The 21-year-old UEFA Euro player of the Finnish national team “Helmarit” – Katriina Talaslahti – has won football’s most coveted award …
The 21-year-old UEFA Euro player of the Finnish team “Helmarit” has won football’s most coveted award and already represented the world’s top clubs. The next goal is even tougher: “Let’s see when it will happen”, says Katriina Talaslahti – the goalkeeper for FC Fleury 91.
Finland women’s national football team is also known by the nickname “The Boreal Owls” – shortly in Finnish “Helmarit”. Helmarit’s squad has remained very uniform and almost unchanged in recent years. However, one newcomer in the A national team during the spring was Katriina Talaslahti the young goalkeeper, who after making her debut in April, was finally included in the Finnish European Championship squad as well.
The 21-year-old Talaslahti is currently the youngest player the Finnish national team and the only player born in the 21st century. The SuomiFutis.com interviewed Talaslahti shortly after the European Championship selections. The goalkeeper’s season in France at FC Fleury 91 had ended a week and a half earlier. During the interview week, she maintained her fitness by training once a day with other players who had already finished their season before the rest of the Helmarit squad joined the preparation camp for the European Championships on Monday 20.6.
Talaslahti’s feelings were naturally high after the European Championships squad selection. The players found out about their selection two days before the Helmarit press conference by email.
- It’s really great to join Helmarit in the European championships. There will be good matches for sure. It will be really interesting and exciting to spend time together as a team during the next month, Talaslahti says.
- After all, it has been my dream to be part of the Finnish national team. When I was younger, maybe I didn’t think about it that much, but when I moved to France to play, I started to think about the national team more. It’s not so obvious that Finland will participate in every Championships. This is a big deal for everyone.
Talaslahti admitted that she had been waiting for an invitation to the national team for quite a long time. As a young goalkeeper, she spent several years in the top European organizations of FC Bayern Munich and Olympique Lyon, but her invitation to the Helmarit came not until this season, when matches and playing minutes began to come regularly in the FC Fleury 91 team.
- Yes, I waited a long time for the invitation. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play so much in Lyon. I did the same work in training there as I do today, but it was harder to show when I didn’t get to play. The fact that I got to the EURO squad now is a great thing, Talaslahti stated with a smile that could be heard through her voice.
A year in Germany turned into a permanent move abroad
Katriina Talaslahti’s career path is very rare for a Finnish soccer player, and especially unique for a Finnish female soccer player. She moved abroad from Finland when she was only 13 years old. The family made the decision entirely in terms of football. A comparison that comes to mind from the men’s side is the Finnish national team player Marcus Forss who also moved to England at the age of 13 to build his career.
Talaslahti’s journey abroad began at the time when she was playing in FC Honka in 2014 and was asked to keep her shape during her summer vacation week by training with the 1. FC Nuremberg girls’ team. A few days later, the club asked her if she would like to stay in the club for the coming season, and on these days the goalkeeper is still on the international path.
Talaslahti spent a year in Nuremberg, in Germany. From there, the journey continued to the German giant FC Bayern Munich, and four years later, in the summer of 2019, to the world’s top team Lyon. Not even for a moment has Talaslahti regretted her decision to leave her home country when she was young.
- At first I thought that I would stay there for a year and then come back home to Finland. However, I really liked Germany and it was easy to live there. Also, football was so much better there. I got into it very well, and I wasn’t on a different level, but actually on the same skill level.
- Then before the 2014-2015 season ended, I got a call. We had played against Bayern and they called and asked if I would like to come and play for them.
FC Bayern Munich’s offer was a really big deal. Talaslahti got a professional contract at the age of 14 and started getting paid for playing. Although she initially played for Bayern’s under-17 team, she also trained every day with women’s first team.
- Everything changed when I a big club wanted me to play for them. I decided myself that I want to continue in Germany. Since then, I have been able to move forward in my career with my skills. I was able to show them what level I’m at and that I could keep getting better. This whole journey has been the best decision I’ve done.
Lyon called next
In the 2016-2017 season, Bayern’s under-17s won the WU17 Bundesliga, and Talaslahti was the team’s first goalkeeper. Between 2017-2019, Talaslahti already practiced regularly with the first team that played “The Women’s Bundesliga”, while she was the first goalkeeper of Bayern’s second team in the German second Bundesliga. However, with the first team, she was on the bench in official matches.
In the summer of 2019, another important phone call followed, when Lyon was asked about Talaslahti’s willingness to transfer to their organization. Talaslahti says that perhaps the most important factor in moving to Lyon was the fact that Lyon’s women’s team had a full-time goalkeeping coach, while at Bayern the goalkeeper coach worked only four days a week at the time. Great determination and a huge desire to develop can be heard throughout Talaslahti’s voice. She often emphasizes how important high-quality coaching is to her.
