QPR are giving a debut to left-sided player Niko Hamalainen against Sunderland in the EFL Cup, two years after he first signed for the club. Here’s his story.
In the beginning
Hamalainen was born in Miami, Florida, on 5 March 1997 – when No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’ was at number one in the UK.
Although he has a Finnish background, Hamalainen spent the first 17 years of his life in the States, playing the latter part of his junior career at FC Dallas.
In 2014, the 17-year-old Hamalainen was recommended to QPR by former Rangers defender David Bardsley, who was running football schools in Florida.
He was invited to train with the club’s Under-18s and did enough to earn a two-year deal as a scholar, the move being announced on 18 September 2014.
He featured in the visit to Italy ahead of the 2015-16 season.
In August 2015, Hamalainen joined Dagenham & Redbridge, then of League Two, on a month-long loan.
He made his professional debut in the Daggers’ 4-1 defeat by Charlton in the League Cup, being replaced after 58 minutes.
Although the loan was extended for an additional month, he made only one more first-team appearance, and was taken off at half-time in a 3-1 loss at Barnet.
Despite sitting on the bench for most of his time at Dagenham, Hamalainen was offered a new one-year deal by Rangers in April.
He featured in pre-season against Aldershot and is one of a number of youngsters hoping to make their mark at Loftus Road.
Hamalainen was a regular for the Finland Under-18s, playing 12 times and scoring once, and was named the most promising Finnish player of 2015.
In October of that year, he played twice for the Under-19s, in games against Italy and Macedonia, and the next month earned his first call up to the Under-21s.