Toni Huttunen may not be an international icon of Finnish football like his second cousin Sami Hyypiä, but in the Veikkausliiga the right-back is a legend and last week announced he would play on in 2009.
Huttunen, capped eleven times by Finland between 1994 and 2002, has made 415 league appearances over 17 seasons, the most since the Veikkausliiga was introduced in 1990 – and all for one club, Myllykosken Pallo-47. He is also only 45 games away from breaking Rami Nieminen's all-time Finnish top-flight record of 459, but although he is not specifically chasing that mark, he was in no doubt about extending his contract for another year.
"There was no particular reason to hang up my boots just yet," said Huttenen, who turned 36 on Monday. "I'm still in good shape and I still enjoy the game. I've been playing football for a long time, and I still love it and I feel that is important. I have to admit I have thought about quitting in the last couple of years, but I haven't really thought about it in a concrete manner. I go a season at a time, and think about continuing my career again every autumn. I ponder if I have the motivation and if I'm healthy enough to continue another season."
Signed by My-Pa from Kuusankosken Kumu in 1992, Huttunen's only time away from the Anjalankoski club was a brief spell at Scotland's Falkirk FC in 1996/97. He thinks his Veikkausliiga appearance record will take some beating. "At least it's not going to be easily broken," he said. "Nowadays young players who have potential usually go abroad at some point. It would require a lot of playing years in Veikkausliiga to break the record. It looks like it's not going to happen at least in the near future."
A league champion with MyPa in 2005, Huttunen remained a dominant figure in defence last season, playing every minute of their 26-match campaign, finishing fifth. He is confident he can remain a crucial part of the lineup. "It would be nice to get some more competition," he said. "I'm ready for it, but I still feel confident that I can hold my ground in the battle."
He also predicts an exciting Veikkausliiga season when it begins in the spring. "I think the league will be very even this year, as it has been the last couple of years," Huttunen said. "There are many teams who have the potential to win the championship. Nowadays the margins are so small and anything can happen. Our team have changed a lot, but training has started well. I think we have a chance this year, but like I said, the margins are very small between the teams."
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