The Interview: Jussi Jaaskelainen
We all know that nowadays the term ‘club legend’ is overused. Likewise, with an abundance of television pundits all desperately trying to make an impression, so is the statement: “Nowadays the term club legend is overused, but…”
However, it would be fair to say that Jussi Jaaskelainen is one man truly deserving of such a compliment. Fourteen years playing for Bolton and over 500 appearances speaks for itself.
Such a stint has clearly had a profound effect on the Finnish goalkeeper, whose Scandinavian accent carries an unmistakable Northern twang.
“Staying at a football club is a very personal thing, and I have always felt happy here. My family is here; all three of my boys were born in Bolton. Of course I’ll always remember where I come from but a part of me definitely considers myself Boltonian”.
It could all have been very different for the big Finn, who took up a one-week trial at Norwich City immediately after arriving in England. However, it was Bolton who made the first move and Jaaskelainen is happy to admit that the call couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Obviously it wasn’t the best thing for the club to go down (to the old First Division in 1998) but it suited me perfectly. To be a good goalkeeper you need to play lots of matches, it allowed me to play plenty of games in that league and really learn my trade.”
Having learnt his trade in the First Division, Jaaskelainen has gone on to establish himself as one of the most consistent goalkeepers in Premier League history since Bolton’s promotion back to the top flight in 2001. During his time between the posts at the Reebok he has seen it all: promotions, relegations, and the tenures of five different managers.
“Of course, there are lots of highlights. Making history for the club by qualifying for Europe through the league twice in three seasons was very special. Our last FA Cup semi-final (against Aston Villa in 2000) came early in my career so it was a great experience, even though we lost on penalties.”
Before the start of last season he was even rewarded with a testimonial – a tradition virtually extinct in the modern game -in which he kept a clean sheet against Hibernian. The fact he donated all of the proceeds from the game to three local children’s charities says a lot about the man.
Jaaskelainen however, who turns 36 on Tuesday, is quick to banish any talk of retirement.
“Ideally I will play for as long as health and fitness allow me. If you look around you still have Brad Friedel (39) playing for Villa, obviously David James (40) has dropped down a league but then Van Der Sar (40) is still playing for Manchester United. I’m still only 35 so hopefully I have at least another 2 or 3 years left in me.”
And who can blame him, with Bolton a club seemingly on the up. The club have been rejuvenated since the appointment of Owen Coyle, who has sought to recruit a squad of young talented players and in the process, has brought exciting free-flowing football to the Reebok Stadium.
“We’ve had a tough time the last four years, so it is great to be in the better half of the table and targeting a top ten finish. Our form has been very good and confidence is high at the moment, we are really going from strength to strength. The club is becoming bigger and bigger all of the time and that’s why I’m really enjoying my football here.”
This weekend’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley is a clear indicator of how far Bolton, so often ridiculed for their direct style of play, have come under Owen Coyle. Having been handed a favourable draw, there is real belief that this may just be the Trotters’ year.
The last time Bolton won the tournament was in 1958, when a certain Nat Lofthouse, who sadly passed away earlier this year, scored both goals in a 2-0 defeat of Manchester United, potential final opponents for the Class of 2011 should they overcome Stoke City on Sunday.
Walking out at Wembley, Jaaskelainen will surpass Lofthouse in Bolton’s all-time appearance list, and the current hero is keen to pay tribute to the undisputed club legend by doing all he can to make sure history repeats itself.
“I was privileged enough to meet him and often saw him around the stadium. He was a true legend for this football club. The FA Cup has gone very well for us this season, we’re still a long way off but hopefully we’ll get a bit of luck in the semi-finals and after that you never know. If we can go all the way then that would be absolutely brilliant.”
History and nostalgia aside, it would be hard to begrudge the likeable keeper his own shot at some richly deserved silverware.