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Jussi Jääskeläinen: Big Sam’s Big Man (1997-2012)

Jussi Jaaskelainen article on Ultra UTD

Today, we speak about the wonderful goalkeeping talent of Jussi Jääskeläinen: a Finnish legend whose impact on Bolton’s long-gone glory days were as pivotal as anybody’s!

During his generation, Jens Lehmann was reinforcing the ‘all goalkeepers are nutters’ stereotype at Arsenal, Cech and Van Der Sar were emerging as the Premier League’s best, and David James was trying out another haircut to see which one gave him better luck! All in all, the ‘Noughties‘ were a fine time for goalies; you could list many a legend without a moment’s thought. Yet there always seems to be one cult hero in particular who’s often missing from that list: Jussi Jääskeläinen

Not forgotten at the Reebok, Jussi’s calm and stable hands still hold a special place in many Bolton fans’ hearts. A symbol of a different era when contesting cup finals, challenging for the top four and battling away in Europe were reality, not pipedreams. His unbelievable saves against the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal and Atletico Madrid a distant memory now for the League Two club. Yes … League Two! How the mighty have fallen …

Born in Mikelli, Finland in 1975, Jussi Jääskeläinen arrived in England 22 years later with no intention of joining The Trotters. In fact, he was off for a trial with Norwich when his future mentor, Fred Barber, spotted him as a ‘diamond in the rough’ at an English goalkeeping camp. Funny how things work out, right? As it happened, he was signed up without a moment’s further hesitation … and his famous future was sealed in Bolton white. 

To be fair, it turned out this diamond needed a fair bit of polishing. Having trained indoors in Finland, he wasn’t exactly used to the infamous wet weather of the North West and struggled to adapt. But Barber worked him hard. He put in the hours, learnt the language and eventually wrestled his way up to 1st choice keeper within two years

A determination that made him the perfect poster boy for Big Sam’s Bolton. A team full of hard-workers with the occasional bit of flair from the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, the football not necessarily enticing, but effective. It did the job, and did it pretty well… Four successive top-eight finishes, two Uefa Cup qualifications and a historic win over Bayern Munich, no less! Not bad for a club residing in the Championship upon the stopper’s arrival.

Jussi Jääskeläinen sits second, only to Kevin Nolan, in Allardyce’s most picked players, a sign of the relationship that eventually grew between them. A relationship built on respect, Jussi had an admiration for how the man at the top did things – ‘Sam organised the club brilliantly… He brought in techniques that were new to us – in terms of sports science and diet especially.’ Big Sam, a moderniser? I know. Pigs can fly … but it’s true!

But it was his closeness with Barber that would define his time at Bolton. Despite Jussi labelling him as the ‘devil’ early on, the two would eventually form an unbreakable bond. Arguably Jääskeläinen’s most famous saves could be attributed to this bond. October 22nd 2006. Blackburn away. What a wonderful day. Hehe … I made a rhyme!

Bolton are 1-0 up and Benni McCarthy is lining up a penalty with only minutes remaining on the clock. Jääskeläinen and Barber spot something. Ensue frantic arm signals between bench and goal-line. The Blackburn players had given it away. They’d drifted to the side McCarthy would aim for, expectantly waiting for a possible rebound. Jussi easily parried the penalty away. Minutes later, it would all be repeated. Another penalty given away, another chance for McCarthy. Barber couldn’t believe his luck, they were doing it again! A few more hand signals later and Jussi had foiled McCarthy twice, winning Bolton the game. Unreal scenes!

After Big Sam’s departure in 2007, Jussi was consistently linked with wherever the man went. But it wasn’t until Owen Coyle’s arrival, and the slow pushing out of Fred Barber, that Jääskeläinen would consider reuniting with his old manager at West Ham. Being sacrilegiously replaced by youngster Adam Bogdan was the final straw for the big Fin – whose departure from Bolton immediately coincided with their relegation three years later … and lack of topflight football ever since! Talk about ‘having an impact’, am I right?

What’s your favourite memory of Jussi Jaaskelainen? Remember, you don’t have to be a Bolton fan to share!

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