How a Malaysian peanut vendor became a Finnish football club coach

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2014
Saravanan Vellu, coach

Benedict Lopez describes how a nut seller in a local stadium went on to become coach of a Finnish football club.

Former Malaysian national team footballer Saravanan Vellu is currently the football coach of Finnish football club Gnistan in Helsinki. He represented Malaysia from 1997 to 2004.

The Malaysian footballer now aims to train and impart his wealth of experience and knowledge to younger generation of Finns while enhancing his own coaching skills.

He hopes to contribute to Malaysia by promoting a sports exchange programme between Malaysia and Finland, which he believes will expose Malaysians to various aspects of the Finnish style of teaching.

Saravanan’s passion for football began when he was selling nuts at a football stadium, where he dreamt of becoming a football star himself.

And his dream was realised at 19, when he was selected to play for the Malaysian national squad – a remarkable feat by any standards for a Malaysian footballer.

Saravanan’s acquaintance with Finland commenced as a result of a knee injury in 2006, when he was playing for the national team. His Finnish wife-to-be, Satu, who was working in Malaysia, was the person responsible for treating his knee.

And, as they say, the rest is history. Today, the couple have a six-month-old son, who has yet to visit Malaysia.

Saravanan had a successful football career with the Perak team (winning the Malaysia Cup, Premier One League title and the Malaysia FA Cup) and with the Malaysian national team (appearing 43 times and scoring 21 goals).

Saravanan in the Malaysian team in 1998
Saravanan in the Malaysian team in 1998

Saravanan moved to Finland with his wife towards the end of his career in 2012. By then, Satu was missing her home, family and friends.

The initial period of adjustment for Saravanan in Finland proved difficult: he had to wait six months for his residency permit. Four months after he arrived in Finland, his brother-in-law recommended that he play football for Gnistan club.

Saravanan was elated at joining Gnistan. For its part, the club had no regrets in recruiting him: Gnistan’s standing in the league improved with Saravanan scoring many goals for them.

By coincidence, it was during a chat with one of his team-mates, who happened to be the CEO of the club, that Saravanan was offered the post of coach. He was also advised to learn Finnish.

Learning Finnish was difficult for Sarvanan, although it was not necessary as he could coach the team by just displaying his skills. Nevertheless, he persevered to learn the language.

Today, Saravanan’s command of Finnish has improved tremendously and he is able to coach and converse with his in-laws in the language. He finds Finnish children to be the best teachers of the language as they are quick to correct his mistakes.

Benedict would like to acknowledge his Finnish friend SS for contributing towards this article

Reference: Newsletter of the Embassy of Malaysia in Finland.

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Benedict Lopez
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.

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