How will lively transfer window affect HJK?

It has been a highly eventful start to the autumn for HJK. First, maintaining their devastating form in the league, the Helsinki club all but secured the Veikkausliiga title already in August. Then, ‘Klubi’ gave Schalke a proper run for their money in the Europa League play-offs, beating the Germans 2-0 at home until imploding in the second half of the away leg as the hosts ran rampage with a 6-1 victory. After being knocked out of Europe, and with only a few days to go in the transfer window, they sold three of their key players for a truckload of cash.

Euro-sensation Teemu Pukki (or “Euro-Pukki” as Bild dubbed him) transferred to Schalke on a Veikkausliiga transfer fee record of approximately 1,5 million euros while Dawda Bah and Rafinha found new homes from Augsburg and Gent respectively (Juhani Ojala had already transferred to Young Boys in mid-August). From the sale of the quartet, HJK got an estimated total of 3 million in transfer fees. This may not seem like much in the context of the mad modern football economics but the sum actually exceeds HJK’s annual budget (about 2, 2 million).

HJK show foresight in transfer policy

HJK’s dominance has been staggering this season in the Finnish league. With nine rounds left to play, the reigning champions have a 16 point lead to second-place FC Inter. Therefore, despite a quality dip in the squad caused by the sale of four leading players, it is safe to assume that HJK’s title claim will not be at stake during the rest of the season. A more relevant issue, however, is how the transfers will affect their overall playing and tactical strategy.

HJK wasted no time signing replacements in place of the departures as Timi Lahti (centre-back from FC Haka), O’Brien Woodbine (right full-back from VPS) and Joel Perovuo (centre-midfielder from Djurgårdens IF) arrived in quick succession. Due to no imminent need in attack, HJK didn’t sign a new striker in place of Pukki (they already have Akseli Pelvas, Sadik, Jari Litmanen, Jarno Parikka and Kastriot Kastrati (on loan at Haka) on the books).

Quick decision-making in the transfer market often amounts to hasty shopping, but this time the seeming urgency with which HJK operated actually disguises the fact that their transfer dealings were extremely well thought-out. First of all, the new players should slot pretty effortlessly into the required roles and overall system. Secondly, the players represent the cream of the crop in the Finnish league: Lahti is a Finnish U21 regular and has shown the required quality to make it at HJK; Woodbine was widely regarded inferior only to Rafinha among Veikkausliiga full-backs and should provide similar attributes as the Brazilian; and Perovuo, though never really establishing himself in Allsvenskan, is one of the classiest midfielders in the Finnish league. Also, taking into account that the players are relatively young (born ’90, ’87 and ’85, respectively) and that only Perovuo was signed on a permanent contract (while Lahti and Woodbine are on a season-end loan with an option to buy), show an element of foresight that has not always been the prevailing factor in HJK’s transfer policy.

Tactical implications: more directness, less fluidity

Until now this season, HJK have played with a fluid 4-4-2 system that has been defined more by its flexibility than its numbers. As a result of the transfers, though, the strategy may change closer to what it was last year.

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