We recently had the chance to speak with Toulouse FC’s young Finnish midfielder, Naatan Skyttä. Learn more about his beginnings, his work in returning from injury and his goals for the future in this exclusive interview.
Can you tell us a little about where you are from, and your history in Finland, playing with Ilves. They one of your local teams, but there are several from Tampere — what made you choose them, and how has that helped your career?
Ilves was my first team, from Tampere in Finland. I joined at the age of four or five years old. I played there for fourteen years, until I was 18 — it was a long time. For choosing them, they were simply the closest club, because I grew up a bit outside of Tampere, and there are several clubs, but they were my local team. And as well, all of my friends had started to play, and I think that was a part of it as well. It was kind of like having fun with my friends from school, and at the time my dad was coaching as well.
You won a title — the Finnish Cup — in just your second season as a professional. Can you talk about the experience of winning that trophy?
It was a really good experience, I remember the games that I played in well, even if I only played in the group stage. When the tournament reached the semifinals and finals, I didn’t play, but of course it was a nice experience to win the Finnish Cup with the team you have been playing for since you were a kid. I remember it was a big thing for the team, and for the city of Tampere, and it was a very nice experience to have.
When football resumed, though — it was in a very different context. How did you experience playing through the pandemic?
I remember that we had a European match — it was Europa League Qualifying in Ireland. The stadium was empty, but all the fans were surrounding the stadium, and you could just hear all of the noise they were making especially during the penalty shootout. It was especially weird to do a penalty shootout in an empty stadium. It was a different time, and a tough time, but thankfully things are now much better. I think it’s now a thing you can remember after your career.
Finland have several players in the US, and other countries as well — there are clearly many options to play abroad at a variety of levels — what made you choose to come to France, and to Toulouse in particular?
When Toulouse contacted me, I already knew the club. I knew that before they had been playing in Ligue 1. I think it was a good opportunity to move to a really good club, and to live in the south of France, which is very nice as well. At the time, when I talked with those close to me, we all decided that this was a really good opportunity. It’s been a really nice experience, and I’m glad that I chose Toulouse back then.
What can you tell us about your style as a player, and who are some of your role models in your position?
As a player, I’m quite technical, someone who likes to carry the ball, to pass the ball, and to play between the lines. I think that’s my style, and if I think about the players I look up to, I have to say Messi, because he’s amazing. I also used to watch other players who played as attacking midfielders when I was young, a lot of players on YouTube but I think Messi is the top player I look up to.
You recently scored your first double for the club, in the Coupe de France. Even though you were received a winners’ medal in that competition last year, was it difficult to leave on loan with that as an avenue for more playing time?
It’s always difficult as a player when you have to move midseason. You’re packing your stuff and you’re moving to another country. Mentally it’s a big change, but I think it was a good thing to have done that, and of course I’m happy that the team won the Coupe de France — it was crazy to watch this journey.
While on loan, you featured sparingly at first, but came into form with two goals and two assists before suffering a fractured tibia. Can you tell us more about the frustration of that moment, and how you have channeled that into more regular appearances this season?
It’s the worst thing, as a player, when you have a long-term injury. Life is a but different for you — you can’t really train like you want. And for me as well, at first I was training alone, and not even training with a focus of football. I was alone in the gym so of course it’s tough mentally, when you have to be away from matches and training, but at the same time, I think it’s something you can’t do anything about, so you just have to make the best of it and when you come back, there’s a lot you want to show. You want to play like you used to play before and I think it gives you a lot of energy — playing feels so much better when you’ve been out for a long time. You have a lot of hunger to play.
Toulouse have had a diverse start to the season, doing well in Europe but struggling at times domestically. But since the beginning of the calendar year, where the team played well despite defeat in the Trophée des Champions, the level seems to have increased — is there a change you can see that has happened?
I feel like for me when you’re getting good results and playing well, that feeds your confidence. For example last weekend when we won against Reims, it just feels like the team is in a really good place. I don’t see a major change in anything; I feel like all season we’ve been training hard but I feel like when you get the wins, something clicks differently in you, mentally as well.
The club is well-known for having a diverse set of countries represented in the squad — can you talk about that being the case, and has it helped you feel more included, as more players have different backgrounds?
I feel like it’s really nice that we have players from around the world. It’s also helpful to feel included in the team — because we have players from around the world, we mainly speak English. Personally, it’s helped me to get to know the other players, so it’s definitely a good thing.
Internationally, you have a very impressive scoring record for the U-21s, but have missed their recent qualifying matches. The team are in a decent position for the 2025 tournament — can you talk about what your expectations are, and what you are looking forward to doing in the next international break?
It’s been a long time since I’ve played, almost a year, because of injury. As a team, we want to go to the Euros, and I feel like that’s the target we’ve set for ourselves. And right now we’re in an OK position — I hope we can come back and help the team to get the wins so we can achieve that goal.
Can you tell us more about what you like to do in your free time?
I like to go out to dinner with my family, and my girlfriend, if I have the time. After training, I like to play Playstation with my friends or maybe take a nap, things that a more chill. If I have a longer break, it’s great if family are visiting, to see different places.
What are some of your favorite experiences you have had in the area since coming to Toulouse?
I feel like Toulouse is just a good city to relax, to walk around and hang out in, to just grab a coffee. The weather here is usually nice, so it’s easy to be outside and hang out and just enjoy what is a pretty big city.
You are the third Finnish player to play for Toulouse — did you know about the first two? They are Nils Rikberg and Aulis Rytkönen, who like you won the Coupe de France with Toulouse.
When I signed here, some of my friends in Finland told me about them, and I Googled them, but no I hadn’t heard of them.
Although there have been a few other Finnish players to come to Ligue 1, Teemu Taino is definitely the most famous. Was he a player you tried to watch when you were younger, and did you speak to him about his experience in France?
I haven’t talked to him about playing in France, but when I was in Finland, he was coaching one of the local teams, close to Tampere. So when we had a derby we used to play against his team and of course I know that he had an amazing career, and he played a lot of matches, but I haven’t talked about playing in France with him — one day I would like to do that