In this episode, we are joined by a very special guest, Joni Kauko, fresh from Euro 2020. A Veikkausliiga winner who also has Suomen Cup and Liiga Cup winners medals in his collection. A combative attacking midfielder who has been a regular Huuhkajat squad member for the past few years.
Joni tells us about his club career that has taken him from Finland to India, via Germany and Denmark. He talks about his international career that started a decade ago with a pre-Rivelution Markku Kanerva as his manager. He also explains about his fascination with Marvel movies, socks and video game.
Download an MP3 of In Conversation with… Joni Kauko
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SHOW NOTES & LINKS
Keke’s Questions (Listen or watch the show to hear Joni’s answers)
- You were born in Turku in 1990 the same year that FC Inter Turku were founded and I think it is fair to say that after your 100 or so appearances for the Sinimustat you are somewhat of a legend in your home town. I have read however that you played some of your youth football at TPS. First of all how did your love of football start and what can you tell us about this early switch from black and white stripes to black and blue?
- After a couple of years in the Inter youth team you made your Veikkausliiga debut in 2008, how was it to break into that team and be involved in the 8 or so games as the team went on to win the Championship that year?
- At the end of the 2012 season your contract at Inter had expired and you went on to join FC Lahti. Your new club finished the 2013 season in a respectable 5th place but I think it is fair to say that your game time was limited at Lahti. Was this frustrating for you after being such an integral part of the Inter side for the previous years?
- After Lahti, you decided to try yourself abroad and you signed for Bundesliga 2 team FSV Frankfurt. First of all was it always important to you to play outside of Finland and secondly how did you find it settling in Germany?
- You were still in your early twenties when you went abroad, we often debate the pros and cons of young Finns moving to other European clubs and leagues, what is your opinion on this issue and do you believe that young Finns benefit more from going abroad or by staying at home to play regularly in the Veikkausliiga?
- We have recently seen Ilmari Niskanen break into the Huuhkajat team and move to Germany. what advice would you give to Ilamri?
- After leaving Frankfurt you had a further season in Germany with Brandenburg side Energie Cottbus before moving to Denmark with Randers. How did the move to Randers come about and how did the style of play in Denmark compare with what you had grown used to in Germany?
- Your next move brings us almost up to date as in 2018 you signed for Esbjerg. For a while there was a little Finnish contingent there with friend of the show Markus Halsti and your Huuhkajat team mate Pyry Soiri joining you in Jutland. I guess having fellow Finns among your team mates made it easy for you to be there in Esbjerg but despite this the club were relegated at the end of the 2020 season. This must have been disappointing after your 3rd place finish the previous season. Markus left to come back to Finland with HJK but did you feel it was important to stay in Esbjerg and try to help the club back to the Superliga?
- Ultimately the club narrowly missed out on promotion and just before the Euro’s kicked off you released a heartfelt video to the Esbjerg fans explaining that the time had come for you to leave the club and we will go on to talk about your next destination but if we can talk about Huuhkajat and your international career.
- You have been a regular through the youth levels for the national team going so far as captaining the U21 side and you made your senior debut back in 2012 in a friendly versus Trinidad & Tobago. How did it feel to pull on the white shirt of Finland for your first senior cap?
- Further friendly appearances followed under Mixu and Hans Backe but it was when Rive Kanerva took over that your international career really took off with you featuring in competitive games. A lot of the current squad have gone on record to say that the long relationship that they’ve had with Rive through the U21 set up into the senior squad has helped them, is this something that you have found beneficial through your senior international career?
- We at the Finnish Football Show are big fans of the UEFA Nations League. These competitive games against opposition of a similar standard with the added incentive to gain promotion is something that we feel really benefited Huuhkajat and you guys really seemed to develop as a team during the League C campaign in 2018. How did you personally and the squad as a whole feel about the Nations League and the format of national teams being promoted and relegated?
- In 2019 Hannu Tuominen described you as ‘Runomaen Messi’ and urged Rive to give you more playing time for Huuhkajat The good Nations League form carried on into the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign and as every Finland fan knows this culminated in the 3-0 win over Liechtenstein in Helsinki. You came on as a sub for Tim Sparv at the 70 minute mark with the score at 2-0. A few minutes later you were part of the build up that lead to our third goal sending us to our first ever major tournament. How was it to be involved in that historic game and what can you tell us about your memories of the celebrations that night?
