Liverpool's loss is Cagliari's gain it seems, as the Sardinian team sign star Estonian defender Ragnar Klavan for €2 million. Angelo Palmeri gives us the details about what to some of us might look like an interesting direction in Klavan's career.
It took 27 years, but finally we also have our first Estonian player in Serie A.
Ragnar Klavan has signed a contract with Sardinia top-flight club Cagliari Calcio, the move from Liverpool was agreed for €2 m on a two-year contrat which, at these latitudes, is quite a sum. To give a benchmark, some years ago the move of national team player Karol Mets from FC Flora to Viking FK in Norway was rumoured to have cost a quarter of a million euros, though this is a sum both clubs never confirmed or denied.
What had been red is now red and blue
Klavan leaves Liverpool after two seasons during which he collected 53 appearances and netted two goals, a quite respectable tally considering that Ragnar was not a regular starter.
The Viljandi-born Klavan also managed to amass seven appearances in the Champions League in the great campaign that led to the unlucky final defeat against Real Madrid. Cagliari Calcio will be his 6th club and, considering his age (32) it could be the last experience before returning home as many other Estonian top internationals have done in the past.
When Klavan's contract at Cagliari ends (in June 2020), he will already be 34 and coming up to the maximum age for top-tier outfield players. The debut in Sardinia however could see him on the pitch as early as this coming Sunday, as Cagliari run out in the Serie A opening matchday at newly-promoted Empoli. This is a game which is nonetheless likely to be read even in this embryonic stage of the season as a direct clash for the relegation zone, since Cagliari finished 16th out of 20 in Serie A last season and are expected to be facing the same kind of struggle for 2017-18.
The icing on the Sardinian cake
Klavan was signed by Cagliari to complete a defensive line-up where other four centrebacks are also on the books, though all with less experience than he has: 21 year-old Filippo Romagna (a Juventus youth product), 29-year-old Luca Ceppitelli and Marco Andreolli and Fabio Pisacane who are the same age.
Ceppitelli and Romagna were the starts in the Coppa Italia (national cup) game against Palermo (Serie B club, second tier) which the 'rossoblù' (red and blues - Cagliari's nickname) won 2-1. These four central defenders are all in their first season with a Cagliari side which is also counting on the new manager in its ranks, Rolando Maran.
Despite reaching safety last season, Cagliari did not renew Diego Lopez' contract as manager, a man who had replaced Massimo Rastelli during the course of the last season. Maran lands in Cagliari from a second spell at Chievo Verona (2014-2018) and is known for being an offensive-minded coach and one who prefers to play with veteran players rather than send youngsters on the pitch.
A former defender himself, Maran has repeatedly stressed the importance of his teams thinking forward, with an 'I want my teams to determine their performance (rather than being influenced by the opponents' attitude–ed.)' and once told an Italian media outlet, Rivista Undici, that ''I ask players to be tactically aggressive; they need a strong approach to bring out their qualities.''
In terms of defence, when in possession of the ball, centrebacks like Klavan are in Maran's playbook required to play the ball to the full-backs (wide and ready to receive and connect with the strikers dropping); when not on the ball, they are required to cover the space at the back as a result of the high up defensive line).
Chievo's offensive attitude last season under Maran however resulted in a -23 goal difference, only 5 goals better than the next place team, Cagliari itself (-28). In short, Klavan will have lot of work to do, so he will be able to utilise his great experience and playing time gained in the service of the Estonian national team.
Despite many Estonian fans and media rating Klavan's move a downgrade from Liverpool and the Premier League (initially there was rumour he might move to top Turkish side Fenerbahçe), it has to be said that 57 appearances in two years is not a lot in top football since normally this is what a regular starter racks up in one season (without international duties taken into account).
Moving out was necessary from an Estonian perspective too as Klavan on good form means he will be better able to help the Estonian national team that he has captained regularly for a few years already. Despite the lack of gloss compared to the English top league and a general stereotyped image of a comparatively boring set up in Italy (which is not the true picture), Serie A has been quite an attractive act in recent years.
Juventus aside (the 'bianconeri' have clocked up seven titles in the last 10 season almost undisturbed), the fight in the league for the top positions, the Europa League zone and at the other end of the table, relegation, has always been tight and full of surprises. Goals have been scored aplenty and intrigue has not been missing.
Additionally, Italian coaches are deemed worldwide as the most knowledgeable tactical teachers, which means Klavan will still learn one thing or two that can help his career last even longer.
Ragnar Klavan is definitely moving to one of the most important leagues in Europe and indeed the world, one which has recently experienced no shortage of hype with the move of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus.
Klavan's first appointment against CR7 is fixed for the 4 November at the Juventus Stadium in Torino. There will be plenty of strikers who should keep 'Raku' (Klavan's nickname-ed.) busy in the coming months, something which you becomes apparent simply by reading the past-season top-10 topscorers table: Mauro Icardi (29 goals, Inter), Ciro Immobile (29, Lazio), Paulo Dybala (22, Juventus), Fabio Quagliarella (19, Sampdoria), Dries Mertens (19, Napoli), Edin Dzeko (16, Roma) Gonzalo Higuain (16, AC Milan), Giovanni Simeone (14, Fiorentina), Iago Falque (12, Torino) Milinkovic-Savic (12, Lazio) are some of the names Klavan will soon get familiar with.
First Estonian in Serie A
No matter how weird it might sound, no Estonian hitherto had set foot in a Serie A squad. Whilst Joonas Tamm and Henri Anier were at Sampdoria (2009-10) and Frank Liivak at Napoli (2013-14), they only reached these clubs at'Primavera' (U21) level, but never saw an appearance on the bench let alone an on-pitch call-up in the senior squads.
The highest level any 'kalevipoeg' had reached in the Boot Country previously is shared by Enar Jääger and Tarmo Kink, who respectively played at Ascoli Calcio (2009-10) and Varese (2012-13) in the second-tier Serie B.
The Estonian trailblazer in Italian football, however, is no less than goalkeeping legend and present-day Levadia sport director, Sergei Pareiko. Pareiko was only 21 when he played at Casale Calcio, then as now a Serie D club (fourth tier), where he nevertheless also managed to win the Coppa Italia Dilettanti, the national cup competition reserved to the lower tiers in Italian football.
Ragnar Klavan joined Liverpool in July 2016 for €5 million, but struggled to claim a regular start in a squad which boasts such defensive alumni as Dejan Lovren, Joël Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Nathaniel Clyne and Trent Alexander-Arnold, though he nevertheless made his mark on the team, scoring the first ever goal in the English Premier League by an Estonian on 1 January 2018 against Burnley.*
*Former Estonian national team goalkeeper Mart Poom's fabled header for Sunderland against his former club Derby in 2003 took place in what was then called the First Division (now the Championship), confusingly in fact the second tier professional league there.
Editor: Andrew Whyte