We caught up with Anssi Jaakkola, as he steps up his preparations for Euro 2020 with the Finnish international side!
When Anssi hit the deck following a sprawling save on New Year's Day 2020, his long-awaited European Championship campaign with his home nation looked in doubt. A dislocated shoulder was the prognosis as the towering 'keeper received treatment from the club's medical team.
Ruled out for the rest of the season, the Euro campaign that was set to follow was in jeopardy. In hindsight, it probably would've been a step too far according to Anssi.
"When I injured my shoulder over a year ago I was cutting it very close if I was going to make it to the original Euros date or not. Probably not, let's be honest. I would've been fit but not fit enough to play competitive football or go through the full training camps. So the delay was a blessing in disguise for me, it gave me an extra bit of time to get my shoulder right."
The delay of the competition to 2021 gave Anssi the chance to recover from his setback and see off another injury around Christmas time this campaign too. After receiving a call-up earlier this week, he now knows he'll be part of Finland's first venture into a major international tournament.
"The Euros have been in the back of my mind for the past year probably and now it's getting closer and closer I find myself thinking about it more often. I'm counting the days now, making sure I've got everything I need before going away. I'm starting to feel the butterflies in the stomach too.
"I don't have nerves as such at the moment, it's more excitement. It'd probably be different if I knew I was going into the tournament as number one but I'm not so for me it's a different mindset."
Jaakkola's role in the Finland set-up is a stark contrast from his role in the Rovers side, where he has been an assuring presence between the sticks on so many occasions. Behind Bayer Leverkusen's Lukáš Hrádecký and Brescia's Jesse Joronen in the pecking order, Jaakkola has additional focuses to combine with on-field matters.
"In the national team, we have our captain and players who don't need any further motivation. My role there is to keep that good spirit going and be that joker in the changing room. I try to organise little things, like going to play golf, just to make the time more enjoyable."
Finland's qualification to the Euros in late 2019 was met with jubilation across the country, as a 3-0 win over Liechtenstein secured safe passage to Europe's premier competition. Jaakkola was part of the squad that day, and can't wait for the Euro experience to start, albeit without the full cohort of Finnish supporters.
"We've been waiting for this moment for so long as a nation and obviously with COVID it made us wait a year longer.
"Now it's finally here it's a bit of a shame we can't play in front of full stadiums, that's going to leave a massive gap in the experience. The dream was always to take our loyal supporters with us, but at the moment it's not possible, at least we'll get some fans though."
Since the League One season concluded at the beginning of May, Jaakkola has hardly rested, despite this now being the most opportune moment to put his feet up.
"I know myself, I can't stop for 2-3 weeks and do nothing before going to the training camp, I'd probably break down. I've learned from my mistakes in the past and I know I need to keep my body going and stay active and try to re-hab some of the little injuries and issues I've had in the background.
"These couple of weeks have been a blessing ahead of the Euros. It's good to get a chance to get my body right and my mind too, it's good to have a little break away from regular games.
"You get wiser as you get older, you know your body better. When I was younger in my early 20's and mid 20's, when the summer holidays started I did nothing basically. I'd look at the week before going back and start to ramp up my preparation then, but that was a completely different mindset to now."
"Now, looking back over the last 5-6 years and the off-seasons, I hardly take any days off because I don't feel like my body needs the time off. Sometimes it's good to have 2-5 days off just for your mind and take your head away from football. Body-wise though, I feel like I get more benefit from keeping my training up.
Furthermore, Jaakkola's continued work throughout summer stands him in good stead to compete against other 'keepers in the league season.
"Psychologically for me, it's important to know that when other players, other 'keepers, are on their holidays doing no work, I'm there grafting, being dedicated to my craft."
There is no denying that as a veteran head in the Rovers and Finland dressing room, Jaakkola's journey has twisted and turned its way towards its eventual conclusion in the coming years, but his teammate, Jed Ward, began his journey between the sticks at the beginning of May at the age of just 17.
Jaakkola offered some words of wisdom for Jed, who has recently been called up to the international set-up himself, linking up with the England U19s at the end of May.
"Jed is a good kid, he has a good head and is a solid character, he knows what's best for him. He's been training on and off with the first-team 'keepers this season and I can see the progress he's had over the last 12 months, he's definitely on the right track.
"For Jed, it'll always be important to take the right steps at the right time to keep improving, you can't stay still and be satisfied in an environment that is easy for him.
"He has to keep pushing himself and driving forward, that's the main thing."
Jaakkola's drive will take him to what will surely be one of the biggest moments in his career this summer, and the sacrifice will be worth it.
"It's been a long journey, and there's probably not a lot of time for a holiday this year but I can miss one summer holiday and a few weeks away for a once in a lifetime chance to be in the Euros."
As the chat with Anssi drew to a close, he had some final words to say...
"England v Finland in the final!"