The Talaslahti family moved with their daughter to Nuremberg when the adventure abroad began. Also, during the time in Munich, the family was strongly present during the shuttles between Finland and Munich, however, later Katriina moved to Lyon alone.
- My parents and my whole family are very into football and they have always been supporting me. There have been long periods when they have definitely seen my every game in person. It has really been encouraging and showed me that they believe in me.
Talaslahti spent two seasons in Lyon’s top team. For the 2021-2022 season, she moved to another French league club, FC Fleury 91. FC Fleury was promoted to the first French league for the 2017-2018 season and finished the season with the best league position in its history after being fourth in the league. In addition, Fleury made it to the semi-finals of the French Cup. However, the tough trio Lyon, PSG, and Paris FC were better in the league, but Fleury took the scalp of the latter in the quarterfinals of the Coupe de France after extra time.
Talaslahti justifies her decision to transfer with the need for more playing time. The season with Fleury was excellent on a personal level as well, as Talaslahti played 14 league matches, and kept a clean sheet in seven of them. She conceded only 14 goals. Of all the league games played by Talaslahti, ten ended in Fleury’s victory and four in defeat.
- I was at the age when I had to get more time on the field. The good season in Fleury showed that I can play at high level in the same league as Lyon.
Talaslahti is a full-time professional football player in France. She has also studied business administration and economics at the international university HELBUS Helsinki. Right now, though, studies are on hiatus, with the main focus being strictly on football. Acquiring language skills has been an important factor in my career path, as the language in both Lyon and Fleury is French. Talaslahti speaks both fluent German and French, and of course English.
“That victory will go down in my history”
Talaslahti spent a total of six years at a young age in top organizations in Europe, four years in FC Bayern Munich from 2015-2019 and two years in Olympique Lyon from 2019-2021. Bayern is also one of Germany’s giants on the women’s side, and in the 2018-2019 season, they reached the semifinals of the Women’s Champions League.
With their eight championships, Lyon is the most successful team in the Women’s Champions League. The same also applies to the French league, in which Lyon was crowned champion no less than 14 times in a row between 2007 and 2020. Also, Lyon is generally regarded as the best women’s team in the world, and is by many measures the pioneer club in women’s football.
Lyon won during Talaslahti’s first season 2019-2020 the treble including Ligue 1, the French Cup and the UEFA Champions League. In the Champions League final played in August 2020, Lyon defeated Wolfsburg 3-1. Talaslahti sat on the bench in the final together with the Spanish national team goalkeeper Lola Gallardo.
Both Gallardo and Talaslahti had to watch the Champions League matches from the bench during both of their seasons with Lyon, since Lyon’s first goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi played and had been chosen as the best goalkeeper in the world four times. Bouhaddi was also chosen as the best goalkeeper in the Women’s Champions League in the 2019-2020 season. This summer, both Talaslahti and Gallardo will participate in the European Championships, however Bouhaddi withdrew from the French national team in 2020 after disagreements with head coach Corinne Diacre.
Although she didn’t get much playing time in Lyon, Talaslahti is very satisfied that she was part of the very top team for two years.
- The time in Lyon was not necessarily the easiest, but perhaps the most rewarding in terms of my development. Hence, when I moved to Lyon, the intention was not only to win, but to develop with a full-time goalkeeper coach.
- Of course, with that “gang” in Lyon, you got the feeling that you really played with the best of the best in the world and you were one of them. I trained with them every day and we won the Champions League, the Coupe de France and the league. We also went to the USA to play and won the tournament there (ed. note. hard level invitational tournament International Champions Cup).
In August 2020, Talaslahti became the first Finnish woman to win the Champions League. Among male players, only Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä have been able to do the same. Talaslahti fondly remembers the star moment from almost two years ago, saying it has been one of the biggest highlights in her career so far.
- Even though I didn’t play in the Champions League final myself, I had done preparatory training the day before, in which I was fully involved in the group. For the final, I was named in the lineup as one of the team’s three goalkeepers. It has been the best moment of my life to win the Champioins League in 2020 and to do it with that team.
- It has been my big dream to be able to win the Champions League. Of course, the history books show that I was the first Finnish woman to win it, so it has a big meaning for me. Especially when you have been in an excellent training environment and while still being so young. It definitely brought a lot of momentum going forward.
- That Women’s CL victory will go down in my history. It’s great to look back in the future I remember that I was involved. My next dream is to play full minutes in the Champions League final. That’s the next step, but we’ll see when it happens and with which team, Talaslahti laughs.
There are a lot of players I know in the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 teams
Lyon has been and continues to team with the biggest world star players in women’s football. Talaslahti also got many good friends from her previous clubs. She keeps in touch with some of them every week, with others a little less often.
Talaslahti mentions the Spanish goalkeeper Lola Gallardo as a particularly good friend of hers. It is also great to face her in Helmarit’s European Championship opener against Spain. Currently, Gallardo represents Atlético Madrid.
