Finland attacker Joel Pohjanpalo has five goals in 17 Bundesliga appearances for Union Berlin following his hat-trick against Werder Bremen. - © DFL
Finland attacker Joel Pohjanpalo has five goals in 17 Bundesliga appearances for Union Berlin following his hat-trick against Werder Bremen. - © DFL

Union Berlin hat-trick hero Joel Pohjanpalo: "We've played an insane season so far."


A hat-trick hero for Union Berlin on Matchday 31, Finland striker Joel Pohjanpalo tells about learning from Robert Lewandowski, Jari Litmanen and Michael Owen - as well as why his team are in the running for a European spot. How exciting were the days after your hat-trick gave Union a 3-1 win over Werder Bremen?

Joel Pohjanpalo: "We actually got two days off after the game, and of course the result was really good for us and we're still fighting for a place in Europe. That's the most important thing. Scoring three goals in one game - especially at the level of the Bundesliga - is always a huge achievement for me personally as a football player." The hat-trick was the first time you'd scored as a starter in the Bundesliga. Is it just part of your upturn with Union?

Pohjanpalo: "As a striker you always want to score. In the last national team break, I found my self-confidence again and was able to help the team there and made a few assists, and [got] two goals of course against Switzerland. Obviously, you always know if you don't score in the Bundesliga that somebody else will take your spot. When you get your chance, you need to take it."

Watch: Pohjanpalo got Union's first ever Bundesliga hat-trick You're a hat-trick specialist, having also scored one for Bayer Leverkusen against Hamburg in 2016/17...

Pohjanpalo: "The big difference this time is that I played in the starting XI. Often as a striker when you score in a game, your self-confidence rises and you kind of get into the flow of scoring goals… often when you score the first one, you just want more and more and more. This was also the feeling in the Bremen game, that after scoring the first one from the corner, of course I wanted to show more and keep on scoring. Obviously, I'm happy with the three and now I need to continue in the next game." You once got a hat-trick in the space of three minutes in Finland…

Pohjanpalo: "It was my second game for the professionals in Helsinki, with HJK, the biggest club in Finland. It was the season-opening game and we were down by one against Mariehamn, then I scored three goals in two minutes and 42 seconds. If I'm not completely wrong, I think it's the quickest first-league hat-trick ever made in football history, but… scoring three goals, it doesn't matter how fast it is."

Joel Pohjanpalo scored twice - once from the penalty spot - for Euro 2020 qualifiers Finland against Switzerland in March. - MANUEL GEISSER via images/Geisser How did you get into football as a child?

Pohjanpalo: "My father is a huge football fan. He also played in Finland and he's a huge Liverpool fan. That's also why I'm a Liverpool fan. At that time, the number one striker was Michael Owen and he was my idol. I tried always to copy him. Afterwards, when I got older, I realised I'm not as fast as he is so… I needed to change my game. But still, the goalscoring is still there… I always got influenced by that and watching the games. Every day I went to school and had a ball with me and always tried to play with it. Then, at 17, I came to the first team in Helsinki... you always need a little bit of luck and in this case it was the very quick hat-trick in Helsinki. Of course, this brought up the attention to Europe. Then when I was 18, I'd moved here already." How did Jari Litmanen, the greatest Finnish footballer of all time, inspire you?

Pohjanpalo: "He’s the greatest player who ever came from Finland. He still has the most goals. I think [Teemu] Pukki is going to go in front of him in the next games, but of course he was third in the Ballon d'Or [in 1995], he has won the [UEFA] Champions League, and he's been the best goalscorer in a Champions League [in 1995/96]. Of course, he has been obviously a huge player for all of us, but for me it was always Liverpool and of course the time when Jari also played there. He didn't play much, but of course that was huge moment for me as well. I played with him my first year in Helsinki."

Union Berlin attacker Joel Pohjanpalo grew up idolising former Liverpool and England star Michael Owen. - Mary EvansxAllstarxRichard Sellers via images/Mary Evans What do you think of goalscoring machine Robert Lewandowski?

Pohjanpalo: "I have to say he's for sure the world's best striker at the moment… the way he moves on the pitch, how he uses his chances is incredible. Of course, I had the chance - when they played here in our stadium against us - I saw Lewandowski playing. You can always learn a lot from him, how he moves and how he goes behind the defender's back and comes again to the front of him with good timing. He does a lot of things very, very well, and of course he's physically very fit and is really good in fighting situations. Overall, he's a good example of a perfect striker." Despite that headline-grabbing hat-trick with Leverkusen, your career has been full of ups and downs with a lot of injuries and loan spells. But you've also had some recent strong performances with the Finland national team.

Pohjanpalo: "There's been a lot of injuries... one of the injuries was quite close to cutting my career off completely. Of course, times have been tough and there's been a lot of unlucky moments. Hopefully now I've found my way back, and the time in Hamburg at the start of last year was really good and I achieved a lot there.

"And now, of course, back in the Bundesliga, I got injured again unfortunately in November. Luckily not too badly, but still for three months… it always takes a little bit of time coming back from the injuries. Now I'm really happy that I'm back playing and I'm back scoring. I still have three games left until the end of the season. We have a huge dream and a huge goal as a club ahead of us. Hopefully, I can make everything so we can achieve that.

Watch: Lewandowski scored against Union on Matchday 11

"Then of course, as a Finnish national team player, we have the first European Championship coming up for us, and obviously that's a huge thing for everybody who's coming from Finland and I think for all the players who are participating in the tournament." You are part of a change in playing style at Union, moving away from counter-attacks and long balls now to playing more.

Pohjanpalo: "Last season everybody saw that they had a lot of fighting on the pitch and a lot of times we just played with long balls in front and defending really well. I think defending-wise, of course, we are on the same level and improved that a lot as well. We are one of the best defensive teams in the whole league, and obviously that's the base of the whole club. And obviously this year as well in [attack] we've been really good. It's not only scoring with long balls but we also play very, very well from the goalkeeper through the whole field. We've been really, really good with our counterattacks…. on every side we've been really good - our corners, our free-kicks and everything. For us, the whole season has been a huge achievement. Now, on the 31st round of matches, we have 46 points… we still have three important games left. Three very hard games as well, but we try to go game by game and to try and win all of them. At the end of the season, we'll see where we stand in the table."

Watch: Pohjanpalo scored in front of the fans against Mainz What do you think is so special about Union Berlin?

Pohjanpalo: "It's maybe not exactly the same as every other Bundesliga club. Of course everybody knows that. It feels like a very close community between the fans, between the club and between the workers here. Unfortunately, we couldn't have fans in the stadium for more or less the whole season. Of course, that's missing out, and it might be that if we had the full stadium through the whole season we could've maybe had more points as well.

"As a striker as well, it's a good example on Saturday when you score three goals… it would've been an insane feeling to celebrate this with all the fans in the stadium. Of course, I think this [the fans] is the main thing for the club as well." Seventh place could be enough for European qualification. Do you think it’s possible?

Pohjanpalo: "I don't want to talk about it now - don't want to jinx it! Let's go game by game, but of course we all obviously are dreaming about it. But there's no pressure. We've played an insane season so far and there's only a positive pressure on us. The pressure is there with Gladbach and Leverkusen and Dortmund and so on, and not with us. We are kind of the underdog in this group. Of course, we have three big games left, but in the first round of the league we played 2-2 against Wolfsburg. We maybe should've won - we were in front. And against Leverkusen we beat them as well. Leipzig was away - it was a tough one. But still, we know we can get points from all these opponents. That’s what we're trying to do."