The Captain’s Ball was first given to Jari Litmanen as a one-off award ten years ago. However, the man who helped Ajax win the UEFA Champions League in 1994/95 suggested it become a yearly prize and has since become part of the committee which decides upon a recipient.
Moller Nielsen, who guided his native Denmark to an unforeseen triumph at UEFA EURO 1992, coached Finland from 1996 to ’99 and masterminded a highly impressive FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign. Indeed, only a stoppage-time equaliser at home to Hungary cost the Finns – who finished above Switzerland – a play-off against Yugoslavia for a place at France 1998.
Furthermore, Moller Nielsen polished the likes of Jonatan Johansson, Hannu Tihinen, Teemu Tainio, Aki Riihilahti, Shefki Kuqi and Juha Reini into the fine players who went on to play overseas, and had a positive influence on already-established stars Sami Hyypia and Litmanen.
A statement from the Captain’s Ball committee read: “With Richard Moller Nielsen, Finland got a vital lift in international level. And it did not only involve the men’s senior squad, but national football as a whole. Richard’s commitment to Finland was – and still is – sincere.
“He brought respect and self-esteem for the domestic game, which built the basis for the future. Players from the domestic league were included in the national squad, and almost overnight they transferred abroad to bigger leagues, as they gained valuable trust in their abilities from Richard.”
Moller Nielsen said: “I have always felt welcome and at home in Finland, together with my wife. I appreciate this recognition tremendously, especially as it involves such a great player and professional as Jari Litmanen.
“I still closely follow Finnish football. Although the senior national team is currently in a transitional phase, I think that future looks bright. With Mixu Paatelainen, Finland has a head coach with a winning mentality, which means a lot for the team’s development.”
Moisander, Saari saluted
Moller Nielsen was not the only person honoured at the gala. Niklas Moisander, who has been starring for Ajax in the UEFA Champions League, was named as the Finnish Footballer of the Year, while another defender, Maija Saari of AIK, won the women’s equivalent after inspiring Finland to a third successive UEFA Women’s EURO qualification.