We chat with former pro Steve Beeks who now coaches top Finnish side Aland United, get some background on the club and find out what the deal is, as he looks to recruit new talent...
Åland United is a Finnish women's football club from Lemland, they are also in contention to win the top women's league, although they currently have a two week break from action. The pause in play has to enabled British coach Steve Beeks to take stock and also look back to his homeland, or perhaps even further afield, for playing talent that might help add strength to his team's title ambitions. For more background info about Aland and their history - scroll to the bottom of the page.
We asked Steve what he is looking for and got a bit of info about what is on offer, what is expected, what his coaching team are like and also what the area of Aland can offer the ambitious player...
SK:What sort of player are you looking for? SB: I would like to get players that want to work hard physically and mentally a willingness to learn and improve is essential.
SK:What positions are you looking to fill? SB: We are particularly wanting a holding midfield player, we are also at the beginning of negotiations with an attacking midfielder who is a regular Swedish U23 international so if she doesn't sign or we find someone else sooner we need an attacking midfielder or forward.
SK:Why are you interested in bringing in foreign 'talent'? SB: The main idea of Aland Utd is to give local young players the opportunity to play elite level football. We currently have 2 local young players in our team 1 has just broke into the Full National squad at 18. The other is playing regularly in the Finnish under 19s. We have other youngsters who are not quite good enough to play at this level regularly so we fill our squad with foreign players for the young players to learn from and give them the best environment to improve.
ABOVE: In Champions League action v Turbine Potsdam
SK:What period of time are you looking at having the players over for? How many games? SB: Ideally the players will stay until the end of our season which is mid October but depending on the player we may have some flexibility. We have 27 games in our program we have played 11 so there are 16 to go.
SK:What provisions will be made for the right player? SB: Players wont get rich coming here but they will get well looked after. Different players obviously get different amounts, we are really looking to get players at the top end of our squad I would prefer not to put the amounts in the magazine as it does vary a little. Our players can also work part time if they wish and the club help fix them up with this work (some do some don't). They would obviously get there food and accommodation totally taken care of and would also receive a wage.
SK:What can a player expect from a typical week in terms of training demands? SB: We generally have 6 football sessions a week. we train Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7.30am until 8.30am and then Monday Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays from 4.30pm until 6pm. Obviously this can change a little depending on fixtures. Our fitness coach is also the fitness coach for the women's national team and he is the best i have worked with and will give the girls an individual programme to follow, they are expected to do to sessions a week in the gym either together or individually as they will have a program just for them. The players have membership of the gym and are able to use the swimming pool as well. Our facilities are excellent and I am available to do individual sessions if players want extra sessions.
SK:What is the area like to live in? SB: Aland is 6000 thousand small islands. All of our players live in the capital of Aland which is Mariehamn. Although we are part of Finland everyone in Aland speaks Swedish and Swedish is the language of the islands. We speak English for all team coaching and nearly everyone on Aland can speak English. The place is very clean and the people are very pleasant. one of the main industries in Aland is tourism and in the summer it attracts a huge amount of visitors and is a really fun place to be. I have a British friend here who never locks his front door. I live a little bit out of town and often leave my keys in the front door. There is very little crime and it is a great place to live.
SK: What is your background/your staff's background? SB: I was a professional footballer for a few years and have been a full time coach now for over 20 years, I have been Head coach at an academy in north London and manager at various semi pro clubs. I completed my UEFA 'A' license about 5 years ago. I have already mentioned our fitness coach. My assistant is part time he has been a regional coach in Finland and with the club a number of years he speaks perfect English, Finnish and Swedish so if there are any issues with language he is able to give the exact detail of what is needed if anyone does not fully understand, he is a history teacher full time.
SK: What other foreign talent do you have at Aland and how are they faring? SB: We have 3 Americans with us 1 of which is in her second year which hopefully says how much she has enjoyed it, the other 2 have both played in Iceland and when they compare the two Aland comes out very positively. Our Estonian player is also in her second year so I think she is happy. Hayley Lauder is a Scottish International who joined us at the beginning of the season and has settled in well, she is playing really well and has been a fantastic addition to our squad. Hayley has a great attitude and came to us to give herself the opportunity to develop her game and train on a more full time basis. As most of our players are not from Aland they do tend to socialize quite a lot together as well. On Sunday 9 of us were glued to the tv watching Italy v Spain. We ended up missing our ferry back to Aland and having to stay the night on the mainland.
SK: What should an interested player's next step be? SB: Any player interested should contact me by email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) asap including their footballing CV and if possible some video footage or references. I think the top 4 teams in our league would struggle in the new WSL but would be maybe a bit to strong for the majority of teams in FAWPL. The rest of our league would be similar to WPL. We are definitely one of our league's top sides.
ABOVE: Pictured with their trophy and medals as champions in 2009
MORE ABOUT THE CLUB:
In 2004 Åland's clubs Lemlands IF and IF Finströms Kamraterna decided to strengthen the women's football in the region. Their combined team operated under Lemlands IF using name Åland United. United managed promotion to the top national women's league, the Naisten Liiga, in 2005. In 2008 other Ålandic clubs Sunds IF, IFK Mariehamn and Saltviks IF joined in the cooperation and Åland United became an independent, pure women's football club.
In 2009 Åland United won the championship and played in the 2010-11 UEFA Women's Champions League.They started in the round of 32 and lost both legs to reigning champion Turbine Potsdam. In subsequent seasons Åland has been 3rd (2010) and 4th (2011).
Åland United has produced a few really good international players for both national teams but also for for instance clubs in the Swedish top league. Annica Sjölund (now in Jitex, Sweden) is probably the best known player as remaining a regular for Finland´s womens´national squad.
Other players raised on the Åland Islands who has come through to various Finland squads are Mathilda Mörn (resigned 2011 from Djurgården, Sweden) , Caroline Sjöblom (also resigned 2011 from Djurgården, Sweden) and Sarah Engblom (resigned in 2010 after many years as captain of Åland United). All 3 of them made Finland´s U23 squad in several internationals.
From the current squad young Adelina Engman (born 1994) just did her debut for Finland´s women agains Belgium and is picked for Euro Qualifiers in june. Even Maiju Ruotsalainen, who is born outside Åland but is currently playing her 4th season in Åland United, has been selected for Finland a couple of times after joining ÅU. A number of youth internationals have also through the years been played by several Åland United players.
A new thing since English head coach Steve Beeks signed is that we also have international players from other countries in our squad. Pille Raadik and Hayley Lauder have both played full internationals for Estonia and Scotland. As the development goes it looks more and more likely that ÅU is going to be a club for players who wish to come forward and build themselves an international career.