2013 Football Season Review: Winners and Losers
The football season has finally come to an end, with Tartu Tammeka successfully defending its place in the Premium Liiga, beating Rakvere Tarvas in relegation playoffs on Saturday. ERR News sports editors have picked the winners and losers from the past nine months.
Levadia's eighth title and the first since 2009 confirmed that the old Flora-Levadia rivalry has been swapped for the Nõmme Kalju-Levadia rivalry. Levadia won all four league games against Flora, and a cup tie to boot.
Head coach Marko Kristal, who now adds a management Estonian title to the seven he won when playing for FC Flora, had the help of national team players Dmitri Kruglov and Aleksandr Dmitijev, who are likely to leave for foreign clubs before the next season.
Kalju's hard fought first title last year was lost, but European success has always been just as important for Estonian teams, especially as they are a very rare thing. Kalju beat Finnish champions HJK and progressed to the third qualifying round of the Champions League - a feat previously achieved only once.
The club's preseason title hopes were laughed at. No one is laughing now. A top-three finish is a great result for the club, especially as it has only a third of fourth-place Flora's budget, and the win over the 2011 champions in the last round was the cherry on the cake.
National team midfielder Martin Vunk and former national team striker Vjatseslav Zahovaiko, both new signings, did much to lift the team out of mid-table obscurity - 20 more points were earned compared to 2012. If they keep up the progress, the title beckons next year. If they can hold on to their starts. At least head-coach Sergei Ratnikov believes so.
Flora, as the name suggests, is in the process of perpetual rejuvenation, a generation grows up, wins the title, leaves for greener pastures, then another one must be raised. 2013 was another transition year, and it is unlikely the team will be ready to bear fruit next season.
Sander Post, who fired Flora to its last title in 2011, returned, but was forced to play in central defense for half the season. Changing coaches in mid-season did not help the cause either.
Improvement was expected from last season's last place after the arrival of vastly experienced German coach Uwe Erkenbrecher. While a third more points represents a significant increase, finishing the league ninth meant playoff games against the first division's Rakvere JK Tarvas. Tammeka duly won those games and will start in the top division again in 2014.
As it began the season with a budget half that of the next lowest club, a mediocre showing can be forgiven. But fans would of hoped for better results than just two victories and five draws, ending in last place and relegation, especially as Kuressaare came in eighth last year.
Until Tallinn Kalev's scandals, every piece of news out of Estonia on match-fixing seemed to have involved Narva Trans players, with a number of current and ex-Trans footballers also receiving long bans. The club itself has escaped punishment, but on-field results have suffered. Trans was fourth in 2012, albeit 26 points behind third-place Flora, qualifying for the Europa League preliminary games. A year later, the club is just four points away from relegation playoffs.
Kalev wasn't expected to win the league after qualification last year, and a last-day escape from relegation playoffs was welcome news for the club. But off-field problems have made their mark, with two players banned for match-fixing and head coach Frank Bernhardt complaining that the team just could not agree on training times.
Vladimir Voskoboinikov (Kalju) - 23
Rimo Hunt (Levadia) - 22
Kassim Aidara (Sillamäe Kalev) - 17
Vjatseslav Zahovaiko (Sillamäe Kalev) - 16
Albert Prosa (Flora) - 16
Tallinna Kalev 0-9 Sillamäe Kalev
1,160 Levadia - Flora
A total of 38,753 people turned out to watch all the matches combined, 4,435 more than last season's figure.
Soccernet.ee, a local football news website run by enthusiasts, has picked the ten best goals, which can be viewed here.