WHEN Mika-Matti Paatelainen first arrived in Scotland in 1987, there was little or no indication that he would have such a long-lasting impact on the game in this country. A raw if promising 20-year-old, he joined a Dundee United side which had reached the UEFA Cup final just a few months earlier, and was still full of celebrated names.
He might have sunk without trace. Instead, thanks to a heap of hard work and more than a little talent, he made his mark in a five-year spell at Tannadice, and subsequently at a host of other clubs. Few would now bet against him being similarly successful as a manager.
The oldest of three brothers, all of whom went on to play professionally, Mixu began his senior career with FC Haka in the Finnish town of Valkeakoski. He played just under 50 times for Haka before being offered a month's trial with United, and impressed Jim McLean enough to be offered a contract before the month was up.
United paid 100,000 for him, and made four times that when they sold him on to Aberdeen. After two years at Pittodrie he moved south, to Bolton Wanderers, in 1994. The highlight of his time there was the League Cup final of 1995, when Bolton lost 2-1 to Liverpool.
He moved to Wolves for the 1997-98 season, and then came the move which was to have a big influence on the trajectory his career has subsequently taken. The move in question was to Easter Road, and to a Hibs side who had just been relegated to the First Division.
He was a well-known figure by then, respected for his consistency, but perhaps underestimated. Broad, bulky and physically powerful, he was never going to win any prizes for elegance, and his lack of finesse at times led to him being underestimated, as he later acknowledged.
"Yeah, the unsung hero," he said back in 2002, during his second spell on the books at Easter Road. "When I first came to Hibs I was 31.
"My style is a little clumsy, and I have never been the quickest of players, to excite people with pace. I'm just the Steady Eddie who grinds it out every week, tries hard, fights. I win most of the duels I go into, and if I get respect I am happy."
If at times he scored a spectacular goal, more often than not he was on target purely through good positioning, and the ability and strength to force his way through to the ball. In other words, he was an old-fashioned, bustling centre-forward, and as such was ideally suited to the Scottish game.
A member of the Hibs squad which won promotion back to the SPL at the first time of asking, he then became a central figure in one of the club's most celebrated victories of recent years – the 6-2 triumph over Hearts in October 2000. Paatelainen scored a hat-trick, cementing his place in the affections of Hibs fans.
When he left Easter Road in 2001 he did not initially depart with thoughts that he would soon return. But, after a season with Strasbourg, he found himself back in Edinburgh, where he and his family had settled.
While without a club he kept himself fit, and it was during a jog round Arthur's Seat one day that he met Bobby Williamson, who had succeeded McLeish as Hibs manager. Williamson invited him to rejoin the team, and so he was back for the 2002-03 season, and showed he could still do a job by scoring seven goals in 24 appearances.
It was in 2003 that his international career finally came to an end after 14 years. He made 70 appearances in all for his country, scoring 18 goals.
Paatelainen left Hibs at the end of that single season back, and moved on first to St Johnstone and then to St Mirren, each for just one league campaign. The intelligence and insight he showed in his play had by that time earmarked him as a probable manager, and he started off down that road by taking the reins at Cowdenbeath in 2005.
Another single season there, during which time he signed his brothers, Markus and Mikko, for the Fife club, and he was off again – this time back to his homeland, where he took charge of TPS Turku. The five-year contract he signed with TPS may have hinted at a desire to stay in Finland for the longer term, but if it did, that desire was overriden by a stronger urge to prove himself as a manager at a higher level.
Having taken TPS to third place in the Finnish League he had given further proof of his promise. He had already been mentioned in despatches for the Hibs job before John Collins was appointed as successor to Mowbray, and once Collins moved on he was immediately regarded as one of the front-runners.
Now he is in the job, the question must surely be not how long he takes to get Hibs back on the right track, but how long it will be before another club come calling.
Young 'colossus' made an immediate impression on stalwarts of Tannadice
MIXU Paatelainen made a big impression when he arrived at Dundee United as a 20-year-old, but this had more to do with his physical dimensions than his ability.
