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Euro 2020: Meet Finland's Motherwell-born starlet, Onni Valakari

Motherwell is part of Onni Valakari's life. Not something you expect to hear said about a Finland international, but his father Simo insists it is the case.

Highly rated Pafos midfielder Onni Valakari (right) is part of Finland's Euro 2020 squad

oung Onni, you see, was born in the Scottish town in 1999 during his old man's four-year stint with the local team.

And now, after impressing at Cypriot side Pafos last season, he is part of the first Finnish squad to play at a major finals and even featured in BBC Sport's 20 young players to watch at Euro 2020.

"Even if it was brief, Motherwell is a part of his life," Simo tells BBC Scotland. "He follows the Scottish Premiership. As a family holiday, we are planning one day to come back and see where we used to live."

'Maybe one day he could play in Scotland'

Onni enjoyed a productive campaign in Cyprus prior to this summer's delayed finals, scoring 13 goals and registering seven assists in 36 games from midfield.

The 21-year-old's form earned him a Finland debut last November in France, where the former Tromso man announced himself on the international stage with a curling effort to help his side secure a memorable 2-0 win over the world champions in Paris.

"His goal wasn't bad, was it?" Simo, now managing KuPS in his homeland, says. "It's funny because when the game started he tumbled on his feet the first time he got the ball. I thought: 'Oh no, what's going to happen here?'.

"Thankfully he got a few touches and the whole Finnish team started to play. France must've been thinking: 'What is happening? These unknown players are playing it around us.'. Then he scored that goal, it was unbelievable."

Valakari (right) scored a fine strike on his international debut against N'Golo Kante's (left) France

An impressive season in Cyprus' top flight, as well as international recognition, has led to speculation surrounding Onni's future.

The advice from his father is that it may be time for the Pafos midfielder move on, and perhaps a return to the country of his birth could be on the cards.

"It's hard to plan anything in football," Simo says. "But I think it's time for Onni to move on. But at the same time he's still contracted at Pafos and he needs to play regularly.

"Which league he would go to? A lot depends on the club, the coach and the way of playing. If that's right then it can be any league. Maybe one day he could play in Scotland."

'Now we want a new party'

Onni is part of a promising new generation of Finnish talent that adds to an already talented group of players, who have created history by reaching a major tournament for the first time.

As well as reaching their first finals, Finland could yet achieve further unprecedented success, with a place in the Euro 2020 knockout stage well within their grasp.

With four points almost certainly being enough to progress, that would mean Markku Kanerva's men would need a point from their final group game against Belgium to reach that tally.

"It has been a dream for generations for Finland to get to a World Cup or Euros," Simo adds. "But we are not just happy to participate. The party has been already when we qualified. Now we want a new party."


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