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HJK signings start world's longest pre-season

December is not traditionally a month for football in these climes, but one successful club in Helsinki are already looking to build for next year. HJK Helsinki hope that two strong reinforcements announced on Thursday will help bring the international success they crave.

Markus Heikkinen.

The longest pre-season in the world is getting started in Finland, and champions HJK have made three big signings to kick things off. Markus Heikkinen is returning to Finland from Norway at the age of 35, offering his younger team-mates a steadying influence.

Veli Lampi has also signed after a spell in Ukraine, giving the club another option at fullback. The two players bring more than a hundred Finland caps between them.

The third signing is new CEO Aki Riihilahti, who has been managing the club's stadium and now moves to take control of all aspects of the club.

After five championships in a row, Riihilahti's main challenge will be to guard against complacency.

"You have to have that everyday challenge so you look where is our goal, where is what we want to aim for as a club, as a team," said Riihilahti. "So obviously the improvement, we want to bring every individual here to a level and standard so that we can compete in Europe. That's our goal."

European success would lift HJK to a new level. Domestic competition has been weak, and HJK's overpowering financial muscle ensures they are likely to remain dominant in Veikkausliiga. That is not enough for the new man at the helm, who talks of building “a club, not just a team”.

"We looked at what happened last year in the European games," remembers Riihilahti. "We still had some imbalance in the defence in those games, and Markus and Veli bring us not just experience, but they are also people who can improve other players. This is exactly the strategy of the club, we look for players who have done it before, and also those who are younger."

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