A stalwart at Umeå before their relegation to Elitettan, Finnish international Tuija Hyyrynen spent a year at Førtuna Hjorring before joining Juventus’ new senior women’s team, we caught up with the defender in Cyprus to talk about her career so far.
Failed American adventure
Like many footballers you’ll find, Hyyrynen’s interest for football was sparked by a sibling, her older sister the catalyst for her love with the game.
“My older sister played, she’s one and a half years older than me and I just wanted to do all the things that she did, so when she played I wanted to play too.”
Not necessarily the biggest sport around the world, football is well loved in Finland, men and women alike taking part from a young age.
“It’s actually pretty big, a lot of girls and boys play it, I don’t know if it’s the biggest sport – we have ice hockey that’s really popular – but most of the people play. I’ve seen a difference now that I play in Italy.”
Any quick internet search for the defender will throw up her brief spell at Florida State University, though denied a chance to become a fully-fledged Seminole.
“I went to play football so I had to take some classes at the university to be able to play but unfortunately I didn’t get to because the NCAA have strict rules; they said that I was a professional, even though I only played in Finland and I was an amateur player with no money. In the end, I was only there for eight months.”
FSU’s loss proved to be Umeå’s gain, the talented defender opting to embark on a five-year spell in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan with the former champions,
“Umeå contacted me before I went to the States and when I came back we got into talking, I don’t remember how but they asked if I could come and visit them and I went there to see how everything was. I really liked the girls there and the atmosphere, I did visit some other teams in Sweden too but Umeå was the one I felt best to be in and they also had two other Finnish players there at the time.”
One of the front-runners in Sweden, not just a team well used to success but the one to lead the way with professionalism, it was of little surprise that the defender was taken aback by the level,
“It was a big difference, the team was really professional, we had the top players at the time; Ramona Bachmann, Sofia Jakobsson and a lot of top players so the team was really good and we did really well that first year I was there. I think we won the bronze medal so it was big change for me but it’s something I had wanted to do; take the next step and play as a professional.”
Though Hyyrynen made the switch to a strong team at the top of their game in the Danish 3F Liga, there was no escaping the fact that the league was a step down from Damallsvenskan,
“Fortuna were playing in the Champions League and I was really interested in playing in the Champions League again and we had a really good team in Hjørring. It was actually much better than the last year I had in Umeå because they were top when I went there but we by the time I left, we had lost a lot of players so it was actually a step forward to play in a better team. The league wasn’t as good as the Swedish league but I really enjoyed winning a lot of games, we won the double and got to the Champions League quarter-finals so I got to experience a lot of positive things with Fortuna.”
Having already joined two Finns at Umeå, Hyyrynen was able to call upon international teammate Nora Heroum, who’d already been playing for Fortuna before the defender made the move,
“I talked with Nora and she gave really positive feedback about the whole organisation and they have really nice training facilities there so that was one reason I wanted to go there, I wanted to train more and do individual training. They have a really good set-up there to be a better player as an individual and a as a team. For me it is always really important to have some people in the team you know so you feel at home from day one, of course you get to know the rest of the team but it helps and to be able to talk some Finnish when you’re out there.”
Staying long enough in Denmark to win the domestic double – and deny Brøndby more silverware – the defender longed for a new challenge, an unexpected move to Italy the perfect tonic,
“At Fortuna I felt that the league wasn’t good enough so I wanted to find a top team in Europe and I asked my agent if there was any interest from top teams and one day he sent me a message and said, “Juventus is interested, are you interested?” And I was like, “Yeah of course!” So I went there to visit, to see the coach and the organisation and the facilities and it was top class so it was then an easy choice to go there.”
One of many top class players in the newly formed Juventus team taking Serie A by storm, the team is ably lead by well-respected coach and former international, Rita Guarino,
“Rita is amazing, she’s very intense. Every training we have to be better and she has a lot of focus on the details that I really like and the best thing, that I think, is she has new trainings everyday, we always have something new that is good for us players; she’s challenging us every single day and as a person she’s wonderful.”
