It wasn't just the overnight snow, still lying on the shaded parts of Portsmouth's Eastleigh training ground, which helped Petri Pasanen to pronounce himself right at home with his new club. The Finland international defender, pitched into the injury-ravaged Pompey side so swiftly on his loan arrival from Ajax that he hadn't got around to finding out the names of all his team-mates, has been lavishly praised by his manager, Harry Redknapp, monarch of the game's bargain-snafflers, and welcomed by colleagues he can now readily identify.
How could it be otherwise when a modest, talented and cheerful 23-year-old from Finland can not only chat with them in flawless English but is also capable of a conversation with the club's Dutch players in their own language? When you have made a league debut in your homeland at 15, played 17 times for your country and gained Champions' League experience with Ajax, the tendency is not to be easily fazed. So the prospect of facing Newcastle's Alan Shearer and Laurent Robert in the Premiership this afternoon, and Thierry Henry and Robert Pires in next Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final with Arsenal, simply induces an anticipatory smile.
Equally at home at centre-half or right-back, though he prefers to operate at the heart of defence ("because you are a bit more in control"), Pasanen acknowledges: "These are good names but I have played many times against such names for Ajax. When we got to the Champions' League quarter-finals [in 2002-03] I played twice against Arsenal and they didn't score at all. But I don't need to be told such people are fantastic players, so we will have to be really careful."
Having started playing at seven in his home town of Lahti, Pasanen was a regular in the FC Lahti side by the age of 17. A year on, he was named Finland's player of the year, and in the summer of 2000 he signed a five-year contract with Ajax for a then-record Finnish league fee of £500,000.
A regular for the Dutch champions in his first season, Pasanen suffered a setback when he broke his foot at the start of the 2001-02 season and managed only one appearance. His place as a central defender regained last season, the tall, slim, fair-haired Finn turned out 71 times for Ajax and scored eight goals. "They were all headers, either from corners or free-kicks."
Pasanen lost his place in the Ajax defence this season because, he says, "they brought in some young players and I couldn't see myself getting back. I was either sitting on the bench or in the stand, when what I wanted to do was play football. So I informed my agent and asked him to see if there was maybe a club that wanted me. He told me Mr Redknapp was really eager to get me, so I thought OK."
Redknapp had to move quickly to snaffle Pasanen on loan until the end of the season ahead of Alan Curbishley's interest on behalf of Charlton. He joined Portsmouth on 5 January, played for them at Aston Villa the next day and has started every game since.
"I didn't know much about Portsmouth," he admitted. "They show English football on Dutch TV but I never saw any Pompey games. It was all quite strange, having only played in England before with Ajax. It's a new experience, quite different from Dutch football, much faster. In Holland it's more tactical, you work on looking at the weak points of opponents. Here, we just go out and play."
And how is it working out for him? "I am playing regularly, so that's one goal achieved." He thinks he has settled well and is already calling his colleagues "the lads". He is, of course, well aware of compatriots playing in the Premiership, but says: "I don't really have much contact with them. Finnish people like to be by themselves."
One fellow Finn with whom he was in close touch a week ago was Sami Hyypia. The occasion: Portsmouth's Cup replay win over Liverpool. "We talked a little bit before the game but not afterwards," said Pasanen. "I think the result was a big disappointment for him, he went straight to the dressing room. But we still have to go up to Liverpool and play them in the Premier-ship, so perhaps he will say more next time."
Pasanen's Ajax contract does not expire until the end of next season, so he is unsure about the future. For the moment, the aim is clear. "I don't think Portsmouth will be playing for the title, so the aim is just to stay in the Premiership. And maybe get a little luck against Arsenal and reach the semi-finals. That would be great for the fans." It would also go down a treat in Finland. And, who knows? It might even make Hyypia happier.
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