After all, everyone knows Ari Hjelm's name. So really everything. Or at least everyone who followed domestic football in the slightest between 1981 and 2010.
Nicknamed the Brazilian legend “Zico”, Raholan Pyrkivän grew extremely efficiently both on the green and on the edge. Hjelm played a total of 289 matches in the Finnish Championship series between 1981 and 1994 in Ilves and 1995–96 in HJK and finished a whopping 152 goals.
This article was originally published in Sportsbook 21/2020. You will find similar stuff in the publication every week. Ordering instructions are here.
In the Bundesliga, Hjelm played 32 matches in the Stuttgarter Kickers shirt in the 1988-89 season and finished five goals. In the German Second League, Hjelm played a total of 71 matches and scored a full dozen hits.
At that, Hjelm had scored a hat trick. Picture from 1987.
Photo: Reijo Hietanen
Deepest in the hearts of Finnish footballers, Hjelm still played for the national team. In exactly one hundred A-games he played, Hjelm made 20 hits.
Hjelm scored his first goal for blue and white in March 1983 in the former East Germany Magdeburg, when Finland lost 1–3 to the GDR. Hjelm last hit the national team shirt more than twelve years later, on June 11, 1995, when Finland won the European Championship qualifiers in the European Championships in Greece 2–1. Jari Litmanen finished the second of Finland's goals. Today, Litmanen is the unofficial king of Finland and the official honorary captain of the Hjelm national team.
Hjelm ended his playing career due to a knee injury at HJK until the 1996 season. After that, he joined the rescue team of FC Ilves. In the seasons of 1999 and 2000, he took coaching from Harri Kampman at Tampere United. During his debut season as head coach in 2001, he led the first Finnish championship in the history of the TamU club. Gold also came in 2006 and -07. At the end of the 2010 season, Hjelm retired from coaching positions.
After that ... so what after?
Now, almost ten years later, it is appropriate to ask the classic question “where is he now?” Or more precisely: where has he been all these years?
There was always someone passing by
Let's go back to the end of autumn 2007. Tampere United, coached by Hjelm, had won the second consecutive Finnish championship, conquered the Cup, advanced to the third round of the Champions League qualifiers and dropped out of the Uefa Cup after losing to the French Grand Bordeaux team with 3-4 goals. Hjelm and TamU were on the brink of success.
It is a paradox that Hjelm’s biggest burn for coaching went out that same fall. With his ambition and hard work, Hjelm had come a long way as a player and achieved a lot as a coach.
And he wanted to move forward, as a national team coach.
- When Roy Hodgson was elected head coach (started in January 2006), I had attended the Football Association interviews. Hodgson was definitely a good choice at the time. He was a hard-working professional, and the result was good, Hjelm times.
In the fall of 2007, Hjelm thought he should be the next head coach of the national team.
As a coach, Ari Hjelm celebrated the Finnish championship in 2001, 2006 and 2007. In 2007, Hjelm was named "the hottest Finnish coach" on Veikkaus' cover.
Photo: Veli-Matti Parkkinen / Lehtikuva
- But after Hodgson left, the Football Association apparently did not negotiate with anyone. At least that’s the perception many have that Hodgson chose Stuart Baxter as his successor. Baxter just came from the bush, as an insider's choice, Hjelm says.
- My understanding was not enough. I had acquired international licenses and formal qualifications, we had won all the competitions in Finland in which we participated and did well in Europe, but success or a CV did not matter, Hjelm wonders.
The pain is easy to understand. In Finland, he had quickly won everything, and in Finland there was really only one chance to advance. And suddenly out of nowhere, a wall rose in front of career development.
- It was a really hard burn to get ahead in my career and succeed internationally, with the national team. When those opportunities weren’t given, it was a death blow to my coaching career. Baxter’s choice paralyzed my enthusiasm, Hjelm admits.
He coached Tampere United for another three years. When the three-year contract was coming to an end in the fall of 2010, there were only a few crumbs left in Baxter’s hourglass.
Towards the end of Baxter’s term, Hjelm was one of his loudest critics. When asked, he, as usual, said what he thought. Hjelm said that Baxter's time is over and the credibility of all Finnish football is being tested. He also wondered if the Football Association expected Baxter to resign himself.
- I've always been the kind of straight. That’s why probably someone likes me and another doesn’t. The job of the head coach is a result or out dun. If there is no result and there is no red thread to achieve it, then leaders need to make decisions, Hjelm emphasizes.
Hjelm still had cautious thoughts about the national team wash. Baxter was fired in November 2010, but Mixu Paatelainen was chosen to succeed him with a five-year contract.
HJK has fallen 3-0 and Tampere United is the Finnish champion in 2006.
Photo: Jussi Nukari
- That's enough for me. The cup went all the way. Even then, no negotiations were held with others. And I don’t understand that some long contracts are made directly. It left really shitty feelings for me and probably at least for Armstrong's Keke, and who among us had Finnish options. And the national team did really badly for many years, Hjelm says.
