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Teemu Tainio (left) tackles Blackburn midfielder David Dunn

Teemu Tainio gets stuck in for Sunderland


It is a commonly held misconception that the MLS is little more than an early retirement home for Europe’s finest.

Many persist with this image of the league for whatever reason, be it the recent arrival of admittedly unfit stars like Freddie Ljungberg and Thierry Henry, or a mindset carried over from the days of Pele and Beckenbauer.

A number of players have sought to reverse this line of thinking by joining while they still have plenty to offer. David Beckham made a real point of this, but in fact others like Landon Donovan, Joel Lindpere and Omar Bravo have perhaps achieved more towards this end.

And they have been joined by another international player with plenty to offer, in Finland utility-man Teemu Tainio.

Tainio enjoyed a successful recent trial with Hans Backe’s New York Red Bulls, and has jumped at the opportunity  to join Henry, Lindpere and Norway international Jan Gunnar Solli at the Red Bull Arena.

Both Lindpere and Solli are still in their twenties and have dozens of international caps to their name, bringing experience to the table yet still having plenty of years ahead of them. The same could certainly apply to 31-year-old Tainio.

After starting his career at White Hart Lane strongly and taking little time to become a cult hero with the fans, and will forever be remembered for scoring a classy equaliser in a famous 4-3 win over West Ham in 2007.

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The treatment subsequently received by Tainio in North London proceeded to spark a downfall from which some might say he is yet to fully recover, and it all began with the dismissal of manager Martin Jol in September 2007.

In and out of Juande Ramos’ starting line-up the following season, he could not be faulted for effort, yet was allowed to move to Sunderland in a mass Spurs exodus which also saw Steed Malbranque and Pascal Chimbonda move to the Stadium of Light.

Once again a managerial departure had a negative impact on the Finn: Roy Keane, the man who signed him, was relieved of his duties, although replacement Ricky Sbragia was content to at least give him some game time. When Sbragia’s successor Steve Bruce forked out £6m on another midfield destroyer in Lorik Cana, Tainio’s days in the north-east seemed numbered.

Jol offered him a lifeline at Ajax this season but  was the Finn was gone just three months and five appearances later. As a result of frustration with his ill-fortune, coupled with a determination to prove he still has something to offer, the midfielder has been prepared to cut short his contract in the Netherlands and move to the MLS.

The choice of club might seem curious given that the majority of Tainio’s prior struggles might be put down to him playing for clubs with large squads and oversaturated midfields, one of New York’s potential downsides. However the Finn has never been one to back down from a challenge.

He will know that the competition for places will be fierce, with rising star Tony Tchani augmenting a squad packed with international midfielders in his sophomore season and the near-undroppable Rafa Marquez sitting in front of the back four, while the pre-season form of Dane Richards and Luke Rodgers could lead to Backe adopting a 4-3-3 formation, at least for the season opener against Seattle.

And for those critics who point to the similar competition for places elsewhere seemingly failing to motivate Tainio, America ought to treat him well beyond the mere attraction of a fresh start.

In a league where players are used to time on the ball and space to pick a pass, the constant pressure and repeated harrying might provide a shock to the system, particularly when provided by a midfielder who many might mistakenly believe has himself moved stateside just for an easy ride.

What’s more, in a competition with fewer technically-gifted players than the Premier League, Tainio might be able to demonstrate another side to his game: while years spent in England were dominated by more defensively-minded performances as he was often required to ‘do a job’ by his manager, the occasional glimpses of skill arose now and again.

As with Marquez last season, the new environs could well bring out an attacking flair marginalised by a mistaken insistence that the role he was best at was the only one he was capable of performing.

It may take a couple of weeks for Teemu Tainio to establish a regular place in the New York Red Bulls team, but we can be certain that he will go out with all guns blazing. After all, he has never been a player to sit back and let a game pass him by.

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