Jari Litmanen is back home

Jari Litmanen is back in his birthplace Lahti. The former Ajax player trained with his youth club Lahti for the first time in fourteen years on Friday. He did want to make a big deal about it, but admitted it was a special moment, when he put on his training gear for a practice session on a pitch near Jalkaranta, where Jari played his youth matches in the eighties.

The Finn will play in Lahti with his old, trusted shirtnumber ten. Since it was announced that he would return to his old club, there has been an unprecedented run on replica jerseys. Season ticket sales have also risen explosively since the prodigal son announced his return. For the first home match against Tornio the club management expects 10,000 spectators – normally no more than 1,500 fans turn up.

Litmanen himself stayed calm as usual under the hype. ,,I wanted to try something new. And returning to Finland seemed a positive step. I want to help Lahti to reach new heights." The city knew football success for the last time in 1991, when Kuusysi won the championship. Litmanen played for rivals Reipas from 1987 to 1990. FC Lahti was founded after a merger between those two clubs. Litmanen has won only one trophy in Finland: the national cup with MyPa in 1991. But he gets a chance to immediately win a medal in his first match back. His comeback is scheduled for 2 May, when Lahti play the Ligacup-final against Allianssi.

Before that Litmanen will travel to Bosnia-Herzegovina for a match with Finland. He cannot say whether he will play or not: ,,I am far away from match fitness. I had the flue the whole of last week." Whether he will leave for another country after Lahti, he does not know either. ,,I have learned to live life by the day. At least I have signed for the entire season with Lahti."

Litmanen said goodbye to his teammates at Ajax on Wednesday, during the benefit match against the Marocprofs. He also met Ronald Koeman, who was not very happy with Litmanen's last act as a player of Ajax, when he left for Malta injured only to play as a substitute in an international match. ,,There is no quarrel, I have nothing against Koeman. We parted as friends. Amsterdam is my city and the club are still interested in my services, maybe later as a coach."

Photo: Juha Tanhua.
With thanks to Ilta-Sanomat.