When the Finn walked through the door at Tannadice, former Dundee United midfielder Eamonn Bannon was immediately bowled over by his size. What he could add in terms of skill to a side which had just contested a Uefa Cup final took longer to announce itself.
But when it did, it was clear manager Jim McLean had made another astute signing, with some wily ploys required to bring the player to Scotland in the first place.
"He was a guy who you thought at first: 'Is he going to make it, is he fit enough?'," remembered Bannon. "But he really turned things around and made himself into a really good professional. I mean, he played at Hibs in his mid-thirties."
Paatelainen was just out of his teenage years when he landed in Tayside, with the United connection having been made via his father, Matti, a former Finnish internationalist. He mentioned to a business associate in Scotland that his eldest son was a decent player.
Soon after, he was at United on a month-long trial that was cut short by McLean, who needed only this long to be convinced Paatelainen had the raw materials required to be a top performer.
United had a history of signing Nordic players, but this was McLean's first major venture into the foreign market.
"I just remember him as being big and shy at first," recalled Bannon. "And left-footed. He came over about the time when a restricted number of foreign players were allowed into the Premier League. He was on some sort of student permit – his dad had a printing works in Finland. I think it might have been some dodge to avoid the employment laws at the time."
"He was supposed to be working part-time at the printing works in Dundee, and training part-time with Dundee United," continued Bannon. "In actual fact, he obviously trained full-time with United, and whether he popped into the printing works on occasion, I don't know."
Paatelainen soon made his mark as a footballer, and started the Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic in 1988. He was substituted at half-time due to injury, but remained an integral part of the United side until he departed for Aberdeen in a 400,000 transfer in 1992.
"He very quickly established himself as a very big and strong, up-and-at 'em striker," said Bannon, who himself left Tannadice the season after Paatelainen arrived.
"I left in 1988, so I wouldn't say he was a good pal," said Bannon. "I was one of the older players and you tended not to mix so much with the younger players. In the beginning, he would come off the bench a lot. He used to play wide left, or up front. His big asset was his ability to cross the ball with his back to goal – he just whipped the ball round with his left foot. That and the fact he was obviously very good in the air.
"I never came across him again as player until he was at Hibs," continued Bannon. "By that time, rather like Craig Brewster, he had got a maturity about him, and had learned the position. He had turned into a really good pro.The last time I saw Mixu was a couple of years ago at a Spartans game, and he is still a colossus of a man. Hibs could do with someone like him on the pitch now."
MIXU PAATELAINEN FACTFILE
1967: Born 3 February, in Helsinki, Finland.
1987: Joins Dundee United from FC Haka for 100,000.
1988: Plays in Scottish Cup final. United lose 2-1 to Celtic.
1992: Signs for Aberdeen for 400,000. Plays as the Dons lose the League Cup final 2-1 to Rangers.
1993: On losing side again as Aberdeen go down 2-1 to Rangers in Scottish Cup final.
1994: Signs for Bolton.
1995: Plays in League Cup final as Bolton lose 2-1 to Liverpool. Bolton are promoted to the Premier League through the play-offs.
1996: Bolton are relegated, and Paatelainen manages just one goal in the Premier League.
1997: Moves on to Division 1 Wolves shortly after Bolton are promoted to the Premier League.
1998: Joins Hibernian, then in the First Division.
1999: Hibs are promoted to the Premier League, with Paatelainen scoring 12 goals in his first season.
2000: Hits nine goals for Hibs in 1999-2000 season. October – Scores famous hat-trick in 6-2 win against Hearts.
2001: Leaves Easter Road, after a 12-goal campaign, for a spell with French side Strasbourg.
2002: Returns to Hibs as a player but also helps out with coaching the youth team.
2003: Moves to St Johnstone as player-coach.
2004: Now 37, Paatelainen moves on to St Mirren as player-coach.
2005: August – Appointed manager of Cowdenbeath.
2006: October – Resigns as manager of Cowdenbeath, who he led to the Third Division title, and takes charge at TPS Turku in Finland.
2008: 10 January – Appointed Hibs manager.