With a handpicked squad of some of Italy’s very best players as well as a few from further afield like Tyyrynen, the Bianconeri have taken their spot at the top of the league, yet to drop a point 14 games into the season. The pressure of keeping up their flawless run not something the Finn has let touble her,
“No no, it’s like we just enjoy playing and we have a good flow so we’ve just kept going; I haven’t thought about losing much, I just think about winning maybe that’s how we are and that’s the team mentality in Juventus is and that helps us.”
A lynchpin in the team that’s conceded just three goals all season, Hyyrynen has also clocked the most minutes of any outfielder in the team, having only been subbed off once in fourteen starts – two minutes from time at the end of their first match of the season.
“I love playing so I always want to play more and more. I feel that the coach really has confidence in me and the whole team and I feel really good playing there and I think my game is getting better and better because I feel more confident. We have a really good team, not just the starting eleven but we have a lot of good players on the bench too so maybe that’s our strength.”
Well used to the Nordic style of play, Hyyrynen pauses when asked if it’s taken her time to adapt to the Italian style,
“Actually it’s gone really well, of course there are some challenges, they’re more technical and the game is more tactical, not so physical – less tackles. I got used to it quite fast and I think I’ve played in so many countries and leagues that I’ve learned to adapt quite quickly.”
As previously stated, the defender has usually found herself in the company of other Finns, whether Pernilla Nordlund and Anna Westerlund at Umeå, Heroum at Fortuna or currently at Juventus with attacking dynamo Sanni Franssi, the familiarity something that helps her feel at home,
“I live with Sanni so we talk Finnish and most of the day we spent together but before she signed I was really happy to hear that Ingvild Isaksen was coming because I know Swedish so we can talk. It’s also about the mentality and the way of living, how we are, I think it’s very important that you have people who can understand you – not just talking but who you are.”
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Following on from three consecutive European Championship appearances, the Pearl Owls narrowly missed out on a fourth as they failed to progress from a qualifying group that saw Portugal make their maiden tournament. Away from UEFA competitions, Finland have never qualified for the World Cup and the defender (who turns 30 today) feels she’s running out of chances to get to the prestigious tournament.
“It's been challenging, we have a tough group and we have never been to the World Cup and I’m older so I don’t have many more World Cups I can play in and I want to go there and I really hope we can make it but we still have a tough road ahead of us.”
Second in their group behind favourites Spain, the only blot on Finland’s qualification record was a controversial draw in Ramat Gam in January.
“We were really disappointed because we were supposed to win the game and we were the better team – football wise – but sometimes in football the margins are so small that maybe the team that shouldn’t win does, but that’s football, anything can happen that’s why I love it. Maybe when we play Spain the same will happen and we’ll win.”
Following their unsuccessful bid to reach the Netherlands last summer, the Pearl Owls have seen a change of leadership with coach Andrée Jeglertz replaced by fellow Swede, Anna Signeul, the team reacting well to the fresh ideas.
“I think Anna has come in with a lot of positive energy, she’s teaching us to really believe in ourselves and that all players can be the player who makes the difference. I actually like that a lot and the atmosphere has been really positive and more believing since she came.”
Announced as one of the nominees for the third FIFPro Women’s World XI, Hyyrynen missed out on the final XI, finishing 18 of the shortlisted 20.
“It was a big surprise for me, a positive one of course, it’s a really big thing for me because it’s the players who have voted so I really feel honoured to be in that team with so many great players. I still think I have a step to take to be in the best ones but it’s great to see I’m getting closer.”
Despite missing out on the final team, the Juventus woman only looks at her nomination as a positive, both for herself and Finland, the nation only having produced one other nominee since its inception in former Bayern Munich number one, Tinja-Riikka Korpela
“I think our goalkeeper was there a few years ago but yeah we don’t usually have so many in the FIFPro team but all my teammates were really happy so I think it’s good for Finland too.”
Having not always secured the silverware that her quality might warrant, Hyyrynen’s proudest memories come from her most successful domestic season in recent years,
“I don’t have a good memory but I love winning so winning the double in the Danish league was nice, I really enjoyed the whole season."
Someone who loves the game through and through, the defender’s default footballing dislike is part and parcel of the game,
“The only think I dislike is injuries, I hate when people get injured, you can’t do the think you want to do, you want to play and it’s mentally frustrating.”
Lastly, the Pearl Owl's desired superpower?
“I would like to fly.”