Moving from Heerenveen to Finland’s second flight might not seem like the best move a young footballer can make, given the quality of the Dutch club’s development system. The Frisians have cultivated a reputation for their thorough footballing education in recent years, and so their standards are a little higher than they are at most teams.
This is good news for scouts at other clubs hoping to pick up technically excellent players who can pass the ball and move intelligently, and Atlantis could barely believe their luck when they signed 20 year old Jasper Valentijn this spring. The move suited Valentijn too, as an opportunity to play football at a decent level and maybe catch the eye of a scout.
“I enjoyed it at Atlantis, but things didn’t end so well there,” Valentijn diplomatically described the circumstances of his transfer.
The problem at Atlantis boiled down to money. Like most Ykkönen clubs, Atlantis find it difficult to finance operations. Unlike most, they signed new players while failing to pay those already under contract, before sacking the coach and bringing in a new man after a poor start to the season.
The incongruity of being unable to pay some players and signing new ones aroused the suspicion of the Finnish FA, given previous Finnish match-fixing scandals. The unpaid players were also unhappy, and so 12 of them left the club with the full blessing of the FA and the players union, in order to find new clubs before the transfer window opened.
One of them was Valentijn, and he began training with FC Honka’s farm club Pallohonka, who play in the Finnish Second Division, known as Kakkonen. After one week he started a cup game away at Real Kokkola, which Pallohonka won 6-2, and was then part of the Pallohonka side that won 2-1 in Pirkkala against PJK.
Valentijn’s footballing education has been creative and technical, and he repeatedly demonstrated that by bringing the ball down and trying to play an incisive pass rather than going for the safety-first option beloved of most defenders.
“Sometimes he is too creative,” said his dad, former speed skater Jos Valentijn, when HT complimented his son’s vision and skill. Pallohonka are a young team and make a lot of mistakes, but the culture Honka coach Mika Lehkosuo has brought to the club means they always try and do the right, creative, footballing thing.
They also tire as the game wears on, but after Niko Perera flicks the ball past a sprawling PJK keeper in the 76th minute to put them 2-1 up, they hang on to the lead. In truth they did more than hang on, with repeated surges forward leaving the PJK midfield stretched as they chased the game. Their passing is better than most teams in the division, and its gratifying to see them put this to use in out-thinking lesser sides.
Valentijn was upbeat after the match, fresh from collecting a bronze Veikkaus medal (unfortunately he missed out on the ‘Pirkkala’s hungriest man’ prize, via which a sponsor provides sustenance for a presumably famished player).
“We did okay,” Valentijn said after the game. “We’re a young team and we sometimes make mistakes, but we managed to get the win and we’re really happy with that.”
Having looked comfortable enough in Pallohonka’s games so far, is Valentijn looking to move up to the senior Honka team?
“Yeah of course! That’s the aim. I’ve trained with them twice and it’s gone okay, so lets see what happens.”
Honka have already taken one Heerenveen product under their wing (Finnish defender Hannu Haarala, who returned from Holland in 2005 and has been at Honka ever since), so maybe there is space left for another. After an eventful start to his Finnish career, maybe things are looking up for Valentijn.