In this episode, Keke, Rich and Mark W are joined by Huuhkajat star, Robert Ivanov. A Finland international player who has recently cemented himself into the Huuhkajat starting 11, was a member of the Euro 2020 squad and who looks certain will be commanding the Finnish defence for years to come.
Roba tells us how it felt to grow up and progress through the Finnish league system, from an 18-year-old ‘bambi’ at PK-35 to FC Myllypuro to FC Vikingit ‘to play with my friends’ and into the Veikkausliiga with FC Honka. He talks about his dream of playing for Arsenal and his move to Warta Poznan, in Poland, and explains that his transfer may not have been quite as expensive as Keke thought!
Finally, Robert talks about his international career, the joy of being selected in the Euro 2020 squad and the ‘changing of teh guard’ in the Finland defence since the Euros.
Join Mark (@explorefinland), Mark (@FCSuomi), Keke (@kekemyllari) and Rich (@EscapeToSuomi) for regular episodes, where 4 old blokes sit and talk about football in Finland. In English.
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SHOW NOTES & LINKS
Keke’s Questions (Listen or watch the show to hear Robert’s answers)
Warta Poznan video
- Your club Warta Poznan made a short film about you ahead of Finland’s final World Cup Qualifier versus France last year and it was such great content that we just had to get you onto the podcast. It must have felt pretty good that those guys from Warta travelled to Helsinki to see you playing for Huuhkajat against France.
- It was a great night and you guys did well to keep the world champions at bay for a long period.
- Your brother Artur mentioned during the film that sport and football runs in your family, your father and grandfather were football players and you told how you would watch your father playing. What kind of level did your Dad play at and was he a big influence on you when you were young with regards to playing football?
Early Years in Finland
- I believe that you played junior football at PK-35 and that you also had some time at Laajasalon Pallosuera but by the time you were around 18 years old you were playing in Kakkonen for FC Myllypuro, what was the story behind moving clubs at a young age and had there been any interaction with the bigger clubs in Finland when you were a young boy?
- It was at Myllypuro that you worked under the russian coach Ravil Sabitov, how big of an influence was Ravil on you at that time and did you feel that a career at the very top of the game was within reach? (Ravil recently worked with Mikael Soisalo at FC Riga)
- In 2015 you transferred to FC Viikingit who were also playing in Kakkonen at that time but were a club with a high profile having previously played in the Veikkausliiga. How did the move to Viikingit come about and was there a more professional feel to your new club?
- After 20 or so appearances and 3 goals for Viikingit you transferred to FC Honka. Honka were at this time a kakkonen side after facing relegation from the Veikkausliiga due to financial reasons. Were you confident that Honka could make it back to the top tier of finnish football and take you there with them?
- You became an integral part of the Honka side that achieved back to back promotions firstly to Ykkonen and then back to Veikausliiga adding goals to your game along the way. It must have felt good to be part of a winning team that was climbing the leagues so successfully. How did you feel about your own development around this time?
- The first season back in Veikkausliiga was a successful one with Honka finishing 4th in the league and you playing around 30 games. Did you feel that Veikkausliiga was a step up in standard and how did you feel going up against the best strikers in Finland?
Dreaming of Arsenal and moving to Warta Poznan
- After almost 150 appearances for Honka, Polish side Warta Poznan paid over 300 thousand Euros for you to help them in their return to the top flight for the first time in 25 years. How did the contact with Warta come about and were you apprehensive about moving to a new country with a new language or was playing abroad in a foreign league always part of your plan?
- Paulus Arajuuri had 2 successful seasons with Warta’s city Rivals Lech Poznan back in 2015, had you asked Paulus or any of the other Finns such as Albin Granlund or Petteri Forsell about their experiences in Poland before deciding to sign? How does living in Poland compare to Finland?
- Your first season in Poland was a successful one with Warta finishing 5th in the league, missing out on Europa League qualifying only on goal difference. Were you happy with your own performances across the 22 games you played and again could you feel a step up in quality from what you had been used to in Finland?
- At the time of writing Warta Poznan are sitting around mid table in the Polish ektralassa. I am sure you guys would have wanted to build upon your great 5th place finish last season but this campaign has been a bit trickier. Do you feel that you can regroup and make a challenge for the european qualifying places next season?
- You are contracted to Warta until summer next year. Is there any pressure from either side to get a new deal worked out or is that something that you are not worrying too much about?
- You seem to be very happy in Poland. How is your relationship with the fans there and how does that compare to your relationship with the fans of the national team?
Robert Ivanov in action for the Finland national team
Photos by Tara Jaakkola @sportsbytara on Instagram
Becoming a Huuhkaja
- Moving on to your international career, your performances for Honka had been noticed by Rive Kanerva and you made your debut as a 85th minute sub for Albin Granlund in a 1-0 friendly win over Sweden back in 2019. Your first start for Huuhkajat came a little while later in another friendly against Estonia. Was it always a dream of yours to play for your country and how did it feel to make your national team debut?
- You were paired in the centre of defence with the experienced Juhani Ojala for the Estonia game, did having a player with his vast experience next to you help you settle into international football?
- After that initial taste you slipped out of the international squad for a while. Was it tough to watch Huuhkajat making their way to our first major tournament or were you able to enjoy watching those games along with the rest of us fans?
- The FFS team have noticed that Rive brings players in and out of the squad. Being left out does not mean your international career is over.
- You returned to the Huuhkajat squad as the Qualifiers for World Cup 2022 started and you had two 90 minute appearances in the spring of last year in the Euro 2020 warm up friendlies. How were you feeling about your chances of making it to the final Euro squad around this time?
- Ultimately you were chosen as part of the squad to go to the Euros to represent Finland in our first major tournament for the mens team. Can you describe how you felt when you got the call to tell you that you had made the squad?
- After the Euros another 90’ minute friendly appearance followed in the 0-0 draw with Wales. There was a sense among the fans that Rive was starting to look to the future with players such as yourself, Daniel O’Shaughnessy and Leo Vaisanen picking up more game time. When the World Cup Qualifiers resumed you were on the bench but as the campaign went on you featured heavily in the last 3 fixtures, which saw us narrowly miss out on a playoff spot. Had you sensed that your opportunity was coming? Or was there any discussion within the squad about the upcoming double retirement of Arajuuro and Toivio – a legendary defensive duo?
- The scenes at the end of the France game last November were really emotional ones with Paulus & Joona visibly moved by the send off they received from the fans in the Pohjoiskaarre. All 4 of us Finnish Football Show hosts were there in Helsinki and it was some night. How was the mood among the squad, you guys had just battled hard for 90 minutes against the world champions and now 2 stalwarts of the team were bringing down the curtain on their international careers. Did you feel personally that these were big boots to fill?
- The next Huuhkajat fixtures were the friendly games in Spain against Iceland and Slovakia. You put in another 90 minute performance in the second game against Slovakia. I was there in Spain and it was a weird atmosphere with so few fans in such a large stadium. I know you guys won’t have been pleased with the results particularly but did the training camp serve its purpose in terms of you guys spending some time together and working on things that will be useful when the Nations League kicks off again in June?
- We will face our old friends Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as Montenegro and Romania in League B Group 3. How do you feel about this opposition and does the squad see this Nations League campaign as a further opportunity to progress as a group? Settle this question for us, did you get a push in the back before the Bosnia-Herzegovina goal?
Find Robert Ivanov online
- Website: Robert Ivanov – A footballer.
- Instagram: Official @robaivanov
- Instagram: Robert Ivanov Fan Club @robafanclub
- Twitter: @RobertIvanov88