Jussi : When fortune favours the brave
Fred Barber gives his insights into the development of Jussi Jaaskelainen; the early years and why Jaaskelainen became one of the most admired Premier League Goalkeepers in its history.
In 1997 aged 21, Jussi Jaaskelainen stepped off the plane from Helsinki and headed to Norwich for a trial. Who would have known that a chance encounter with Fred Barber would see the goalkeeper develop into one of the premier leagues most consistent performers.
“Jussi turned up at one of our goalkeeping camps. I was working with my old goalkeeping coach and long-time mentor Malcolm Webster. Back in those days, clubs didn’t have full-time goalkeeping coaches. Malcolm was coaching part-time at Norwich, Ipswich and a few other clubs and I was doing the rounds at West Brom and Bolton. We were running soccer schools in the evenings and goalkeeping camps in the summers to make ends meet. ”
“He was around fourth or fifth choice. His kicking was erratic. He’d not played much in wet weather. Why was he here? “
“Some clubs would send their keepers to us for extra training. Norwich had been looking at this lad from Finland but had some concerns. To me, he was a diamond in the rough. One of those uncut gems that with a little bit of polish would one day shine. I told Colin Todd and we signed him at Bolton. ”
“Jussi was a very different player then. When he first came, he was the fourth – or – fifth choice and he couldn’t handle the wet weather. In Finland, he’d played in snow and they trained indoors, so his kicking was erratic, but I believed in him and we worked on his weaknesses. “
Jaaskelainen recalls “It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. – I arrived at Bolton with a young family. I didn’t speak much English and was 2000 miles from home. It was a bit of a love hate relationship with Fred at the beginning. I used to call him Paholainen which is the Finnish word for Devil. ”
Jussi’s development under Barber was swift. The goalkeeper made his full debut in 1998 under Colin Todd and cemented his position as Finland’s number 1 under former England manager Sam Allardyce.
In 2012 after a 15 year stint at the Wanderers making over 530 career appearances, Jaaskelainen joined up with his old manager at West Ham. He spent 3 years with the Hammers and later joined Wigan Athletic before taking up a player-coaching role at ATK in the Indian Super League.
Barber said ” I returned to Bolton a couple of years ago and ran a goalkeeping camp with Jussi. There will always be a strong affinity between Bolton Wanderers, Jussi and the people of of the Town. He’s up there with club legends like Nat Lofthouse and Jay Jay Okocha. He worked tirelessly everyday, took on board everything we threw at him and became one of the premier leagues all-time greats. “