50th Veikkausliiga goal, but this happened in a 3–2 defeat against TPS and didn't stop the club from being relegated to Ykkönen.

Return to HJK[edit]

On 20 April 2011, Litmanen signed a one-year contract with the reigning Finnish champions, HJK, at the age of 40, making him one of the few footballers to play at professional level in four different decades (1980s – 2010s).[18] He usually started as a substitute and played for 10–30 minutes. The HJK coach Antti Muurinen described Litmanen is something akin to a "precision munition" for HJK. He played in this role on 24 September 2011 in the Finnish Cup final against KuPS, coming on in the 80th minute when the score was 0–0. During the second half of extra time, he scored a spectacular half volley to make it 1–0 to HJK in the 108th minute. They went on to win the match 2–1. This was Litmanen's first Finnish Cup final after winning it with MyPa in 1992. He commented that if he plays such a cup final every 19 years, he won't be playing many more in his career. On 2 October 2011, HJK secured their third consecutive Finnish championship, thus winning the Double. As of that day, Litmanen had played 18 matches for HJK that season, and they had won every single match in which he had been on the field. On 14 October 2011, this run ended when HJK drew 0–0 with JJK Jyväskylä.

On 29 October 2011, Litmanen celebrated his 200th league match by giving three assists in HJK's 5–2 home win over FC Haka. It was also his last game of the season.

International career[edit]

Litmanen after his last international against San Marino in November 2010

Litmanen is Finland's most capped player and leading goal scorer. His international career ran for 21 years from 1989 to 2010.

Litmanen made his Finland debut on 22 October 1989 against Trinidad and Tobago, and scored his first goal on 16 May 1991 against Malta. Litmanen served as Finland's captain from 1996 to 2008, and was arguably their key player for more than a decade, helping the team to many unexpected victories against higher ranked opposition.[citation needed] However, Finland's failure to qualify for a major tournament prevented Litmanen from proving his talent at the highest level in international competition.

Litmanen earned his 100th cap on 25 January 2006 against South Korea, one of only four Finns to have reached such a milestone, the others being Ari Hjelm, Sami Hyypiä and Jonatan Johansson.

When he played for Finland against South Korea on 19 January 2010, he achieved the distinction of having represented Finland in four different decades.[19]

On 17 November 2010, Litmanen became the oldest player ever to score for Finland, and also the oldest player overall to score a goal in the qualifying stages for the European championships, when he netted a penalty in an 8–0 win over San Marino, which proved to be his last international match.

International goals[edit]

      Win       Draw       Loss

Future career options[edit]

In February 2011, the sports news programme Urheiluruutu of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE interviewed two of Litmanen's former teammates about the possibility of his working for Ajax when he decides to end his playing career. Former Ajax captain Danny Blind said the following:[20]

Michel Kreek of the Ajax Academy was equally positive about this possibility:

He served as a TV pundit for YLE during Euro 1992 and Euro 2012, and, during the latter, also wrote comment and analysis for the newspaper Ilta-Sanomat.

Litmanen is still considering playing and hasn't publicly announced his retirement.

Personal life[edit]

Litmanen was born into a footballing family. His father, Olavi Litmanen, was also a Finnish international and a Reipas player. His mother also played for Reipas at the women's highest level. Litmanen became a father in November 2005, when his Estonian girlfriend Ly Jürgenson gave birth to a son named Caro. The couple's second son, Bruno, was born in September 2007. Although they avoid too much publicity, they are sometimes seen together in public.[21]

On 10 October 2010, Litmanen became the first Finnish team sport player to be honoured with a statue: it stands at Kisapuisto (Lahti) where he started his career in the 1970s.[22] The King – Jari Litmanen is a 2012 documentary film about Litmanen's career.[23]

Career statistics[edit]

