On Wednesday the signing of Eero Markkanen, a 23-year-old Finnish forward currently playing for AIK Solna in Sweden's Allsvenskan, was confirmed on the website of his agent, Ville Lyytikäinen. Markkanen is set to start his Madrid career with the club's reserve team, Real Madrid Castilla.
The site quotes the young Jyväskylä native as saying: "We had a few other alternatives, but we decided to grasp this excellent challenge. Right from the start, it was a pleasant surprise for us how much the new club knew about me, my strengths and my areas for improvement."
The completion of his move to Real Madrid caps a memorable 12 months for Markkanen. He cannot expect anything like the adulation or riches showered on Madrid’s other new signing James Rodriguez—Markkanen is definitely not a ‘Galactico’.
Nevertheless, a move this big seemed scarcely possible last year, when Markkanen was sent on loan to HJK Helsinki in an effort to secure a move to the capital. His career seemed to be heading nowhere, still stuck in Finland at 22 having never played for the national team at any age group.
"Eero the Hero"
Markkanen had played a lot of games on loan in the third tier--and scored plenty of goals--but was in danger of seeing his dreams of a professional career slip away as Jyväskylän Jalkapalloklubi (JJK) slid towards relegation from the top flight, Veikkausliiga. The financially-troubled club let him go to HJK on loan as they cut back on salaries.
Things didn't work out at HJK. He got little playing time and left to try his luck in Sweden. AIK offered a contract after a successful trial, and Markkanen quickly made an impact, scoring six goals in 14 games with the Swedish giants. When he scored a spectacular strike from 30 metres against local rivals Djurgården, the Swedish football media started to pay him a little more attention.
The club's fans even christened him ‘Eero the Hero’. He seemed to have hit the big time in the Nordic context, but he's now set for an even bigger test. Real Madrid Castilla play in the third tier of the Spanish league system, and Markkanen won't be a big star in La Liga right away.
Nevertheless, as star French manager Zinedine Zidane's first signing, he will have every opportunity to develop and should be guaranteed playing time.
The son of a professional basketball player, Markkanen grew up on the terraces at JJK’s Harju stadium. He travelled to away games with the club’s fan group, Harjun Pojat, and made the club central to his life even before he played for the first team.
On a day off from training with AIK earlier this year, he knew what he would do. He wasn’t tempted to go shopping in Stockholm or watch a film, or even get to know his new team-mates.
Instead he took a flight to his home town in Central Finland and dropped in on his old club. On Facebook, they posted a picture of him licking envelopes and said he was helping out with the season tickets the club was mailing to supporters.
It's unlikely Markkanen or Rodriguez will do anything like that at Real Madrid, but the well-grounded late developer from Finland is likely to savour every moment of his new adventure.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that media started to pay attention after a goal against IF Elfsborg. That goal was scored against Djurgården.