Minnow to Matador: A New Dawn in Finland

stadium

A new season beckons for the Premier League clubs spread throughout the dense countryside of Finland. 12 teams – one title! For KuPS, however, the season could be a defining moment for both players, fans and their young manager. With a new crop of talent brought in to provide stability, KuPS’ young gaffer will be hoping to steer the club to greater things this season. But with the financial future of the club currently at stake, following recent rumors that KuPS was under the threat of receivership, fans will be looking for better news to comfort their worried minds.

The season awaits…

2016 Veikkausliiga

First Round of Fixtures

first-11

Six wins, two draws and three losses. Overall our start to the new season has been exceptional, if you compare the results to last season’s standings. An inconsistent display from the defense FC Inter Turku a share of the spoils during the opening fixture of the season; and what worried me more was that the first team couldn’t keep a clean sheet until the fifth fixture. However, our 1-0 victory over IFK Mariehamn – a tie in which the bookies tipped us to lose – the fortunes for KuPS turned for the better.

Wins against KTP, FC Lahti, SJK and Premier League new boys Haka gave me hope that we could perhaps push for more than a mid-table finish – something that the league standings below demonstrate.

11-games-in

Following the first eleven games KuPS find themselves in third place, behind last season’s champions HIFK and the media’s favorites, HJK. Given our exceptional performance in the league I decided to reassess the targets with the board and, with a mild hope that it won’t bite me back later, have concluded with the board that we could challenge for the title this season. At best, we win the league for the first time since 1976 and qualify for the Second Qualifying Round of the Champions League; at worst, we finish third and go through the Europa League First Qualifying Round. But given our results I’m feeling very optimistic right now – hopefully that doesn’t change, especially with 22 fixtures to go.

2016 Veikkausliiga

Second Round of Fixtures

second-11

It appears that my early optimism came back to bite me following three draws against HIFK, FC Inter and KTP. The common pattern for all three games was the back four for KuPS switched off in the final ten minutes – with our encounter against KTP, we conceded two weak goals in the final five minutes which is unacceptable in my eyes. Following a shift to a 4-2-3-1 wide formation KuPS bounced back with a convincing 3-0 win over a struggling VPS. However the moment was short lived as we had to suck up two humiliating defeats to title competitors IFK Mariehamn and HJK, with both sides making us pay for our missed efforts with some excellent defensive work.

But all was not lost, and soon enough we returned to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over RoPS – this in turn kick started an unbeaten run of five games before the conclusion of the second round of fixtures. Convincing win over FC Lahti, Haka, Ilves and SJK ensured that we sat in a very pretty position after 22 games.

22-games-in

From 10th last season to 1st this season; the big question is can KuPS go all the way to win the title this season and upset the odds? With other competitors in the league holding at least one or two games in hand we’ll be heavily relying on other results to go our way. But the position in the table merely reflects the hard work of the boys on the pitch – even if we fall short of the title this season, a top three or four finish would do the club proud, given that we are predicted to finish eight this year.

2016 Veikkausliiga

Final Round of Fixtures

final-11

Entering the final round of fixtures KuPS began the title chase by extending their unbeaten run to nine games, with three wins over FC Inter, KTP and HIFK and a drawn against now-relegation favorites VPS. But like Icarus, it appeared that KuPS was flying too close to the sun and IFK Mariehamn were the ones to bring us back down in apocalyptic fashion. Despite having one of the best attacking sides in the league KuPS failed to make chances count and succumbed to a 4-2 defeat against IFK.

Amending the tactical line up so that the lads would adopt a control-mentality, we managed to pull back four wins in the final six games. Perhaps the sweetest of all of those wins was a 3-0 win over HJK – who were going through a managerial crisis. Taking full advantage, three first half goals were enough to overcome Finland’s most successful club.

But were our displays enough to bring the title back to Kuopio?

final-table

kups-win-premier-league

Yes, yes they were! For what has been a whirlwind of a season, KuPS defied the odds and managed to win their first domestic title in 40 years. The local media went haywire; the board were ecstatic and the lads were over the moon. To hold a domestic title in my first two years as a professional manager was something I never expected, but here I stand with the Finnish Premier League Title clutched firmly in my hands. Not only has this result enhanced the reputation of the club on a national level but, from next season, KuPS will participate in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League – an achievement that I’m all to proud of!

kups-2017-champions-league

These are exciting times in Kuopio and, for now, the party will continue long into the night…

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