Trusted hands

Jussi Jaaskelainen, in making his 500th appearance in Bolton colours in its FA Cup quarterfinal defeat of Birmingham last month, has joined an elite group of only nine other players to reach that landmark for the Trotters. By John Train.

Jussi Jaaskelainen has already achieved legendary status at Bolton after over a decade of service and he has been prominent in the success of the club.

In making his 500th appearance in Bolton's FA Cup quarterfinal defeat of Birmingham last month, he joined an elite group of only nine other players to reach that landmark for the Trotters.

Few would have predicted that milestone when in 1997, Colin Todd persuaded Bolton to pay VPS Vaasa GBP100,000 for the Finnish goalkeeper, snatching him from under the nose of Norwich in the process.

Since then, the big Finn has maintained a level of consistency and performance that makes him a guaranteed starter, and Jaaskelainen himself believes, even at the age of 35, he can play on to surpass the all-time appearance record of 578 held by Eddie Hopkinson.

“You see players and keepers going on right through their 30s and into their 40s and if I can keep injury-free, I think I can do that too,” he said.

Jaaskelainen established himself as Todd's number one for the start of the 1998/99 season, but had to endure the disappointment of losing his place to Steve Banks, and in the process missing out on a play-off final appearance against Watford.

When Sam Allardyce was appointed as Bolton manager the following season, the big Finn once again became the club's first-choice goalkeeper, but it again ended in disappointment after semi-final defeats in both domestic cup competitions and the play-offs.

By the 2000/01 season Jaaskelainen was firmly established as Bolton's number one. But, while the season ended well for the club with promotion to the English Premier League, it was bittersweet for Jaaskelainen after he sustained a cruciate ligament injury.

When the start of the Premier League campaign came around, Jaaskelainen was once again back between the sticks, and he has gone from strength to strength, helping to keep Bolton in the top flight, figuring prominently in the run to the League Cup final in 2004 and later on achieving European qualification.

In recent years, Jaaskelainen has faced fierce competition for his place from Ali Al-Habsi, who filled in admirably when the Finn had a back injury that ruled him out of the last months of the 2007/08 season, and now young Hungarian Adam Bogdan is challenging for his jersey.

However, both have failed to displace Jaaskelainen, whose loyalty to the club was rewarded in 2009 with a testimonial.

After 14 years at Bolton, Jaaskelainen is still going strong and feels at his peak both physically and mentally.

He said: “Right now I feel 100 per cent fit, I'm right there for every training session. You learn with experience down the years what you need to do to keep yourself going and keep yourself focused.

“You have to do the right things, not only on the training ground but also away from football, at home.”

Despite all the personal accolades, silverware has eluded Jaaskelainen, who will still be smarting from Sunday's 5-0 FA Cup semifinal defeat at the hands of Stoke.

Success in the FA Cup would have been a fitting reward for Jaaskelainen's service to Bolton, but the wait goes on for one of the best goalkeepers in Premier League history.

After being sent off for hitting out at Birmingham's Roger Johnson earlier this season, Jaaskelainen achieved the unwanted record of the most red cards given to a goalkeeper in Premier League history, held jointly with former Newcastle stopper Pavel Srnicek. Both have seen red four times. He is married to Tessa, and they have three children.

FACTFILE Name: Jussi Jaaskelainen Position: Goalkeeper Club: Bolton D.O.B: 19/04/1975 Finland caps: 56 Finland debut: v Malta, 1998

Moment to remember: Winning Bolton's player of the year award in 2006/07.

Moment to forget: Conceding twice in the first eight minutes when losing the League Cup final against Middlesbrough in 2004 and picking the ball out of his net five times at Wembley at the recently concluded FA Cup semifinal against Stoke.

© PA Sport, 2011, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.