As of 29 October 2011, after HJK v FC Haka the same day; end of the Finnish football season.
Club performance League Cup League Cup Continental Total
Season Club League Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Finland League Finnish Cup League Cup Europe Total
1987 Reipas Lahti Veikkausliiga 9 0 1 0 10 0
1988 26 8 4 0 30 8
1989 25 6 4 2 29 8
1990 26 14 3 0 29 14
1991 HJK Helsinki Veikkausliiga 27 16 0 0 2 0 29 16
1992 MyPa Veikkausliiga 18 7 6 4 24 11
Netherlands League KNVB Cup League Cup Europe Total
1992–93 Ajax Eredivisie 12 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 14 1
1993–94 30 26 3 4 1 2 5 4 39 36
1994–95 27 17 4 2 1 1 11 6 43 26
1995–96 26 14 2 0 0 0 10 9 38 23
1996–97 16 6 1 0 1 0 7 2 25 8
1997–98 25 16 3 4 0 0 6 2 34 22
1998–99 23 11 5 1 1 0 4 1 33 13
Spain League Copa del Rey Supercopa de España Europe Total
1999–2000 Barcelona La Liga 21 3 3 1 8 0 32 4
2000–01 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
England League FA Cup League Cup Europe Total
2000–01 Liverpool Premier League 5 1 2 1 2 0 2 0 11 2
2001–02 21 4 1 0 1 0 9 3 32 7
Netherlands League KNVB Cup League Cup Europe Total
2002–03 Ajax Eredivisie 14 5 1 0 0 0 7 2 22 7
2003–04 6 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 9 0
Finland League Finnish Cup League Cup Europe Total
2004 Lahti Veikkausliiga 11 3 1 0 1 0 13 3
Germany League DFB-Pokal Other Europe Total
2004–05 Hansa Rostock Bundesliga 13 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 14 1
Sweden League Svenska Cupen League Cup Europe Total
2005 Malmö FF Allsvenskan 2 1 0 2 0 4* 1
2006 8 2 0 8* 2
2007 0 0 0* 0*
England League FA Cup League Cup Europe Total
2007–08 Fulham Premier League 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Finland League Finnish Cup League Cup Europe Total
2008 Lahti Veikkausliiga 6 3 0 0 0 0 6 3
2009 13 2 2 0 3 1 6 1 24 4
2010 21 5 0 0 2 0 23 5
2011 HJK Helsinki 18 1 1 1 1 0 2 0 22 2
Total Finland 200 65 22 7 7 1 10 1 239 74
Netherlands 179 96 20 11 4 3 54 26 257 136
Spain 21 3 3 1 8 0 32 4
England 26 5 3 1 3 0 11 3 43 9
Germany 13 1 1 0 0 0 14 1
Sweden 10 3 2 0 12* 3*
Finnish national team 137 32 137 32
Career total 586 205 49* 20* 14 4 85 30 734* 259*
  • Asterisk (*) indicates the least number of matches played and goals scored; further research may produce more matches and goals.
  • Finnish League Cup held for the first time in 1994. In Sweden and in Spain, there is no league cup.
  • The matches listed as the Dutch league cup are actually matches played in the Dutch Super Cup (season 1992–1993 to 1995–1996), continued as the Johan Cruijff Schaal (from season 1996–1997 on), traditionally played before the start of the season between the Dutch national champions and the KNVB Cup winners.

Honours[edit]

Reached 100 goals for AFC Ajax (total 136 goals in 257 matches)

Club titles[edit]

MyPa

Ajax

Liverpool

HJK

Personal awards and achievements[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Litmanen heads home". BBC Sport. 25 May 2004. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  2. ^ "Your Verdict: 100 greatest ever footballers". ESPN Soccernet. 7 November 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  3. ^ "Jari sets England a poser". The Guardian. 8 October 2000. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  4. ^ "Jari's game: How did Litmanen fade away?". FourFourTwo. 31 March 2009. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "Jari Litmanen" (in Dutch). Ajax. Retrieved 5 March 2009. 
  6. ^ a b David Endt in an interview to YLE TV2, 28 September 2010, during a Champions League match half time.
  7. ^ "Surprise, surprise... Catalans in the Barcajax side". The Observer. 2 April 2000. Retrieved 8 March 2013. 
  8. ^ "Van Gaal: My football philosophy". FIFA.com. 7 January 2008. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Player profile". LFCHistory.net. Retrieved 8 March 2013. 
  10. ^ "Litmanen completes Liverpool switch". BBC Sport. 4 January 2001. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  11. ^ "Fixtures & Results 2001–2002". Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  12. ^ Moore, William. "Litmanen returns, but Allianssi take League Cup trophy as outdoor football season begins". hs.fi. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  13. ^ "Fotboll: Skadad Litmanen lämnar Malmö" (in Swedish). sverigesradio.se. 2 August 2007. [dead link]
  14. ^ "Litmanen training with FFC". Fulham Official Website. 22 January 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  15. ^ "Litmanen joins Fulham". Fulham Official Website. 31 January 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  16. ^ "Litmanen back training". Fulham Official Website. 23 February 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  17. ^ "Bocanegra heads Fulham clear-out". BBC. 23 May 2006. Retrieved 23 May 2008. 
  18. ^ "Litmanen pelaa tulevan kauden HJK:ssa" [Litmanen joins HJK] (in Finnish). HJK.fi. 20 April 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  19. ^ "Etelä-Korea kaatoi Huuhkajat" (in Finnish). palloliitto.fi. 18 January 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2012. [dead link]
  20. ^ YLE Urheiluruutu, 3 March 2011.
  21. ^ "Jari Litmasen vaimo häikäisi Litti-elokuvan ensi-illassa" (in Finnish). iltalehti.fi. 26 September 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  22. ^ "Jari Litmaselle patsas Lahden kisapuistoon" [Litmanen's statue was revealed] (in Finnish). veikkausliiga.com. 16 October 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  23. ^ The King – Jari Litmanen The Yellow Affair. Retrieved 1 March 2014.

External links[edit]