The State of Estonian Club Football
May 21, 2019
Most Championships: Flora, 11
Last 5 Winners: Nomme Kalju (18), Flora (17, 15), Infonet (16), Levadia (14)
UEFA Ranking: 46th
Highest Ranked Club: Nomme Kalju, 292nd
What is the current state of Estonian football?
I would say struggling! Football is far from being one of the main sports in Estonia, so it is quite hard to attract kids, sponsors and audience. The affluence in the league games for example is lower than in Latvia or Lithuania. In order to attract people, the Estonian FA decided to pay TV companies to broadcast all games for free. Far from what we know in Western Europe.
The national team is struggling too. The best player are more than 30 years old (captain Ragnar Klavan or Konstantin Vassiljev for example), and the younger ones may get some problems to get their place in the squad mainly because of the relative weakness of the league. The step is sometimes too big between clubs and the national team level and some of them lose playing time when trying their luck abroad (Joonas Tamm at Korona Kielce, Rauno Sappinen at Beerschot Wilrik and Den Bosch or Mark-Anders Lepik at Winterthur are few of the last examples).
There are only 3-4 players under 25 playing with the national team. The only bright side is the presence of Mathias Käit, who is a very important player at only 20, but who’s playing at Fulham U23’s.
The team finished last in the Nations League C group, losing almost all its games. It was close, though, in my opinion. Martin Reim built a good defending team that lost the games by only one goal difference, but they never seemed dangerous and able to win. It’s been quite the same with the World Cup qualifiers. The 1-0 loss in the last game in Greece was exactly what the national team tries to do at each game. As they often play counterattacks, it is on the other hand quite hard for Reim’s players hold the ball and build when playing again smaller teams.
As a minnow of European Football, what do Estonian fans and teams expect from their European campaigns and what would qualify as a success?
For the Euro qualifiers, the national team wouldn’t dream of getting though. It will be very hard against Germany and the Nederlands, but finishing third before Belarus and Northern Ireland would be a great result.
On the clubs side, there are maybe better things to do. Until now, the best achievement has been Nõmme Kalju getting from the first to the third preliminary round of Europa League, two seasons ago. Unfortunately, most teams got very disappointing these last years. The worst was when Flora Tallinn got eliminated by the new Gilbratar side on the first Champions League round, after winning the first leg. An absolute shame.
When FCI Tallinn and Levadia Tallinn merged last year, the new team with a new financial power said they wanted to be the first Estonian team to reach the group stage in the EL. And they got eliminated at their first game. Let’s hope it will be better this year. I have very little hopes for Kalju in the CL this season, but it could be a bit better for Flora and FCI Levadia in the EL. Apart from these teams, no club is powerful enough to do something on an European scale. So, no hope at all for Trans Narva.
How much do the fans and teams look forward to European competition?
I don’t really think that fans do really look forward for European competitions. The affluence are maybe a bit better for these games, but I am afraid that people are discouraged by the last bad results of the teams. In my opinion, we are only praying for a miracle to happen!
Is there any money in Estonian football?
There is no money for transfers at all. All moves are made for free. The Estonian league is not all professional. There is a huge gap between the three top teams and the others, especially those fighting against relegation.
So, every team knows it is impossible to keep a player, especially when the offer comes from abroad. Tammeka Tartu, for example, let its striker Rasmus Tauts go the US to follow studies at Michigan University. He plays football there, and came back at Tammeka for a few games during his summer holidays last year!
Things are slightly different with Flora Tallinn, who’s got the best youth academy of the country, by far. When one of its players has the opportunity to go abroad, the club usually let him go on loan for one or two years. The player gets a good experience at higher level, can come back if it doesn’t work, and the team still can hope for some money if everything goes well. Which doesn’t occur so often, I have to say. But the politics is to never prevent a player of playing on an higher league when there’s an offer.
The wages aren’t high either as some players sometimes leave football for another job. This winter for example, the Flora fullback Jürgenz Lorenz gave up at only 25 to follow his studies at an Austrian university.
Is a Champions League / Europa League game involving Estonian side watched by most of the nation?
No, I don’t think so. Football is still a minor sport in Estonia, so no many people will be watching on TV. And the stadiums won’t be full, especially when playing in the great A. Le Coq Arena.
How do you think Europa League 2 will affect the Estonian sides?
Well, I don’t clearly know how the new competitions will be formed. For sure, this will exclude the Estonian teams from the first, and even maybe the second competition. They will play with easiest sides in the last European competition, but I’m not sure this will attract people, moreover if they keep being eliminated that quickly!
The gap between the main teams and the other ones, the lack of suspense (even if it’s a bit better in this year’s beginning), are the main reasons why the FA, and Estonian football in general, struggles to attract people. And I don’t think playing only with teams from Wales, Gibraltar or Armenia will make us better. Especially if it’s to lose against.
Do you think UEFA are doing enough to help the minnows of European football and what can they do to further help them?
Hard question. Taking example on the Icelandic situation, Estonia should be helped with indoor fields, which are not many. This would help kids playing in winter, and thus being attracted and kept by football. Improve the tactical and technical level of the youth coaches could also be a point. And, maybe, help teams leave their fucking artificial pitches for natural grass ones, even if the maintenance is harder.
There is a progression in football, but it’s not as important as it is in others countries. In my opinion, Estonia is losing speed in comparison to countries of its level. And, as there is not a huge diaspora in Europe, there won’t be many Mathias Käit in the future. The youth development must be the main point to work on.
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Author: Tom Mortimer
Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.