Jonatan Johansson hopes Finland's top stars will follow in the path laid by Jari Litmanen and himself and spend the final years of their careers setting an example for younger professionals in the Veikkausliiga.
Having represented the likes of AFC Ajax, FC Barcelona and Liverpool FC, the 39-year-old Litmanen is embarking on his third season back in Finland with FC Lahti, and will be up against a number of former international team-mates; defender Toni Kuivasto at FC Haka, Mika Nurmela at FC Oulu, Janne Saarinen and Aki Riihilahti at HJK Helsinki as well as the relatively youthful Alexei Eremenko Jr, who has been loaned to FF Jaro by FC Metalist Kharkiv.
Also set to return is Johansson, whose FC TPS Turku side kick off their Veikkausliiga campaign against Haka today. At 34, the 103-times capped striker has represented Rangers FC, Charlton Athletic FC, Malmö FF and Hibernian FC, but has now headed home with the hope that he will be giving something back to the league – and the club – where he made his name.
"It is extremely important that players who have played abroad for a long time return home for their last couple of seasons," Johansson told UEFA.com. "It is for the good of all parties as the experienced players will be examples to younger players. In Sweden this is a normal thing; it is customary to return to the domestic league. I hope it will become a custom in Finland too.
"You can already see this happening with the number of players who have returned for the new season. It is nice and I will enjoy playing against these players. They are all superb. 'Nure' [Nurmela] was a great player in the national team and he is even older than I am at 38. These players have taken care of themselves and are certainly fit, so why not keep on playing?"
Other long-distance travellers who have returned for the spring include Janne Hietanen at Oulu, Juha Pasoja at JJK Jyväskylä and Antti Okkonen at Myllykosken Pallo-47, and as far as Johansson is concerned, the more the merrier. "We are gearing up for a very interesting season," he said. "I hope we will get more and more people coming to watch the games too."
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