Post-Christmas cheer in Oslo for out-of-contract players

December 22, 2011

By Philip O’Connor, Scandinavia sports correspondent

For many football fans, the post-Christmas blues will be banished by the prospect of their club buying big when the transfer window opens in January.

But the out-of-contract players taking part in the FIFPro Winter Tournament in Oslo are hoping to get their futures sorted out before the window opens again.

On a full-size indoor pitch, players affiliated to Norwegians, Swedish, Finnish and Irish unions got together to play a tournament in front of invited scouts and club representatives from across the region.

All the players are out of contract, and many are desperate for a chance to stay in the game.

“We had 120 players looking for places in the squad,” Irish players’ union boss Steephen McGuinness told Reuters. “Last week we took the decision to bump the kitman, just so we could bring another player on the plane”.

For McGuinness and some of his players, it’s their second visit; some of them got short-term deals at the first tournament here in January, but with many clubs in Ireland and elsewhere only offering short-term, 40 week contracts, several have come back to try their luck again.

For others, it’s their first time here. Goalkeeper Tomi Maanoja used to ply his trade in front of thousands of fans when he played for AIK in Sweden before a broken leg derailed his career.

A poor run of form on his return saw him move to FC Honka in his native Finland, but after they missed out on qualification for Europe, he and many other players at the Finnish club were told they were free to go.

“When we missed the European place in the last round of games, it meant that we would miss a lot of revenue, which meant that contracts wouldn’t be renewed,” the affable Finn told Reuters during a break in the tournament.

“But now we’re here and looking for new challenges. This is a great chance to show what I can do.“

“You have to turn over every stone and hope that, under one of them, you’ll find something. That’s how it is. This is football, I had a lot of luck in the beginning, then not so much and now it’s time for it to start pointing upwards again”.

If the clubs present are interested, they are keeping their cards close to their chest. Their representatives maintain a low profile, seldom talking to players and often unwilling to reveal their identities or which clubs they represent.

Maanoja is undeterred. Capped twice by the Finnish under-21 side, he says he is open to all offers, as long as they are realistic and offer a good chance of playing time.

“I’m hoping for a contract offer. When I have the chance to show what I can do, it’s not something I could miss. It’s a great opportunity and I hope that there’s plenty of scouts here looking for a goalkeeper who liked what they saw.”

Asked if he had any minimum requirements, he smiled.

“I don’t have anything like that, no, but you still have to make enough to look after your family. I have two children that are part of the deal so to speak, but other than that I’m open to everything.”

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