Jussi Jääskeläinen: Finnish Wanderer

finland bolton gk jussi-jaaskelainen

Player Profile: Jussi Jääskeläinen

Date of Birth: 19/4/1975

Height: 1.91 m

Position(s): Goalkeeper

National Team: Finland

International Caps: 56

International Goals: 0

Club Career

In this day and age, when the Premier League is mostly contested by foreign players, it is the local talent who are expected to stick by their clubs through thick and thin. Whether it be Gary Neville at Manchester United, Jamie Carragher at Liverpool or John Terry at Chelsea, it’s often the hometown heroes who stick around for more than a decade. The perception is that foreign players come and go. To a large extent, this is true – it is often the economic opportunity that attracts them rather than any specific allegiance to the club they’re joining.

Jussi Jääskeläinen is one notable exception to this rule. A bargain buy for Bolton Wanderers when he joined from Finland in 1997 – costing just £100,000 – Jääskeläinen stuck with the club for 15 long years and ended up being regarded as a club legend.

Jääskeläinen began his career at his hometown club MP Mikkeli in 1992, spending four seasons there, before moving to another Finnish club Vaasan Palloseura (VPS). It was his performances at VPS that attracted the attention of English side Bolton Wanderers. When Jääskeläinen joined them in 1997, the Trotters were still in the English second tier and being managed by Colin Todd. He did not take long to make the No 1 shirt his own, making 34 appearances during the 1998-99 season. 

The Finn missed a good chunk of the 2000-01 campaign due to injury, but still managed to start 27 matches as Bolton won promotion to the Premier League. He maintained his starting spot despite Bolton struggling to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League in their first season back in the top flight. The club, under Sam Allardyce, eventually finished 16th, narrowly avoiding relegation by just four points.

The goalkeeper started every single Premier League game that Bolton played over the next two seasons as Allardyce slowly built up a team capable of competing with the best in the league. The club saw the results of that process in the 2003-04 season as Bolton finished a record eighth in the Premier League. Jääskeläinen played his part with several crucial saves throughout the season.

They did even better the next season, finishing sixth and level on points with Liverpool in fifth. This was in no part down to the performance of Bolton’s defence, and their goalkeeper as the Wanderers conceded fewer goals than Everton who finished fourth. As a result, the club qualified for the UEFA Cup and would compete in Europe for the first the following season.

Bolton had another good season the next year, finishing eighth in the Premiership, and Jääskeläinen was slowly starting to become a cult figure at the club. One of his finest performances in Bolton colours came in October 2006 as he saved two penalties in one match against Blackburn Rovers and handed Bolton a 1-0 win. 

In the 2006-07 season, Jääskeläinen was the hero as Bolton recorded a seventh-place finish and qualified for the UEFA Cup once again. For his efforts, the Finn was selected as the recipient of the club’s Player of the Year award, as well as the Players’ Player of the Year award. He endeared himself further to fans by signing a new contract, despite it appearing likely that his time at the club was coming to an end.

However, with long-time manager Sam Allardyce leaving towards the end of the season, things were on the slide for the club. The next season was a disaster with neither Allardyce’s replacement Sammy Lee, nor his successor Gary Megson able to revive the club. Jääskeläinen spent the season fighting relegation as Bolton eventually finished 16th.

He stuck around for another four seasons, but it was apparent that the club would not be getting out their slump. In his final season at Bolton in 2011-12, he started only 18 league games with Adam Bogdan starting the rest of the games for the club. At the end of the season, Bolton were relegated from the Premier League, and Jääskeläinen opted to leave the club and join West Ham United.

The Finn only had one full season as West Ham’s starting goalkeeper despite spending three seasons with the club. He performed well in the 2012-13 season, finishing runner-up in the race for the club’s annual Hammer of the Year award. However, Jääskeläinen found subsequent opportunities hard to come by thanks to the emergence of Adrian and left the club for Wigan in 2015.

He played a role in Wigan winning promotion from League One in his very first season there. But, after only playing a bit-part role in the following season, he left the club and English football for the first time since coming to the country in 1997.

Few would have imagined his next destination would be India, but in September 2017, he signed for Indian Super League club ATK. However, his time there did not go well for him as he lost his number one status to local goalkeeper Debjit Majumder. After failing to regain his spot, Jääskeläinen was released in January 2018. With that, his playing career came to a close.

International Career

Despite being one of the best-ever players to come out of Finland, Jussi Jääskeläinen faced the unfortunate predicament of having another quality player in his position in Antti Niemi. After making his debut for Finland in 1998, he spent most of the subsequent years as their reserve goalkeeper. It was not until Niemi retired in 2005 that Jääskeläinen became Finland’s No. 1, a position that he would hold for the next four years.

By the time, he retired from international football in 2009, he had collected 56 caps for his country. His decision to retire was taken in the hope that it would help him prolong his club career. However, he reversed that decision for one match against Hungary in 2010. Finland’s regular keeper Otto Fredrikson was unable to play, and Jääskeläinen answered a last-minute call for help from his country.

Where is he now?

After retiring as a player, it did not take Jääskeläinen long to turn to coaching. He joined Wrexham as a goalkeeping coach after former Bolton teammate Sam Ricketts’ appointment as manager of the club.

His time at the club was brief. In December that year, after Ricketts was tempted away to Shrewsbury, Jääskeläinen, along with Graham Barrow and Carl Darlington, took charge of the team for an FA Cup tie. It was initially speculated that Jääskeläinen would follow his teammate to Shrewsbury. However, he left Wrexham citing his desire to return to Finland and to date has not taken up any other offers to coach in England.

Did you know?

– Two of Jääskeläinen’s three sons are also footballers. Eldest son Will, who is also a goalkeeper, looked to follow in his father’s footsteps by signing terms with Bolton. However, he now plays for Crewe Alexandria. Youngest son Emil, who – unlike his father and brother – is an outfield player, and plays for Kendal Town.

– Jääskeläinen has been known to contribute to several charities, including one that looks after victims of domestic violence and another that takes care of disadvantaged kids.

 – He rates a double save he made off Paul Scholes and Andy Cole, in a 2-1 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2001, as the best saves he ever made.

– Jääskeläinen made three assists during his time in the English Premier League.