The president of the Football Association of Finland (SPL-FBF), Pertti Alaja, has visited the House of European Football in Nyon.
Mr Alaja, a former Finnish national-team goalkeeper who was elected as president of the Finnish association in October, held talks with UEFA President Michel Platini and senior UEFA officials on national association affairs, and in particular the assistance given by UEFA to Finland as part of programmes such as HatTrick and the Women's Football Development Programme (WDFP).
A well-known figure in both domestic and international football, Pertti Alaja was also rated highly in his playing career in the 1970s and 1980s. He won 29 full caps for Finland and was a much-respected goalkeeper who, besides his native country, also played in Sweden, Denmark and Canada during his career.
After his career, he worked as general secretary of the FA of Finland between 1990 and 2000. In 2003, he was elected vice-president of the SPL-FBF, and held the post until 2006. In 2008, Mr Alaja became tournament director for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
"It's a very special moment to come to UEFA," Mr Alaja told UEFA.com. "I'm proud to be here, and happy to see the development of UEFA’s activities on behalf of its national associations."
“If you mention the word 'HatTrick', it has a very positive sound for the Finnish people – especially those who are in football," he added. "Through the HatTrick programme, since 2006, we have been able to construct 91 artificial turf pitches, together with municipalities, clubs and different entities. It's a remarkable programme in terms of infrastructure and education, it's really at the heart of football."
Over the years, Finland has produced some fine players – and the building of modern facilities to cope in particular with the special climate saw the country begin exporting its best footballers, such as Aulis Rytkönen, Jussi Peltonen, Arto Tolsa, Jari Litmanen, Sami Hyypiä and Mikael Forssell. UEFA's help to Finland has been crucial in providing facilities such as indoor halls and artificial-turf pitches, to enable football to also be played in wintery conditions.
"This morning, when I came away, we had a lot of snow again," Mr Alaja reflected. "We need somewhere to play, and HatTrick is one of the main helps for us to do this."
His experience as a goalkeeper will stand Mr Alaja in good stead as he pushes Finland’s football forward as president. "[Being a player] is perhaps not a necessity for being a president, but I know the language of football and players, you can create relationships. I was a goalkeeper, and now I regard myself as a housekeeper of Finland’s football – you are there to try to take care of things and be present in all activities."
Football arrived in Finland in the 1890s through the influence of British sailors, merchants and businessmen, and the country's first football clubs were established at the turn of the century. The Football Association of Finland was founded in Helsinki in 1907 by representatives from six clubs, and the following year the association was admitted to FIFA. Affiliation to UEFA came at the start of the European governing body's existence in 1954.
"We have two main objectives," Mr Alaja concluded. "We are investing our energy in a club programme for all clubs, in order to make their everyday life easier, as well as in player development. We will employ good Finnish coaches to work with youngsters in the clubs. And, as a wish, I would love to see us building a 50,000-seater national football stadium in Finland."
"I believe that when you have enough good players, you will qualify for [major] tournaments. I've asked UEFA if they can find us 20 good players! But we know of course that we will have to do it ourselves…" Pertti Alaja and Finland – distinguished representatives of European football – have every right to dream of a positive future.
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