Free Time for Veikkausliiga Footballers

I’ve always been curious about what the daily lives of professional footballers are like. I understand that there are huge differences between what the stars of English Premier League Clubs do on a daily basis compared to a league like the Veikkausliiga (Finnish Top Division), but as an individual almost as far from being a professional footballer as possible (I mean, high school football isn’t exactly the same as playing professionally), I’ve always been curious.

So who better to ask to get a look into what Veikkausliiga players do in their free time than Veikkausliiga players themselves? For this, I interviewed several players and asked them all about when they get free time and what they do during those periods. I basically asked them questions based on three periods, the off-season, days in between games, and match days. A big thank you is in order to all of the players who allowed me to bombard them with these questions and who sent very interesting responses in return – your help is very much appreciated!

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Christian Eissele (Kemi Kings)

Christian Eissele is an American striker who turns out for the Kemi Kings, a small club from the Lapland region of Finland. After arriving in 2012, Eissele helped the Kings seal promotion from the Kakkonen (Third tier) before leaving for Brage in Sweden. He returned to Finland and the club in 2015, scoring seven goals in 11 league games to help his team to lift the 2015 Ykkönen and with it promotion to the top tier of Finnish football.

I spend a lot of time with my family during the off-season. I try to go on vacation and take some trips to different places. And then I hit the gym and start trying to get better for the upcoming campaign. I also do some work with the youth in my church…that’s a big part of my life!

 

In terms of during the season, we have a lot of training in the week. We have to keep up with our fitness and gym work, as well as maintain our physical health. But our team is so close that we do a lot together. We go and have coffee together, we cook meals together, and we watch football together. We basically stick together throughout the week.

 

I try not to take game days too seriously until about an hour before the match. I tend to eat a lot the night before a game, but not too much on the morning of the game. I fool around and try to laugh on the bus and once we go out to warm up, that’s when it’s time to focus. After the game I try to hang out with people. Go out to eat, play games, chill out – so I don’t think too much about football!

Kemi Kings striker Christian Eissele. @Teemu Kvist
Kemi Kings striker Christian Eissele. @Teemu Kvist

Petteri Pennanen (KuPS)

Petteri Pennanen is a midfielder and captain of Veikkausliiga club KuPS having broke into the first team at the age of 16 against VIFK in 2007. In 2009, Pennanen had a brief spell in Holland with Twente without playing a game, before returning to Finland with TPS and RoPS and finally heading back to his first club in Kuopio for the 2015 season.

In the off season, normally when season is finished, we spend the first few days together as a team in the normal Finnish way. Almost every year in the off-season, I try to travel somewhere away from here and away from football. This works really well to clear my mind from football and just relax and enjoy the things that are not possible during the season.

 

The off-season is normally four weeks, and for basically the first two weeks I just totally rest and don’t do any kind of training. It’s important to recover and relax. I try also to see friends more and do things with them that are not possible during season. Other than that, life stays quite normal during this time. The best thing is that finally it is possible to sleep a little bit longer, and then I can plan my whole day just however I want.

 

During days between the games, especially when there is only a few days time, I try to recover as best as possible. Using lots of our physios and ice baths, etc. Outside of the stadium, I also try to take it really easy, not doing much. Too much walking or stuff like that is not clever when we play lot of games. The best thing is to hang out with my daughter. She has a magical way to take my thoughts away from football and she also gives me a lot of energy, but of course she sometimes has too much energy, while I cannot get up from my couch! It’s important to have something other than football to do, otherwise it’s really a lot for your head, so basically I try to forget football as much as possible outside of the stadium, but I can say that sometimes it’s impossible!

Petteri Pennanen in action for KuPS. @ Jussi Eskola
Petteri Pennanen in action for KuPS. @Jussi Eskola

On game days, if we don’t have training or a meeting in the morning, I like to sleep for a long time. I don’t have any special routines. Many teammates are doing some kind of warming up or other things like that in the morning, but that’s not my thing. After breakfast, I just watch TV for a few hours. In the afternoon, I normally go for a little walk, or to eat somewhere if I’m too lazy to cook at home. After lunch, I always try to take a short nap and then when I wake up and there’s only few hours left before the team meeting, I start to think about the game more and more.

 

Sometimes I watch highlight videos or some other football videos from YouTube and perhaps for me, music is the most important thing. I listen to music always before I leave home for the stadium, and that’s my way to get my body and head ready for the game. I love rap, so I mostly listen to that, but sometimes rock and techno.

Johannes Laaksonen (SJK)

Another midfielder, Johannes Laaksonen has been playing for the current champions of the Veikkausliiga since 2013. Prior to joining SJK, the first club to break HJK’s domestic dominance since 2008, Laaksonen played for KooTeePee which is his hometown club in the southern city of Kotka.

