Premier League Career: Chelsea (1998-1999, 2001-2002, 2005), Birmingham City (2003-2004, 2007-2008)
Still playing in his home country for HIFK Fotboll, Mikael Forssell didn’t win any major honours in the English game but he was a talented forward who knew where the back of the net was. He was an example to how fruitful the loan system can be when he scored 17 goals for Birmingham City in the 2003-2004 campaign.
Although he was born in Germany, Forssell came through the youth ranks with Finnish team HJK Helsinki and he made his professional debut for them in 1997. Just when it looked like he would continue his education in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea were quick to bring him into their team a year later. Managed at the time by Gianluca Vialli, he was the perfect mentor for Forssell to learn his trade, given Vialli’s experience at the highest level. He made his Premier League debut in January 1999 against Arsenal as a substitute and scored his first top-flight goal later that season away to Nottingham Forest.
Vialli’s expensive purchase of Chris Sutton for the 1999-2000 season pushed Forssell down the pecking order. He would go out on-loan for the next two seasons to Crystal Palace, scoring 16 league goals in just over 50 appearances. He returned to Chelsea and figured around their first-team squad in 2001-2002. Now managed by Claudio Ranieri, he featured 22 times that season and scored four Premier League goals. However, he was still largely a substitute with the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Gianfranco Zola often selected ahead of this raw talent.
He went out on-loan again in the spring of 2003, scoring seven times for Borussia Monchengladbach in just 16 matches and keeping them clear of relegation danger. He returned to England that summer and made another temporary move, this time to Birmingham City. It was here where Forssell really sparkled. He scored 17 times in the Premier League and only Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Louis Saha and Ruud van Nistelrooy managed a higher goal tally that season. Birmingham finished in the top 10 thanks to his predatory instincts infront of goal. One criticism was his lack of team play at home to Leeds United in March 2004. Birmingham were already 3-1 up and Bryan Hughes had scored twice. When the Blues were awarded a penalty, Hughes wanted to take it to complete the first hat-trick of his club career. Regular penalty-taker Forssell was not interested and Hughes was seen storming away in frustration at not being given this opportunity. Luckily, Forssell converted the spot-kick.
He returned to Birmingham for another loan campaign in 2004-2005 but sustained a serious knee injury away at Middlesbrough in September. Steve Bruce had little choice but to cancel the loan agreement due to the lengthy spell he was going to experience on the sidelines. He returned to Chelsea to recuperate and even played a part in the club’s final home match of the season, a 1-0 victory over Charlton Athletic. Although he could take part in the team’s celebrations of winning their first top-flight title in 50 years, this was his solitary league appearance for Chelsea, so he didn’t qualify for a championship-winning medal.
Jose Mourinho decided the forward did not fit into his long-term plans and when Everton withdrew from a potential deal because of concerns over his fitness, Birmingham paid Chelsea £3 million to sign him in the summer of 2005. Unfortunately, more knee problems meant he was never quite the same player that scored all those goals in his first loan season in the Midlands. He did score his first hat-trick at club level against Tottenham Hotspur in March 2008 and scored nine times in 2007-2008 but couldn’t stop Birmingham sliding to a second Premier League demise in just three campaigns.
He has since played for Hannover 96, Leeds United and VfL Bochum along with two separate spells back at HJK Helsinki. He won 87 caps for his country, scoring 29 times between 1999 and 2014.
There was talent in Mikael Forssell’s game and it is impressive to see him still playing at the age of 36 but his career could have gone better if it hadn’t been for his constant knee problems.