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Sometimes beaten, never conquered

I will never quit playing football but this is the end of my professional career. What started from my home yard at 1982 has come to an end today. It is never a big public headline that especially at this age someone has left the game but personally it is frightening thought for me that morning doesn’t start thinking about the next game. Everyone who has given all he has to something at any walk of life knows that letting go is never easy.

I played and will leave the game being true to myself. I am happy and grateful that even now at the age of 35 I would still have had the opportunity to keep playing at a high level. But I also know myself too well, and that for my type of person it is not healthy that I have been forced to compromise in too many ways. Desire and thought wants more than body can take. When 3.1.2005 in Premiership game against Aston Villa my legs finished a reasonable cooperation with me, almost every day since it has been some sort of fight and balancing.

It hasn’t prevented getting decent results, though, which probably have kept me going on along with the great support I have got, but nothing takes fully away the feeling that I have not been able to perform the way I know I can and want. However, I am sure every teammate can be my witness that I have given all I have for the team every day I have been privileged to wear the jersey. When it comes to the hard decision I have taken today, I just am not a man who wants to hold anything back or accepts standards lower than they could be. And I have to say that also the game itself has changed in many of these ways I hold dear.

So what are we left with then? Not so much for the history books but more than a dream come through for an ordinary little boy from Helsinki. When I kicked football for the first time, I could have never believed where the game would take me. I still have to pinch myself sometimes for that. If I would tell everything, nobody would probably even believe me. It is humbling what I have been blessed with.

Football is a microcosm to the life as a whole. It is rapidly changing battle with success and failure. I played 448 professional games during my career including English, German and Scandinavian top leagues, and the Champions League. On the other hand I have once sold my car and flat after signing four year contract to MLS only to get banned even before any training session was over. I was cast aside for a year. That made it even more special to bounce back and win three titles in a row for my childhood club, and challenge in European Leagues the likes of Schalke, Besiktas and Dinamo Zagreb.

Football is the best possible life that I know. It is also very slippery from the edges. You can feel it, hear it and it is counted all the time. There is no better feeling than playing for your home country. I had the honor for 69 times and scored 11 goals in them. The reason why I stayed in the game for so long that the numbers were usually on my side. However, no result or honor means as much as knowing you gave it all you got. No regrets. I wish I did my parents proud by following their advice that everyday one has to be able to look your teammates to the eyes and face the man in the mirror.

I feel uncomfortable to write about this when it could be just informed with a one line press release. But many athletes and former athletes have lately come to speak me about how there is too little discussed about quitting the game and what impact it has on us who have lived it so fully. I don’t know the truth or have any answers. I have followed so many players to quit playing and thought about how it might feel. You think you are prepared. The truth comes time to time as salty water from eyes. And I am not even near there what the everyday reality will be about.

I know there will be times when I look from the stands and think I could and should be still doing it. I will miss the moment when I run to the stadium to fight for my colors. I will miss my teammates. It has been a great honor to play with great footballers and against the best in the world. It has been even greater honor to be able to be true to the own colors with great people in and around the clubs I have played at, and meet so many good people through football. And I will miss the game itself.

I will walk to work today with my head high and heart full of great memories. I will always carry with me the experiences, encounters and feelings that you good people and fantastic supporters have given and left in me.

Thank You All for the great journey, I don’t think I can never pay you back what you have given to me.

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