Brazilian footballers and the Finnish Veikkausliiga. It’s not a connection that you would automatically make, yet a glance at the history books shows that Brazil’s unique brand of footballing talent has just an important place in the hearts of Scandinavian football fanatics as it does in so many other far-flung corners of the world.
Time and again over the years, the top goal scorer in the Finnish equivalent of the Premier League has been from Brazil. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and meet the stars who saw beyond the cold days and long nights to make a home away from home at the northernmost point of Europe.
Rafael Pires Vieira was born in Criciúma in 1970 but played all his professional football in Europe, and most of it in Finland. He joined HJK Helsinki as a teenager, and made an instant impression, finishing his first-ever professional season as the league’s top scorer with 11 goals. But Rafael was unable to recapture the form from his magical first year. After trying his luck elsewhere in Europe, he returned to Finland in 2004 with the air of someone who would forever be seen as an unfulfilled talent. Recently promoted FC Lahti took the chance, and it paid off – Rafael was once again top scorer, a decade after achieving the feat the first time, and he remained with the club for more than a decade, scoring 103 goals in 250 appearances.
This São Paulo-born striker was similar to Rafael in that he had stints with both HJK Helsinki and FC Jazz. However, he did not have such a long and hard road to success. Antônio seemed born for the hard play and harder pitches of Finland, and he helped FC Jazz to two titles, as well as being the league’s top scorer in 1996. After retiring as a player in 2007, he remained in Finland as a manager, most recently for the second division side Oulun Palloseura.
Unlike Rafael and Antônio, Rio de Janeiro’s Dionísio spent his formative years as a professional playing in his native Brazil. He made the move to FC Jazz in 1993 after two successful seasons at Bangu. Dionísio was a familiar name in the Veikkausliiga over the next 12 years, spending time at TPV, Tampere United and Oulu and garnering plenty of fans wherever he went. The highlight of his career was winning the Golden Boot in 1994 while with TPV, where he scored 17 goals in the season.
Brazilian stars are as popular in Finland today as they were around the turn of the millennium. Even those who only arrive briefly seem to make their mark. When HJK Helsinki signed Brazilian Klauss on loan from Hoffenheim in 2018, he scored within minutes in his first game. It was a habit that stayed with him all season, and he went on to find the back of the net 21 times over the course of an unforgettable season.