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The Real Flying Finn

Football - Blackburn Rovers v Bolton Wanderers Barclays Premier League

You are in goal for an average team, more likely to end up in the Championship than in the Champions League. The best days of the team are gone, the best managers the team have ever had are in the past. Yet there you are, through thick and thin, up the highs and the inevitable lows, approaching thirteen seasons at that one club.

Jussi Jaaskelainen has done just that. And spent four whole seasons with El Hadji Diouf. You wont see him on the back pages, front pages, just about ten lines in the middle of the sports section describing his performance as solid, or better.

The Finn began his career with the Finnish side Mikkelin Palloilijat, his hometown team (he played alongside Shefki Kuqi, another Finnish export into the Premier League, the one who had that stupid bellyflop celebration). Despite playing in a handful of Veikkausliiga games (the top Finnish league), his four seasons impressed Vaasan Palloseura, who in the 1997 season, finished 2nd in the league.

Bolton Wanderers were interested, and at the end of that season, Jaaskelainen moved to Bolton halfway through their 1997-98 campaign. He never played in that season however, and Bolton were relegated to the old Division 1, being pipped on goal difference to Everton. They spent three seasons in Division 1, reaching the playoffs in 1999-00, getting beat 7-5 on aggregate to Ipswich Town.

But glory came the following season, Bolton winning the playoffs with a 3-0 win over Preston North End at the first Division 1 playoff match at the Millennium Stadium. But it happened without Jaaskelainen, after he suffered cruciate ligament damage half way through the season.

Disappointment turned to fortune a year later, as Bolton stayed up, ironically with the same amount of points which saw them relegated seasons earlier. Jaaskelainen picked up recognition and awards. Start of something brilliant. In the decade that followed, Jaaskelainen would reach the Carling Cup final, only to be unluckly defeated by Middlesbrough 2-1 and finish as high as 6th and 7th in the Premier League, earning UEFA Cup places. The best UEFA Cup performance was in the 2007-08 season, where Gary Megson controversially favoured a mid-table Premier League finish over progress in Europe.

While Jussi Jaaskelainen’s career hasn’t been littered in trophies and medals. It still has been an impressive showing by him. He is an excellent shot stopper, certainly the best of the league. Sure his best days are behind him, but he is still a keeper that I’d have in my team any day of the week if the chance arose.

He proved this against Tottenham Hotspur yesterday. A string of impressive saves, including parrying a fast hit from Gareth Bale, and tipping around a dangerous shot. The only reason he was scored against (apart from the fact none of the four Spurs strikers can hit the target to save their lives at the moment) was because of a thunderbolt by Tom Huddlestone.

Jaakelainen has got a few years left in him yet, probably all at Bolton. I maintain that he is one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, along with Shay Given and Brad Freidel. And here is why:

Manchester United and Chelsea have solid keepers in Van der Sar and Cech, but they are both way past their best. Cech has not been the same since his horrific head injury for sure.

Without doubt, Joe Hart has looked good this season. He’s even made it into the PFA Team of the Year. But for me, one good season doesn’t make a good keeper, give him two to three more good seasons, and I’ll change my mind.

David James, Jose Reina and Brain Jensen. Both good keepers, but are prone to howlers. Unlike Manuel Almunia, who is just prone to howlers.

Chris Kirkland, Rob Green and Paul Robinson are good keepers, but, just can’t get that extra bit out of them to be extra special, there is a question that that chance has already passed them.

And finally there is the likes of Gomes, someone similar to Jaaskelainen, possibly the 4th best keeper in the league. Just needs one more season to be brilliant and I think he will be best.

So, thats my reasoning to why Jussi Jaaskelainen is one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. He is an excellent shot stopper and there is nothing that can be said that will change my mind. Sure, he makes his mistakes, but all keepers do, don’t they? And again, sure, his best days are behind him. But as I’ve said before, his best was at a very high standard, so being past it isn’t that bad at all.

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