The Big Interview - Teemu Tainio
Fri 11 September 2015, 16:15|Tottenham Hotspur
Teemu Tainio came out of Lapland to give his all for Spurs - his boyhood team - and played for Sunderland before a new challenge in the MLS and finally returning home to Finland. Ahead of our trip to the Stadium of Light, it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with the all-action midfielder, and possibly the club's greatest all-time javelin thrower...
If Teemu Tainio ever needed reminding just what his team-mates thought of him, tuning into a conversation between Jermaine Jenas and Ledley King - part of our fantastic Capital One Cup Final Live show - would have told him everything.
Previewing the final against Chelsea and looking back on our League Cup triumph against the Blues in 2008, that conversation went like this...
JJ: I tell you who was also brilliant in that second leg (against Arsenal in the semi-final), Teemu.
Ledley: He was so important.
JJ: Didier Zakora was a partner of mine, Luke Modric later down the line, but Teemu was a player I had a great relationship with.
Ledley: He was so calm. You just trusted him and that allowed you to go out to go and do your thing.
JJ: Exactly. I could go forward and play deeper but I was always caught between both. I wasn’t a top player at either, but when you focus your energy at one thing, going forward and scoring goals, you can be great and Teemu was one player who allowed me to do that. He would say to me ‘you don’t need to keep coming back here, I’ve got it covered’ and he did. I’ve never seen anyone read the game like him.
Ledley: He was brilliant.
JJ: Do you remember in training when you thought you could knock a pass by him and he’d be there almost before you passed it?
Ledley: When he was in the team, his record said we were a harder team to beat.
JJ: He was so under-rated and that’s another thing that sticks in my mind, thinking about that semi-final.
Below: Teemu celebrates with Paul Robinson on the final whistle of the 2008 League Cup Final
Teemu's is an amazing story of a youngster born in Lapland, who plied his trade around the world including his boyhood team, before returning home 16 years later and going out a champion.
First thing first - how did a young footballer get from Lapland to France?
Teemu: "When I was playing for the Finland Under-16 national team I had some invitations from clubs, two weeks at Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven and then Auxerre came up in France. It’s always when you play well in the youth internationals, there are always scouts there. All you have to do is be good enough and you’ll get scouted! When I was 14 I started the think that I might be doing well because I was already playing in the first team at TP-47 in Finland."
How much of a life-changer was that move to Auxerre?
Teemu: "I didn’t speak a word of French, but I learned fast. You have to go with your mind open. Everything was going to be different, lots of players are competing for the same place in the team and you have to be ready to take your chance when you get it. That is one message I would give to the younger players, when you go to a new team in a new country you have to adapt to that way of life as soon as you can."
You were already a Spurs fan when you joined us in 2005 – was that a special moment?
Teemu: "Yes, a dream come true. I remember the first week when I came here being a Spurs fan and now being at the club as a player, it was something really special. I don’t think too many players get the chance to play for the team they have supported as young boy and I was lucky enough to do it."
Do you remember those first days?
Teemu: "Yes, I was completed overwhelmed by it all! That first season went so fast!"
Below: Teemu's best goal for Spurs - in the 4-3 derby win at West Ham in 2006 - highlights from The Vault
You are such a great character - you fitted right in as the team was full of them!
Teemu: "We had a great time, a great team. That was one of our big strengths as a team, we were all comfortable with each other and helped each other out. That’s very important. You can buy a team of superstars but if the team doesn’t gel it’s never going to work and we had that spirit in the team."
Is is true you brought a javelin out in training?
Teemu: "That was my speciality! It’s funny, every time I went to a new team, it’s the first thing I did! Who wants to throw the javelin? No-one beat me!"
Was the highlight the 2008 League Cup win?
Teemu: "As a Spurs fan as well, it was something special every time, starting with the semi-final against Arsenal. The 5-1 win was one of my best games at Spurs. It was a great feeling. If we had lost the final that game might have disappeared in time, so I’m so pleased we won the final and that whole adventure was so nice."
What do you remember about the win at Wembley?
Teemu: "It was a great feeling. Chelsea went 1-0 up, we came back to win it and it was a fantastic day for everyone. When you go to a final and you come out a winner it’s a fantastic feeling. It was a tough game, it went to extra time and I managed to play about half-hour. It was great to play in that game. There were expectations on us to win something and it was nice to answer those expectactions. Going into the final, it was still Chelsea top of the league, they were favourites and it was great to go there as underdogs and win it. Every time I see the guys who played in the game we always talk about it. You could see how much it meant in everyone’s faces. It had been a while since the club had won something so it was fantastic to do it."
How would you sum up your time at Spurs?
Teemu: "Seeing this new training ground, I’m thinking I should play here now! I had injuries but I was always given confidence, if I hadn’t played for a couple of weeks, the gaffer would always put me back in the team. It was a shame to leave but I didn't want to just sit on the bench. That’s football. I just wanted to play."
You went up to Sunderland, who we now play on Sunday. Did you enjoy your time at the Stadium of Light?
Teemu: "Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. We had a difficult time to be honest but the fans are so passionate. The rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle is incredible. I played in that derby and we managed to win, so that was fantastic!"
Below: Typical Teemu! Photographed on our pre-season training camp at Evian, 2006
You played briefly at Birmingham City, Ajax and then went out to the MLS and New York Red Bulls. How was America?
Teemu: "They have such great potential there. They have some fantastic sports in America and if they continue building ‘soccer’ they have the chance to be one of the best in the world. The first year was strange because we played twice against everyone and it’s a huge country, so there was so much travelling. Then they changed it, we played twice against teams in the East and once against teams in the West, and that was better. It’s good fun to play, games are often end to end and there are some great players out there, I played with Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Tim Cahill, they are getting better and better players there."
You then returned 'home' to Finland and HJK Helsinki.
Teemu: "In my last season we won the league and the cup and qualified for the Europa League for the first time in 16 years, so that was fantastic. I went out on a high, as a winner."
You announce your retirement in March. How hard was it to quit?
Teemu: "Of course it's tough, but I had a great career especially coming out of Lapland! There aren’t too many footballers from there! I’m happy and proud that I had a good career, especially playing for Spurs! I’ve met great guys, great people and it’s been fantastic. Now it’s time to do something else."