The 2013 Finnish First Division gets under way this weekend, with HJK Helsinki in the hunt for a fifth successive title under a new coach, Sixten Boström.
Antti Muurinen had marshalled the capital club towards four straight crowns from 2009–12, but made way for former Örebro SK coach Boström in the close season. The one-time HJK and Finland midfielder has brought in new ideas as well as some new players.
HJK's signings boast over 200 Finland caps between them. Mika Väyrynen (59 caps) arrived on a short-term contract last season and has now sealed an extension; fellow midfielder Teemu Tainio (56) has returned home from New York Red Bulls after 15 years abroad; and striker Mikael Forssell (85) is back at HJK for the first time since 1998.
With the addition of centre-back Tapio Heikkilä from local rivals FC Honka Espoo – and no significant losses – HJK have every reason to be confident of another championship. "We have made progress during pre-season," Boström said. "We have played plenty of international friendlies and those games reveal clearly not only the mistakes and things we could do better, but also the positives."
Last term's runners-up FC Inter Turku have not enjoyed such a serene winter. "It has been the most difficult pre-season in my time here," sighed long-serving coach Job Dragtsma. "We have had to start from square one in a number of respects as a lot of players left after last season." Captain Henri Lehtonen added: "It has not been easy but we try to remain positive. It will be a tough season. Several teams can compete at the top."
FC Lahti are undoubtedly one of those sides, having won the traditional pre-season League Cup. "Obviously, it gives us a boost for the league campaign," said Lahti coach Tommi Kautonen. "Still, it is dangerous to rest on your laurels, there is always room for improvement."
Respect, meanwhile, will be the theme of the 2013 campaign, with the Veikkausliiga's managing director explaining: "Football is not just about winning games. Respect is an extremely important part of it and we as the top league have a great responsibility in showing respect for everyone connected with the game and leading the way."
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