So far in his managerial career, Mixu Paatelainen has employed a tested and true stage performers mentality: always leave on a high note. How will that affect his tenure with Finland?
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Hiring Mixu Paatelainen was the only thing Palloliitto could do. He’s Finnish, relatively successful and Petri Jakonen’s guy. He has instant credibility in the eyes of players and fans and could well be a success. But judging by his career moves, he won’t see Euro 2016 as Finland’s coach, even if Finland get there.
Mixu’s career arc in management can be described as meteoric. He started in complete obscurity with Cowdenbeath, led them to promotion and left to coach TPS. Lured by Jakonen, he committed to a long-term project but lasted only a year before bolting to Hibs.
Hibs was really the only bump in the road, but even then he guided the club to two top half finishes before leaving ”by mutual consent”. Following a year away from management he took over Kilmarnock, lasted less than a season and at the height of his powers (so far) took over Finland last week.
See a pattern here? Three of his four stops have ended very quickly thanks to being offered greater opportunities. Counting on a five year commitment seems a bit long for someone who’s never seen the third year of a contract as a coach before.
Mixu’s coaching career reminds me of a golden rule in stand up comedy: always leave stage on a high note. Mixu delivered bronze to a success-starved TPS and fled the scene. Cowdenbeath reached greater heights than in decades. Kilmarnock, expected to go down, got great results and played entertaining football (by Scottish standards). Each and every time Mixu saw a better opportunity, took it – and left as a club hero. Killie chairman Michael Johnston even proclaimed Mixu a club legend. After less than a season in charge!
All of this bring to mind a classic episode of Seinfeld. George becomes annoyed that all his good jokes and ideas are overshadowed by the blunders that follow, so he decides to leave every room right after he hits the home run joke. Check it out. The parallels are great; the first scene being Hibs, the second Killie (or TPS) and the final one a possible preview of Palloliitto.
That’s it for me! Good night everybody!
It’s hard to begrudge Paatelainen for his moves so far, because each one has been a significant leap forward. And Mixu deserves a ton of credit for taking 2009-10 off to hone his craft. Like any good performer, he noticed his act had become stale (at Hibs) so he took time off to write new material. He could have taken any number of smaller jobs in Scotland but chose in stead to take time to study the game. We’ve all seen what happened at Killie when he got to unleash his new act.
Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to call Mixu the Steve Bruce of Finnish football (yet), but we’re not many career-advancing moves away from having to ponder it. At some point demanding loyalty and commitment from players becomes quite difficult when you yourself have demonstrated the tendency to pack up and leave the instant a better opportunity comes along.
For Finland the question is: What if Finland has a solid campaign qualifying for World Cup 2014 (a la Hodgson for Euro 2008)? Finland even served as a re-launch pad for Stuart Baxter even with the horrific results. Now Mixu’s in. Euro 2016 is everything to Palloliitto because the tournament will expand and Finland will have a shot at making it. They made a smart long-term commitment to Mixu, but what happens if eg a Premiership club comes calling after a nice third place finish in 2014 qualifying? What in Mixu’s career history suggests he’ll stick around if he has even a modicum of success? Nail the last punch line, the crowd roars with delight and before they notice, sneak out the back. Always leave the crowd wanting more. In football they’ll even thank you for it, or so it seems.
The situation for Mixu couldn’t be better. He’s following Baxter’s act (which went down with fans about as well as Kramer’s career after Seinfeld), so the crowd will gleefully eat up anything Mixu has to offer. They are dying to be entertained after the shell-shock of Moldova and Hungary. For Mixu, there’s nothing to lose. And like Baxter, Mixu can easily bounce back if he has a poor Finland stint with a shrug of the shoulders and point to a weak player talent base.
For Finland’s sake, let’s hope Mixu doesn’t hit the punch line too quickly and leave on an early high note. We’ve only seen him wear out his welcome once (Hibs), and that didn’t end well. In an ideal world, Mixu stays committed and Finland is in Euro 2016. One of the two could happen, but both? History is not kind to this theory. I’ll put 10 bucks on Mixu coaching a Premiership or Championship level club by the time 2016 rolls around. Takers?
One last note on the earlier Seinfeld clip. Take a look at the final scene again and think of Petri Jakonen as George’s boss. Jakonen has built something of a reputation as being headstrong, only trusting a select few people and being a bit hard to work with. He’s hitched his wagon to Mixu 100% with this long term deal. If Mixu does indeed last until the end of his contract – couldn’t you see it ending in similar fashion?
That’s it for me! You’ve been great!
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