Play it differently, Sam: Jussi Jääskeläinen at Bolton
Manager Sam Allardyce has introduced t'ai chi into the training regimen at the Reebok Stadium
By Arno Seiro in Bolton
Already last season Bolton Wanderers, a modern-day minnow even if they were one of the founder-members of the Football League in 1888, managed to cause a measure of astonishment in the English Premiership.
On a shoestring budget and with a squad of oldish players they fought their way to a creditable 8th position in the Premiership table, narrowly missing out on a place in Europe’s second cup tournament, the UEFA Cup.
This season’s opening clutch of games promises even better: after fourteen matches in the top flight, the team are in seventh spot, with 23 points, including two gritty 2-2- draws away to the top two teams, Chelsea and Arsenal.
"In our three full seasons in the Premiership [since winning promotion in 2000/2001] we have learnt what we need to do to keep our end up", says Finnish international goalkeeper Jussi Jääskeläinen, who has been among the squad's stalwarts for the past seven years. We met at the club's Euxton training complex in nearby Chorley.
"After Sam Allardyce took over as the Boss five years ago, things at the club have moved in an appreciably better direction. He is an extremely ambitious manager, who has reformed the entire club organisation to serve future success", says Jääskeläinen.
Allardyce, who was born in the Midlands but signed for Bolton as a player at the age of only 15, may look to some like the archetypal raging-bull football manager, but he has very sharp eyes and ears for new ideas to improve his squad’s performance on the field.
A good example is the introduction last season of Chinese t’ai chi movements into the training sessions.
Jääskeläinen has nothing but praise for the idea. "It helps players use the right muscles in different situations. At the beginning we had a t’ai chi teacher coming in once or twice a week, but now it is part of the everyday routine", says Jääskeläinen of the slow-motion exercise movements that are practiced by millions of Chinese people every morning.
On the transfer front, in the past five years Allardyce has made a whole host of purchases, and the majority of them have been very sound investments. Bolton’s trademark has been to buy slightly older players who have run into difficulties with their former clubs.
Allardyce’s great gift has been that he has managed to avoid collecting has-beens and broken-down nags, but has sniffed out "mature" players from the top level who still have the drive and ambition to succeed.
Some good examples include the 35-year-old Welsh midfielder Gary Speed (Leeds, Everton, and Newcastle), the prodigiously talented 31-year-old midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha from Nigeria (Fenerbahce, Paris St. Germain), and the 30-year-old Spanish defender Ivan Campo, who was in the Real Madrid side that won the Champions League in 1999/2000.
"I’ve personally developed as a keeper during my time at Bolton. I have more self-confidence now, I’m better able to prepare for matches, and of course the extra experience always helps", says Jääskeläinen, 29.
The sheer bulk of "Big Sam" Allardyce is enough to instill fear and respect in the players under him. But things go both ways, says Jääskeläinen: "He has the greatest of respect for the players in the squad. But Allardyce also knows how to demand payback."
The Finn laughs when he recalls last season’s 4-0 thrashing away to newly-promoted Portsmouth. Big Sam was not best pleased, and he described the performance in the post-match press conference as "embarrassing and diabolical".
"It was an evening game, and we got back to Bolton at around 3 in the morning after a long bus ride from the south coast. Allardyce ordered a training session to start from 7 a.m. We sat and watched our defeat on video for at least two and a half hours, with the rewind button being pressed every few minutes to look at somebody’s blunder", sighs the goalkeeper.
Allardyce has announced he would like to leave the club at some point, because he is still looking for bigger challenges and feels he cannot achieve everything he wants with a club of Bolton’s stature and resources. The idea leaves Jääskeläinen looking thoughtful.
"Yes, but on the other hand he didn’t step up and go for the job at Newcastle United earlier this season, when it was as good as offered to him. It was a bit of a surprise to me that he turned them down. My own contract runs to 2007 and for my own part I could see myself going on for another couple of years here after that, assuming the manager stays the same", Jääskeläinen says, displaying his confidence in the current boss.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 27.11.2004
Note: This article was published before Bolton hosted the visit of Portsmouth on Saturday afternoon. To the surprise of many, Bolton went down to their second successive home defeat, 1-0. It was only Portsmouth’s first away victory of the season. Jussi Jääskeläinen has also been in the news, with reports on the BBC that he has turned down the club’s initial offer for an improved contract, and is seeking more generous terms. Sam Allardyce, meanwhile, agreed terms in October for a new five-year contract. What he will do thereafter is anybody’s guess, but he has said earlier he would like to retire from Bolton when he is 55. He turned 50 last month.
More on this subject:
Extra kilos lead to slimming of player wage-packets
Allardyce agrees new Bolton deal (BBC)
Bolton Wanderers Official Site
Jussi Jääskeläinen, Bolton Wanderers and Finland