Thursday, January 31, 2008

New Signing #5 - Introduction to Jari Litmanen

Genuine footballing legend Jari Litmanen has just been confirmed as signing until the end of the season. With a recent history of injury problems and, at 37, well into the twilight of his career, he is unlikely to feature as a regular starter but as a player of undoubted quality and massive experience, his presence can only benefit our squad.

Litmanen began his career for Reipas in Finland at the age of 16 in 1987. After four seasons he moved to HJK Helsinki, Finland's biggest club. A year later he joined MyPa with whom he won the Finnish Cup in 1992. He left Finland in the summer of 1992 to join Ajax for whom he would go on to make 159 appearances and score an impressive 91 goals . His first season in the Netherlands was spent in Dennis Bergkamp's shadow, but when Bergkamp moved to Inter Milan, Litmanen was given the famous number 10 shirt. He scored 26 goals in the 1993-94 season, becoming the league's top scorer, and leading Ajax to the title. In his seven years at Ajax he helped the team win a total of four Dutch championships and three Dutch Cups.

Under the leadership of Louis van Gaal Ajax reached the UEFA Champions League final twice in a row. Litmanen becoming the first Finnish player win the European Cup when Ajax beat AC Milan in the 1994-95 final. Ajax lost the final the following year to Juventus but Litmanen claimed the top scorer spot for the competition with nine goals.

In 1999 Litmanen left Ajax to join van Gaal at FC Barcelona. He only managed 21 appearances and 3 goals for the Catalan giants due mainly to injury problems and in January 2001 moved to Liverpool. Again struggling with injuries he only made 26 appearances and 5 goals, but did help the team achieve the "cup treble" of the Worthington Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup.

He returned to Ajax for a couple of seasons, and has gone on to play for F.C. Lahti, Hansa Rostock and Malmö FF but continued problems with injury restricted his appearances. After an operation to repair a damaged ankle during the winter break, Malmö FF extended his contract over the 2007 season but a further ankle injury in June 2007 forced Litmanen to cancel his contract.

Making his debut in 1989, Litmanen has now played 110 times for the Finnish national side and has been captain since 1996. He holds the record for most caps for Finland, and is also Finland's all-time leading scorer with 28 goals, the latest coming on October 11 2006 against Kazakhstan.

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