The recruitment world called
Hjelm decided to keep coaching for a gap year. During that time, he commented on Veikkausliiga on television, and in February 2012, the recruitment service Sihti ended up working. He was attracted there by the then CEO, Jukka-Pekka Annala from hockey background.
- I didn't know anyone else about the company. He talked me around, asked for tests and negotiations. We are on that road. We made a fair play agreement with Sihti to focus my full work on it. There, of course, it was initially thought that I was constantly staring at the washed-up football, Hjelm says.
While still in Sihti, Hjelm also continued as a TV commentator for a couple of seasons.
- I liked the TV thing, and it helped a lot in the meantime. It made it possible to leave sports life in style. I still got to be close to the football, but also to see the other side of the coin.
Soon Hjelm's decision was ripe - and final.
- I just couldn't find that spark anymore. I had been so excited to succeed that the disappointment was too great for me. At the same time, I grew a lot as a person. I thought now was the time to move on to other things in life.
- Many reminded me that I will return as a coach. They claimed I couldn't be away. That return has not come - and will not come! I don’t have a bit of a miss in sports, Hjelm says.
In a ten-year perspective, Hjelm says the decision was hard and cold at the time. He also admits that the solution was characteristic of him.
- I have some issues awful black and white. When I wasn’t selected for the national team, I got the feeling that it’s exactly the same as me, my coaching team, or the team doing. It frustrated.
- Now I think differently. But then ... I didn't know anything I was going to do. I wanted to have a gap year, but it became a continuum. There were some offers, too, but I didn’t come up with any idea that I would coach for some goal mediocre or survival. Good thing I wasn’t left hanging and waiting to be washed. I am proud of the fact that I stayed in my decision, he says.
Coach Hjelm was able to support the championship award right after 2007.
Photo: Veli-Matti Parkkinen / Lehtikuva
On the road
Now Hjelm, 58, is busy. Or has he always been, fast-paced at least.
While Hjelm in the past years ran away from defenders, today he lets go on the roads. Working as Adecco Group Finland's Regional Director for Southern and Western Finland knows a lot about touring around Vaasa to Lohja. Adecco bought Sihti in the summer of 2016, and at the same time changed the name of Hjelm's employer.
- Such 50-60,000 kilometers come to the car's meter every year, Hjelm says.
The programs have forty subordinates. Working with these will greatly help your player and coaching background.
- Sports career I have left the country a disciplined and systematic, and I have the ambition to succeed. Coach time taught me to make decisions even in tight spots. The level of requirements in this job is certainly at least as tough as being a coach, and the result is expected. But I don’t go to sleep at night, even though expectations are growing all the time.
He draws lessons from Martti Kuusela, for example, on leading people and the team.
- As the human leader, he got close, but was the authority when the situation came. He knew how to deal with people and got the most out of them. It is also important in working life, Hjelm points out.
Hjelm emphasizes that he is not bitter about his decision to stop coaching.
- Not a drop. I'm really happy with my life and my work. Now, when my own work recruiting people, I figured even that one task can only choose one person. It is often a pity when there can be many good applicants. And now I have the opportunity for any kind of international assignments, as Adecco operates in more than 70 countries, Hjelm says.
The programs are still asked from time to time about going back to football. The decision has been made, and it holds.
- I'm proud of my career soccer world. It was a really great time. Sport was and always will be a big part of my life, but time for everyone. My job is so interesting and takes so much time that I don’t want to and I wouldn’t even be able to coach anymore. The best part is that I can take advantage of my history and draw from it for my current job. No time in my life has been wasted.
But he hasn’t left football altogether.
- I went to watch the games of our older son Jonne (played in the Veikkausliiga until 2016). Our 18-year-old son Aleksi-son is playing at Kolmonen's TKT, and I go to see his games and trainings. I also play lynx and national team games. And I watch a lot of football on TV, Hjelm says.
Ari Hjelm, 58, currently works as a regional director in a recruitment company.
Photo: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva
And then drop a little surprise.
- I've always held a lot of German football, but now I like more the Premier League. There, the game is really intense, played at a really good pace, and the right solutions and choices are made at a fast pace. I especially like Liverpool. Their game shows Jürgen Klopp's German world of thought. The attack should always end with a goal attempt, preferably as soon as possible. They are the best in the reversal game and counterattacks. That's what we did well with TamU.
Today, Hjelm's own sports are limited to walking and golf.
- An artificial joint was put on my knee ten years ago, and I can't really do anything else. It’s mentally pretty heavy to sit for days long meetings, so in the evenings I try to go for a walk, sauna and go to bed on time. I wake up at six to a new day at work, he says.
HJK was annoyed
Still makes sense to look a little in the rearview mirror. Was there anything left to be done or not achieved in football, that is, in addition to its national team wash?
- I would have liked to be able to train HJK. In the last season of my playing career in 1996, I was honored to be the first out-of-ring captain in HJK, and it would have been nice to try coaching with those resources. In a way, I couldn’t try my very last limits as a coach, Hjelm thinks.
- But it is said that there are two types of coaches: those who have been fired and those who are still fired someday. I have not received - and I will not! Hjelm hoses.
And laughs wide behind.