- Yes, we both congratulated each other when we got invited to the national team squads. It’s great that I can see my friends there in the tournament.
Other familiar faces at the European Championships include Damaris Egurrola (she is still in Lyon), who recently switched from the Spanish national team to the Dutch national team. As good friends, Talaslahti also lists Janice Cayman, who plays in the Belgian EC team and is still in Lyon, the “really close” Australian national team defender Ellie Carpenter, and the English legend Jodie Taylor, who moved from Lyon to the United States a year ago.
Among the players from the teams playing in the Finnish group, Talaslahti also knows Denmark’s Signe Bruun and Germany’s Sydney Lohmann very well. Together with Lohmann, Talaslahti played in Bayern Munich’s U17 team and second team. Nowadays, Lohmann is of the star players of Bayern’s first team.
Artificial grass caused some injuries
In FC Fleury 91, the media interest is still smaller than in Lyon and the organization is also significantly narrower than in Lyon. However, according to Talaslahti, the conditions for training and playing are equally good. Fleury is putting resources into the women’s team, as the club’s men’s team plays in France’s fourth tier, while Lyon’s men’s team regularly fights for the top positions in Ligue 1.
Fleury 91 has among others three Polish and two Cameroonian national team players. Talaslahti also thinks that coach Fabrice Abriel is the right person to coach Fleury 91.
- It was a good choice for me to go to Fleury. I play hard games there. It is really important for a goalkeeper to get chances and to not just stand in the goal. It’s been nice that not every game in the league is 8-0, but it can be 2-2, 2-0 or 1-0. In Lyon, the goalkeeper could just stand there since there wasn’t much to do during the game.
In Talaslahti’s opinion, training is at the similar level in Fleury as in Lyon, and the debut season at the club was easy because the French league and its high professional level was already familiar. The official goal of the 2021-2022 season to reach the top five was exceeded as they finished fourth in the league. Next season Fleury will start chasing a place in the top three in the league.
- It’s nice to see that the president of our club, Mr. Pascal Bovis, really helps and supports us every day. He always comes to watch our games and motivates the players, Talaslahti praises.
Talaslahti lives near the club’s headquarters, in Fleury-Mérogis, about 35 kilometers from the center of Paris. She is satisfied with her last season. The only thing she missed was 6-7 games due to injuries. Talaslahti thinks it was partly due to the fact that she switched to playing on artificial grass after a long time.
- It’s been the happiest year in a long time that I’ve been able to play full minutes, but it’s also been sad in some ways since I had some small injuries. If I had been healthy, I probably would have played nearly in all the games throughout the whole year. I had a finger injury, and in the second and third last game I had hip problems that were caused by playing on the artificial grass, Talaslahti said.
A certain climax of the season was to play two matches against former club Lyon. It is hard to get a tougher measure that that at club team level as Lyon is on the absolute top in the women’s football.
- It was nice to play against Lyon, when I was finally able to show my skills to them on the field. “I didn’t get a chance in Lyon, but now I got to play against them in Fleury.” We also played really well. Unfortunately, in that second game at home, I got hit in my eye so I couldn’t see anything with my right eye and had to sub out of the field.
“One day I will still play in the Champions League”
Talaslahti extended her contract by one year with FC Fleury 91 after a good autumn season. Therefore, at least next season she will continue with the Fleury. She considers the French league (D1 Arkema) one of the best leagues in Europe, so that’s why Talaslahti is in no rush to play somewhere else.
In the future Talaslahti’s aims to establish a starting spot in the Finnish national team. With FC Fleury 91, she wants to finish the next season as high as possible, in addition she has also ambitious goals to go even further.
- “Playing in the Champions League final will eventually happen during my career,” says Talaslahti confidently.
There is no main preference when it comes to the club or country where I would want to play the future of Talaslahti.
- The most important thing for me is good coaches and especially the goalkeeper coach. Of course, I want to stay on a high level and in a good team. Those are my criteria at the moment. So, my decision is not really dependent on the country.
- Maybe one day I would like to go to the USA, but at least at the moment I enjoy playing in Europe. I’ve played in Germany and France and I know what it’s like there. I’ve always liked France. Maybe at some point I can see myself going back to Germany but I’ll see about that later.
The tall, 181-centimeter Talaslahti, sees playing with her feet and opening the game as her strengths, and has always been grateful for the support of her family. The family members are her “biggest fans” and naturally they are also going to England to watch the European Championships.
Katriina’s older sisters Pauliina and Johanna have also played soccer. Pauliina joined Nuremberg at the same time with Katriina, played in FC Bayern and from there Pauliina moved to play for a university in NCAA D1 league in the US. The games continued until last year, but then she stopped after injuries and graduating from the university. The eldest sister Johanna Tiinus, on the other hand, played in FC Honka when she was young, and has worked for a long time in coaching field for example in clubs like HJK and FC Honka. As of today, Tiinus is the executive director of GrIFK in Finland.