2014 Estonian Football League Preview
After claiming the Super Cup on Tuesday, FC Flora will be hoping to shake up the duopoly of FC Levadia and Nõmme Kalju, which have claimed the top two places in the nation's highest football league, the Premium Liiga, in previous seasons.
Besides the three, Sillamäe Kalev has enough confidence to continue in the top group, while Paide, Tallinn Infonet and Narva all should finish below European qualification (top three), but safe from relegation.
A more interesting battle should develop at the foot of the table, with a number of teams struggling financially.
The season kicks off on March 1.
Meet the teams:
Tallinn FC Levadia
Coach: Marko Kristal
Stadium: Maarjamäe Stadium (500), Kadriorg Stadium (5,000)
Budget: 660,000 euros
Transfers: Rimo Hunt (out), Vladislav Ivanov (in), Heiko Tamm (in), Omar El Husseini (in), Arsenij Bujnickij (in)
Word on the street: Hunt's transfer to Kazakhstan, and his 22 goals last season, will leave a huge gap in its attack. Ivanov and Bujnickij are both strikers, but will they help Levadia to retain the title? If two national team veterans in Dmitri Kruglov and Aleksandr Dmitrjev leave, the team could also be unbalanced in other areas of the pitch.
Nõmme JK Kalju
Coach: Igor Prins
Stadium: Kadriorg Stadium (5,000 seats)
Budget: 930,000 euros
Transfers: Reginald Mbu Alidor (in), Mikk Reintam (in), Martin Vunk (in), Fabio Seravalli Prates (in), Novo Papaz (in), Yankuba Ceesay (out), Eino Puri (out), Marco Bianchi (out), Sergei Terehhov (retired), Vladimir Voskoboinikov (poised to leave)
Word on the street: Similar to Levadia, Kalju could lose its 2013 top-scorer, but unlike Levadia, Kalju has decided on a rejuvenation on a far larger scale, with at least 11 first-team players leaving. Reintam and Vunk will be useful additions.
JK Sillamäe Kalev
Coach: Sergei Ratnikov
Stadium: Kalev Stadium in Sillamäe (2,000)
Budget: 420,000 euros
Transfers: Jaroslav Kvassov (in), Stanislav Murihhin (in), Maksim Paponov (in), Igor Tšeminava (in), Martin Vunk (out), Marius Cinikas (out), Kassim Aidara (out)
Word on the street: People laughed when Sillamäe expressed title hopes a year ago. Fewer people laughed at the end of the season when Sillamäe had forced far richer FC Flora to fourth. Yet midfield engine Vunk has left, and it is unclear how the team will fare without him.
Tallinn FC Flora
Coach: Norbert Hurt
Stadium: A. Le Coq Arena (9,692)
Budget: 1,150,000 euros
Transfers: Zakaria Beglarišvili (returned after a year's hiatus), Taavi Rähn (in), Raio Piiroja (in), Sander van de Streek (out), Karl Palatu (out)
Word on the street: Flora looks to be on the right side of a perpetual circle of raising youngsters until they are good enough, then cashing in and beginning from scratch. Hardly anyone left the club, and the return of Beglarišvili, who was the club's top scorer in 2012, has already borne fruit — his goal won the Super Cup for Flora on Tuesday. Piiroja has been registered in the Flora team, but is out with an injury until July.
Coach: Meelis Rooba
Stadium: Paide City Stadium (268)
Transfers: Joel Indermitte (in), Karl Palatu (in), Teet Allas (retired), Urmas Rooba (retired), Mihhail Lavrentjev (out)
Word on the street: Paide out-did themselves last season, finishing a very respectable fifth. 13 new players have arrived and 12 have left, and the integration of the new players will be the key question this season. Paide will not challenge the above teams, but a mid-table finish is expected.
Tallinn FC Infonet
Coach: Aleksandr Puštov
Stadium: Sportland Arena (500)
Budget: 300,000 euros
Transfers: Tanel Melts (in), Marten Saarlas (in), Kassim Aidara (in), Dmitri Kovtunovitš (out, loan agreement expired)
Word on the street: Last season's mid-table finish is likely to be repeated if a suitable midfielder is found.
Narva JK Trans
Coach: Valeri Bondarenko
Stadium: Kreenholm (3,000)
Budget: 350,000 euros
Transfers: Sergei Lepmets (in), Albert Taar (out), Ilja Šesterkov (out)
Word on the street: Another team to see an unusually large number of changes, with eight players leaving. A number of negotiations are ongoing, but most of the empty places will be filled by youth players. Any improvement on last season's seventh place could be considered a good achievement.
JK Tallinn Kalev
Coach: Tarmo Rüütli
Stadium: Kalev Keskstaadion (12,000)
Budget: 35,000 – 40,000 euros
Transfers: Anton Issakov (in), Tauno Tekko (in), Daniel Vazquez Evuy (out), Ats Sillaste (out)
Word on the street: Having cut the budget five-fold, the aim, according to head coach Rüütli, formerly of the national team, is to simply avoid relegation. If rumors are to be believed, Rüütli will leave the team for a better-paid foreign coaching job, leaving Kalev in an even worse situation. The team begins the season with 14 new faces, with 10 having left.
Tartu JK Tammeka
Coach: Indrek Koser
Stadium: Tamme Stadium (1,600)
Transfers: Reio Laabus (in), Heiko Tamm (out), Tauno Tekko (out).
Word on the street: Tammeka are happy just to be here, a month ago the club was heading for collapse. But a deal between the Football Association, owners and the team's youth set-up, led by club captain Kristjan Tiirik, means that a new club was formed, with the same name, although the JK in the middle now means Jalgpallikool (Football School), not Jalgpalliklubi (Football Club). The team will have the colors, badge and most of the same players.
Jõhvi FC Lokomotiv
Coach: Viktor Nesterenko
Stadium: Jõhvi City Stadium (500)
Transfers: Deniss Kulikov (in), Vitali Kutuzov (in)
Word on the street: Despite finishing second, Lokomotiv received automatic promotion from the first league, as Levadia II is ineligible. Whatever happens, and with so many clubs struggling at the foot of the table, anything can happen, Lokomotiv will be happy just to take part, having played in the fifth tier in 1999 and the third tier of Estonian league football just two seasons ago.