Jari Litmanen

Better late than never for Finnish superstar

Jari Litmanen is set for the Soccer Sevens - 15 years after his Hong Kong debut was washed out

James Tu

Finnish superstar Jari Litmanen will finally make his Hong Kong debut tonight - 15 years late.

The evergreen striker will appear for the Aegon Ajax All-Stars on the opening night of the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens at Hong Kong Football Club.

"I was here with Ajax 15 years ago when we were supposed to play a tour match," he recalled. "It was beautiful weather for four or five days, but then on the last day there was a huge storm, so we couldn't play.

"The ironic thing was, I was due to fly out immediately after the game, before the rest of the team, as I was needed in Finland to play for the national team. But in the end, the match was cancelled. So now I will finally get to play in Hong Kong - hopefully."

Litmanen could be forgiven for thinking history was repeating itself when he and his teammates landed in Hong Kong on Wednesday immediately after the black rainstorm warning that battered the city. But sunshine greeted the players yesterday when they held their first training session at HKFC.

At 42, Litmanen is still enjoying his soccer after a glittering 25-year career in which he earned 137 caps for Finland, won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995 and played for European giants Barcelona and Liverpool.

He helped Finnish club HJK to a league and cup double in 2011 before a knee operation forced him to miss 2012. "I haven't officially retired and I still haven't decided what to do," he said.

Litmanen is one of five new faces in the Aegon Ajax All-Stars squad for the Sevens as they defend the Masters Cup they won with a 6-1 victory over Hong Kong side Top Class.

Newcomers include Aron Winter, who played 84 times for the Netherlands and appeared for Lazio and Inter Milan in Italy, and fellow midfielder Kiki Musampa, who had spells with Malaga and Atletico Madrid in Spain, and Manchester City.

Other big names in the Masters competition include former England trio Teddy Sheringham, Peter Beardsley and Darren Anderton with local side CLA Discovery Bay, and the Rangers All-Stars with former Dutch internationals Arthur Numan and Michael Mols, and ex-Germany star Jorg Albertz. The main competition includes debutants Manchester City, defending champions Newcastle United and five-time winners Aston Villa.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Better late than never for Finnish superstar