Reipas (Finland), HJK (Finland), MyPa (Finland), Ajax (Holland),
FC Barcelona (Spain), Liverpool FC (England), Ajax (Holland), FC
Lahti (Finland), Hansa Rostock (Germany), Malmö FF (Sweden)
Champions League winner (Ajax) 1996 Champions League top scorer (Ajax) 2004 Dutch League Champions (Ajax)
Jari Olavi Litmanen (born February 20, 1971 in Lahti) is a
Finnish footballer, widely considered the country's greatest
ever. An icon of Finnish football, he was chosen as the best
Finnish player of the last 50 years by the Football Association
of Finland in the UEFA Jubilee Awards in 2004. Litmanen also
finished 42nd on the Suuret suomalaiset ("Greatest Finns")
voting the same year.
Litmanen currently plays for Malmö FF in the Swedish Allsvenskan,
and is the captain of the Finnish national team. He has also
represented Reipas Lahti, HJK Helsinki, MyPa and FC Lahti in
Finland as well as Ajax, Barcelona, Liverpool and Hansa Rostock
abroad. Litmanen is a classic playmaker with excellent technique
and vision, and has played either as an attacking midfielder or
withdrawn forward throughout his career. He became the first
Finnish footballing superstar while playing for Ajax in the mid-1990s,
but consistent injury troubles have plagued his career in later
Litmanen was born into a strong footballing family. His father,
Olavi Litmanen, was also a Finnish international and a Reipas
player. His mother Liisa also played for Reipas at the women's
highest level. Litmanen was a natural sporting talent as a boy,
and also played many other sports besides football. He was
especially good at ice-hockey, but at the age of 15 he chose
football as his main ambition.
Litmanen became a father in November 2005, when his girlfriend
Ly Jürgenson gave birth to a son.
Litmanen made his first team debut for Reipas in Finland's top
division Mestaruussarja at the age of just 16 in 1987. After
four seasons at his home-town club he moved to Finland's biggest
club, HJK Helsinki, for the 1991 season and then again to MyPa
for the 1992 season. At MyPa he was coached by Harri Kampman,
who later became his agent. Litmanen won the Finnish Cup with
MyPa before moving abroad in the summer of 1992.
Litmanen had been chased by a host of European clubs, but in the
end it was Ajax Amsterdam who bought him. His first season in
the Netherlands was spent in Dennis Bergkamp's shadow, but when
Bergkamp moved to Inter it was Litmanen who was given the famous
number 10 shirt. He scored 26 goals in the 1993–1994 season,
becoming the league's top scorer, and leading Ajax to the title.
It was, however, in the UEFA Champions League that Litmanen made
his name. He was the leading star of Louis van Gaal's team which
reached the final twice in a row. The first time, against AC
Milan in 1994–1995, they won. In 1995–1996 Litmanen was the
Champions League top scorer with nine goals, and also scored in
the final against Juventus, which, however, Ajax lost. He also
won the Intercontinental Cup with Ajax in 1995, and came third
in the voting for the Ballon d'Or, having finished eight the
In total Litmanen spent seven years in Amsterdam, winning four
Dutch championships and three Dutch Cups. He also became one of
the most popular players and a legend at the club, and was given
a memorable farewell (together with Danny Blind who was retiring)
in his last match at the ArenA in 1999.
As Litmanen's contract with Ajax had expired, he was able to
leave the club for free, and was re-united with his old boss van
Gaal at FC Barcelona in 1999. His stint with the club was,
however, largely plagued by injuries, and when van Gaal was
replaced by Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, his chances of playing became
even smaller. In the end, Litmanen was given a free transfer by
Barcelona in January 2001, and he moved to Liverpool.
Litmanen was hailed as "one of the most exciting signings
Liverpool have ever made" by the manager Gérard Houllier upon
signing for the club he had supported as a boy. But, once again,
injuries and Houllier's inability to fit him into his 4–4–2
formation meant that Litmanen was given little playing time.
However, he was a part of the Liverpool team that won the "cup
treble" (Worthington Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup) in 2001. Litmanen
was again given permission to move clubs for free after he had
become frustrated with his situation after the 2001–2002 season.
Litmanen decided to return to Ajax, and was given a hero's
welcome with the crowd once again singing his name. He also
played quite a good season in 2002–2003, and was one of the key
players as Ajax reached the quarter-finals of the Champions
League. Much of the 2003–2004 season, though, was once again
spent on the sidelines, and once again, in the spring of 2004,
Litmanen was released.
Litmanen's return to Finland was much hyped, and was hailed as "the
return of the king". Unusually big crowds of over 10,000 turned
up to matches to see their hero – more often than not just to
find out that Litmanen wasn't able to play. All in all, his
stint at FC Lahti turned out to be a big disappointment for all
Litmanen was then given one more chance to play in one of
Europe's top leagues when he was signed by German Bundesliga
strugglers Hansa Rostock in January 2005 to help save them from
relegation. Rostock's form improved significantly after
Litmanen's arrival, and he had the longest run of first-team
football in recent memory. In the end, though, Hansa were
relegated, which ended Litmanen's stint at the club.
Litmanen joined Malmö FF in July 2005 in a bid to help the
Swedes to qualify for the Champions league. This bid, however,
failed, and Litmanen himself was injured during the whole of the
autumn, only making a few appearances. He is set to continue his
career with Malmö in the 2006 season.