- You started the game away against Greece a few days later, how was it to play 90 minutes with a big hangover?
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- Of course we had to wait an extra 12 months for Euro 2020 to kick off due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we actually spoke to Markus Halsti back in March 2020 after he had posted some instagram videos of you guys keeping your fitness up with improvised training sessions around the city of Esbjerg. We don’t want to dwell on Corona virus too much but if you could just tell us how you feel the extra 12 months of waiting for the Euros to kick off affected both you yourself and Huuhkajat.
- We’ve actually been in touch with Markus in the build up to talking to you and he has told us to ask about your obsession with Marvel comics and especially your Marvel socks and the Marvel game on your phone that you can’t seem to put down.
- Eventually Euro 2020 did kick off and we lined up against a decent Denmark team in our opening game. Of course the game will be forever remembered for what happened to Christian Eriksen just before half time and as Finland fans there was almost a sense of guilt at celebrating our first goal and our first win in a major tournament but for the guys out on the pitch and you guys on the bench it must have been a completely crazy experience.
- Somehow you guys managed to compose yourselves and after a lengthy pause and finally the news that Christian was stable in hospital the game resumed. The record books will always show that Finland came away with a 1-0 win and that the imperious Lukas Hradecky saved a Denmark penalty to give us 3 points. The celebrations were obviously a bit more low key than usual but I know that the travelling fans did appreciate you guys making your way to them after the game to show your appreciation. Our own Mark Hayton was there in the crowd as well as many of our friends and listeners. Can you explain to us what the Finland fans mean to you when you play for the national team?
- Our next game was the one that most Finland fans and also pundits had been pointing to as the fixture where we were most likely to pick up points. How was the vibe in the squad before the game and were you able to fully put the Eriksen situation behind you to focus on Russia?
- We thought the combination of marauding wing backs and Jolle Pohjanpalo had worked it’s magic again as Danger had the ball in the net after only 4 minutes but the goal was cruelly disallowed for a very marginal offside. As the game went on Rive again turned to you just after the hour mark and we watched as you tried to influence the game but became more frustrated as the Russian players went down clutching various parts of their bodies under every little challenge. The overriding emotion among us fans after the game was one of frustration, was this also the way that you guys felt as players?
- Our final group game saw us come up against the number one FIFA ranked team in the world and many people’s favourites for the Euro 2020 title in Belgium. We had a pretty decent historical record against the red devils but we knew we would need an extra special performance to beat them.
- Rive’s plan seemed to work perfectly and as we approached half time at 0-0 hopes were high that we could get the point that would almost guarantee progress to the next phase. Luke was again in fabulous form saving anything that did manage to penetrate the defence that was looking solid. On 66 minutes we got our own slice of VAR luck as Lukaku was judged to be offside after scoring. You entered the fray on the 70 minute mark and only a few minutes later Luke succumbed to a freak own goal that really broke our hearts. As a professional how do you deal with a slice of bad luck like that? Was there still a belief that you could go on to score and draw the game?
- There was a glimmer of hope that the 3 points would be enough to secure a place in the next phase but the results in the other games didn’t go our way and we were eliminated from 3rd place in our group. What was the wait like to find out if the 3 points would be enough and did you guys all watch the Scotland Croatia game and following games together?
- Looking back over the performances and the whole journey from the qualifying campaign right through to the impressive display against the worlds number 1 team I think the overriding emotion for the majority of fans is pride. Is that the feeling from within the Huuhkajat group and for yourself also or is there any feeling that you could have possibly done more?
- Whatever happens in the future you will always have the memory to cherish that you played in Finland’s first ever major tournament for the mens team and you have inspired so many young Finns to play football and to reach for their dreams so an eternal “Kiitos” for that.
- So just finally, you have just announced a week or so ago that you have signed for ATK Mohun Bagan in Kolkata, India. You are not the first Finn to grace the Indian Super League and indeed Huuhkajat legend Jussi Jaaskelainen had a season at ATK in their former guise. Can you tell us how the move came about and what you are looking forward to in India?
- What with the Indian Super League being off the radar for most people in Europe I think the burning question on many Finland fans lips is the consideration you gave your international career when signing for ATK Mohun, did you have any conversation with Markku Kanerva, as one his most trusted players did you seek any reassurances about your future chances with Finland?
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