£200k. That’s it. Two hundred thousand of your finest English pounds, and it got you an absolute wizard of the left wing. Whether you wanted a player to drag you from the lower leagues up to Champions League glory, or someone to supplement 20+ goals and assists per season from the flanks in a world class side, an unknown 6’1” Finn was your man. You could even sell him at the start of the following season for around £20 million if you wanted to cash in and buy the regen of the latest megastar retiree.
His stats for a big wide-man were nothing short of spectacular. Want a great finisher? No problem, how does Finishing 15 sound? Need a bloke for the business end of a cross? Whip em in, Heading 16. Opposite side of the last sentence the issue? Crossing 16 should sort that out. Lack of drive from your luxury number 10? Let Mika’s Determination 16 help plug the gaping hole he leaves when he refuses to track back.
His only stat in single figures was Free Kicks at 9, but I’m sure you could find one of the other outfield players to take those. Anyway, you’d want him in the box on the end of those freekicks…
Aston Villa were ahead of the game (quite literally, he was only worth buying on FM 2008) and snapped him up in 2003 from TPS Turku, beating the likes of Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool for the prolific youngster. He joined a youth side with Craig Gardner, Gary Cahill and Gabby Agbonlahor in its ranks, but was unable to break into the first team, held back by the likes of Nobby Solano, Juan Pablo Ángel and everybody’s favourite big man up top, Peter Crouch.
A move back to TPS Turku followed where he scored 47 goals in 196 games over the course of the next decade, along with six caps for the Finland national team. June 2008 almost saw him leave the cold shores of Finland for the sunnier climes of Portugal as CD Nacional made an offer. Ultimately though, the Portuguese valuation fell short, and Mika didn’t want to leave his beloved TPS.
After TPS’ relegation, a loan move to Holstein Kiel in 3. Bundesliga proved unsuccessful in 2014, before he was released on a free. Returning to Finland he joined FC Lahti in the Finnish first division, starting only 13 games (and an additional 10 from the bench). His goalscoring ratio dropped and he moved, again on a free to Kuopion Palloseura.
Mirroring his in-game versatility, he played pretty much all of the final third positions over his 39 games. His love for TPS however constantly pulled at his heart, and at the end of the season he returned for a third time to the club where he not only began his career, but also wanted to finish his playing days.
Today, Mika Ääritalo can still be found plying his trade at TPS in the Finnish second division. Already planning for the day he hangs up his boots, he’s training as a Sports Counsellor and has been running afternoon sessions for the players for the last two and a half years, in addition to coaching some of the club’s youngsters.