WORDS: RICH NELSON
Having led his club in Finland from the verge of ruin to a second-place league finish, Tim Väyrynen has caught the eye of several clubs in northern Europe. We take a look at the attributes and achievements of the high-scoring FC Honka frontman and ask where the youngster’s future may lie…
Image: Antti Johansson
At the end of 2012, the Finnish cup winners FC Honka were almost kicked out of the country’s Premier Division, while poor financial management and some rather loose and informal promises about wage payments led to the departures of their captain and their key midfielder.
After a seventh place finish in the league, top scorer Tim Väyrynen was being scouted by Dutch club Heracles, and all looked incredibly perilous for the club from Espoo (just outside of central Helsinki).
Fast forward a year, and things look much rosier. Honka have made a decent challenge for the Veikkausliiga title, held their own against Lech Poznan in their Europa League qualifying tie, and 20-year-old Väyrynen is fast becoming the top Finnish striker in the country.
Despite missing the first seven matches of the season, he ended the 2013 campaign as the league’s top scorer with 17 goals, and has pushed himself to the fringes of the national team (he’s been named for the B international against Mexico on October 30th in San Diego). He has felt the benefit of the Under-21s system too, scoring four goals in two games, including a hat-trick against Wales in Bangor last month. In fact, it was a tangle with Liverpool defender Andre Wisdom in the game against England in September that led to the England man getting sent off and a four game ban.
Väyrynen grew up in Espoo, and has said that his first memory of playing football was in the rotten goal nets at his primary school, but that never stopped him trying to score. As someone with a football heritage (his father Mika played for HJK in the Eighties), he always seemed destined to become a professional, and Honka tied him down to a long-term deal in 2012, with coach Mika Lehkosuo announcing: “We’re pleased to attach Timi for the years to come, he needs to do his job but with fun.”
He was right. Tim regularly plays with a smile on his face, and he certainly enjoys scoring goals, clearly taking his manager’s advice.
But it wasn’t just at home that we impressing. His performances in Honka’s youth teams attracted the interest of AC Milan and Genoa in 2011 and, while the offer of a trial was rescinded after Tim was injured, he has been regularly scouted and courted by other clubs. Dutch side Heracles gave him a trial in early 2013, while Utrecht coach Jan Wouters travelled to watch him play in the summer, and he was touted as a replacement at AZ Alkmaar for Sunderland-bound Jozy Altidore, but Honka’s reported asking price of €500,000 was said to be too steep.
Honka’s chief executive recently confirmed that they would charge this price to any European club, and double that for any English side, and when Tim spoke in August about speculation on his future, he seemed happy to go with the flow.
“At the moment I’m playing to win the championship, after that you never know what happens,” he said.
Joel Pohjanpalo had been seen by many as the brightest prospect in Finland, but his form in 2013 was patchy at best, prior to a much hyped move to Bayer Leverkusen. By comparison, Väyrynen’s finishing is far superior, while his ability to lead the line and bring midfielders into the attack has become a key feature of the Finland Under-21s game plan.
He is not the fastest player, and he has benefited from a mobile trio of midfielders behind him in the Honka lineup, running onto his lay-offs while he makes his way into the penalty area. But, like all good strikers, he has worked hard and his range of finishing has improved greatly – a recent hat-trick against JJK included a neatly-taken one-on-one, a penalty, and a curled effort into the top corner from outside the area – not that it gave him any comfort.
“This was a game we should have won,” he said after the 3-3 draw.
Väyrynen eventually scored his crucial Goal King winning strike with four minutes left of the final match of the Finnish season, away to Inter Turku, and he revealed afterwards that he had heard his nearest rival had drawn level. “When I scored, there was a huge relief.” he admitted.
Unfortunately Honka’s title challenge was derailed after a 4-2 defeat to HJK in August, and it was HJK who won the league – by 12 points. Honka finished the season in second place, with Europa League football secured, guaranteeing their players another appearance in the shop window in 2014. It seems very likely that Väyrynen won’t be there, however. His goals have taken his side from the verge of bankruptcy to a serious title challenge and, with several fellow Finns currently acquitting themselves well in the Dutch Eredivisie and the 2.Bundesliga, he may well follow the same well-trodden path.