I mostly spend the off-season with my family and friends. Usually my wife and I go somewhere warm for a couple of weeks if it’s possible. Of course, I keep my fitness levels high during the off-season, so it’s easy to start training with the team once the season starts. I spend time in the gym, jogging, swimming, and playing football with friends.

 

Between games, I eat healthy foods with high nutrition values. And of course, drink lots of water! Usually I go to the swimming pool and take an icebath the day after a game. Also, I’ll get a massage if I need one. If it’s a free day, we go for cup of coffee in town with teammates.

 

I don’t have any specific routines for game days. I just try to keep it as stress- free as possible before the game starts. I also always listen to good music to get my game-face on!! Straight after the game ends, I drink a recovery drink and take an ice bath!

Johannes Laaksonen takes on Jukka Halme of HIFK. @Juha Tamminen
Johannes Laaksonen takes on Jukka Halme of HIFK. @Juha Tamminen

Saku Eriksson (HIFK)

Carl Johan (Saku) Eriksson is currently playing for HIFK after joining from city rivals HJK ahead of the 2015 season. The 21-year-old is highly rated in Finland and has represented the national team at every level from Under-16 to Under-21.

During the off-season, I usually try to get football out of my head for some time. I didn’t get to travel last winter, as I was in the military, but usually my family and I go on a vacation somewhere nice. I’ve been to Thailand a couple of times, and that’s our destination for next winter as well. I have never had a “real” job besides football, so working is quite unknown to me. I don’t frown upon the idea of working and playing football, but I’m not going to get a job just because some might think it would be the right thing to do. Football, studies, and work are quite a heavy load, so I’ll keep my “professionalism” as high as I can for as long as I can.

 

I finished high school a couple of years ago, and haven’t studied since, but I’ll start studying economics at Hanken in Helsinki in the fall. I’m looking forward to it, but I’ll keep my focus on football. Hopefully, it’ll be something interesting and fun to do on the side.

 

I’ve got many other interests besides football too, which include photography, music and cooking, etc. Those are things I tend to do in my spare time. And I’m writing a blog as well, just for fun.

 

All of the game days are more or less a routine. I eat the same food every match-day (Spaghetti bolognese or Chicken pasta) and try to have as few disturbances as possible, so I like to be on my own on match-days. Then I’ll have the same snack every time before leaving for the stadium. At the stadium, I like to play a couple games of pool and enjoy a can of Red Bull.

 

Then there are small things, kind of superstitions that I do, like putting the left boot on first, hanging on the crossbar before the whistle, etc. After games, I really don’t have any rituals, just cooling down and a cold bath if possible.

Saku Eriksson keeping goal for HIFK. @Cj_Eriksson
Saku Eriksson keeping goal for HIFK. @Cj_Eriksson

Walter Viitala (IFK Mariehamn)

Another goalkeeper that has represented the Finnish national team at every level from Under-16 to Under-21, Walter Viitala now turns out for IFK Mariehamn who are yet to win the Veikkausliiga. The club have traditionally been one that has spent the majority of its history in the lower divisions but has recently established itself in the top league after being promoted in 2005 and staying in the league ever since.

During the off-season, I usually take seven to ten days completely off from any kind of training so that I’m fully recovered from the season physically and also mentally. Then I start to train in the gym for two weeks, slowly increasing the load (with my childhood friends [and fellow professionals] Lum Rexhepi and Janne Saksela).

 

When I’m feeling ready for football training, we have a quality group of Veikkausliiga and some national team players who also want to train in off-season get together to keep our fitness levels high. We play several times a week, small-sided games in Helsinki indoor hall. That’s great training for all of us! During the week, I train physically in the gym and through football around six or seven times a week. Around Christmas, I like to take a small holiday somewhere warm with family or friends.

Walter Viitala during a game for IFK Mariehamnin. @Juha Tamminen
Walter Viitala during a game for IFK Mariehamnin. @Juha Tamminen

The days between the games are crucial, especially when we play so many games in a short period of time. It’s all about training, sleeping, and eating. I love that time when you don’t need to worry about anything else, besides just being ready for the next game. For me, a very important thing is my passion for fishing. That gives me time to just not to think anything at all. It’s just me, my fishing rod, and the ocean. And of course 10kg Pikes! This is the best recovery for me.

 

My game day routines are quite normal, I guess. I wake up at 9am and then eat a breakfast. Then I will watch a movie and take a nap. After that, I eat my lunch and take a shower and start to focus on the game. I’ll do a little stretching and core workout, and then I’m ready for the game! After the game, I take a boat and head to my fishing spots and go through and analyse the 90 minutes from the game we just played.

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