Finnish international Mikael Forssell is back in the German Bundesliga, where he scored seven goals in 16 appearances for Borussia Monchengladbach in the second half of the 2002/03 campaign. The striker is now looking forward to a new challenge with Hannover 96, having left Birmingham City, newly relegated to England's second tier.
Forssell has had a roller-coaster ride since joining the professional ranks, his career pockmarked by repeated injury misery. The 27-year-old has suffered three serious knee injuries in the past, but has always fought his way back into contention in Europe’s top leagues, testament to his resolve and fighting spirit.
The gifted front-man made his professional debut for HJK Helsinki in the Veikkausliiga at the tender age of just 16. Europe’s scouts soon swarmed to the Finnish capital and the then 17-year-old switched to Chelsea in 1998, although he initially failed to make the breakthrough. After loan spells with Crystal Palace, Borussia Monchengladbach and Birmingham City, Chelsea opted to sell the player in 2005.
Forssell spent three further seasons with Birmingham, scoring 13 goals in 65 appearances for the Blues, before returning to the Bundesliga with Hannover this summer. The likeable Finn spoke to FIFA.com about his new challenge in Lower Saxony, and FIFA World Cup™ qualifying with Finland.
FIFA.com: Mikael, welcome back to the Bundesliga. How are you feeling at the moment?
Mikael Forssell: Very good, thank you. I’m genuinely delighted to be here. I was offered the chance and I didn’t have to think twice. I wanted to come and it all worked out. It’s terrific to be back in the Bundesliga.
Not many people know this, but you were born in Germany, in the North-Rhine Westphalia town of Steinfurt. What do you remember about your German childhood?
Almost nothing. We moved to Sweden, and then to Finland when I was just four. I once came across a video shot by my father in Steinfurt, showing the first time I touched a football. I must have been about seven months old at the time, and you can see our house in the background. I think the time in Germany back then was good for me.
Turning to your current footballing situation, you’ve returned to the Bundesliga after spending the last few years in the Premier League with Birmingham City. Why did you opt for Germany?
I had a great time in Gladbach and I stayed in touch with [general manager] Christian Hochstatter. A footballer must always be trying to make progress, and that’s definitely the case with Hannover.
You have signed for a club which many experts feel could be a contender for the European places this term. Are Hannover really that good?
Let me sound a note of caution. We’re definitely a good team, but it’s a long season. You’ll always have poor spells, that goes for every team. I sense that everyone in Hannover wants to progress and really go for it. That’s what matters to me, and it’s a fantastic situation for a striker.
The competition for places up front will be intense. Why should Mikael Forssell earn first-choice status ahead of current and former internationals Mike Hanke, Jan Schlaudraff and Jiri Stajner?
By playing well, obviously. But I’m not bothered by all this palaver about competition – it’s always there, simple as that. Competition is good, it makes everyone better. However, I see the team as the priority, and every player has a part to play in the team.
You have chosen the squad number 32, is there a special reason for that?
I was number 32 with Chelsea, and it was free when I arrived in Hanover. My favourite numbers are 9 and 10 but they were gone already. Ronaldo is my favourite player so I basically wanted the number 99 in Hanover, but sadly that wasn’t possible. But it’s no problem, because I also like Christian Vieri, and he wears 32. It’s a good number.
Turning to your national team, Finland came within a whisker of qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008, but that is often been the story. Finland have yet to appear at a major tournament, so what is missing before the next big step?
Our players are ready for a major tournament. We’re simply missing everything else that goes with it. Finnish football isn’t where it needs to be yet, there’s still a lot of development to do.
After many recent changes of coach, Stuart Baxter is the second Englishman in a row to take the helm. How important is it for the team to be supervised by a coach with international experience?
It’s very important. He knows Scandinavian football like the back of his hand, and he’s a great fit. He’s also very concerned with personal things, and not just football. That’s very good for us and we’re very happy.
You’ve been drawn in a tough-looking 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying group with Germany, Russia, Wales, Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein. How would you rate the section?
It’s a very difficult group. Germany and Russia are clear favourites, but we’ll be looking to cause an upset or two against the other teams, although it frankly won’t be at all easy against the likes of Wales. It’s definitely going to be tough, but the smaller nations like Wales and Azerbaijan could also prove a handful for Germany and Russia.
What would qualifying for South Africa in 2010 mean for Finnish football?
It would be unbelievable. The example for us is Sweden. They always make it, although Finnish football basically isn’t a long way off their level. If we finally made it, it would prompt a host of changes and we’d see the growth of a real football culture in Finland. It’ll be difficult, but we’re making progress. I hope we make it at some point in the next few years.