FC Santos Tartu have no record whatsoever in the European competitions for a simple reason: they aren’t top-flight football club.
‘Santos’, as it’s simply known in Estonia, belong to Estonian Esiliiga-B, the third tier of the football pyramid. They are currently leading the table (45 points, one clear of FC Infonet double team) following 15 wins and just one loss in 16 games.
They earned a European spot via the Cup competition. In fact, they reached the final against Levadia (they lost 0-4, check match report by Chris Johns here) and were granted the spot as the Cup Winners were already Estonian Champions (Levadia is playing in the Champions League).
A mix of luck, giant-killing and good performance, have managed to push Santos until the semifinal of the competition were they got rid of another amateur side, HÜJK Emmaste. Upon passing the leg, they had already secured the Europa League spots.
Concerns over their compliance with UEFA standard for a European licence were soon cleared and the Estonian FA confirmed Santos would have got a European spot. Following the achievement, Santos managed to get a good jersey sponsor (mineral water Värska) and signed UEFA Pro-licence coach, Algimantas Liubinskas (a past at the helm of the Lithuanian national team).
The club is ambitious.
Chairman Meelis Eelmäe declared openly their target is to get to top-flight in three season and become Tartu’s first club (at the moment, for attendance, follow and top-flight position, Tammeka Tartu is the first one). Meanwhile, they will try to punch above their weight in Europe.
There are no big names in here as all Santos footballers are good semi-pro or amateurs. All the XI has another job to make the ends meet at the end of the month. Some of them are involved in the club as youth coaches. The star is Mikk Laasi and the topscorer in Esiliiga-B Taavi Vellemaa (11 goals)
The XI features also two interesting Ukrainian youngsters: Yuriy Flyak and Yuriy Vereshchak.
We can learn what are the jobs in everyday life of most of the squad (except the two Ukrainian talents who are professional footballers) by following the starting XI of the home game against Tromsoe IL:
1. Siim Saesk (GK), Santos youth coach
22. Siim Roops, Santos youth coach
25. Eero Eessaar, Tartu prison security guard
12. Kenn Laas, high school student
26. Yuriy Flyak
11. Marko Sonn, real estate agent
10. Taavi Vellemaa, security guard
3. Timo Teniste, (brother of Tajo, Estonian international playing in Norway at Sogndal), football referee and youth coach.
27. Yuriy Vereschak
17. Mikk Laas, university studet at Physical Education faculty
9. Alar Alve, (truck driver at ‘Värska’, mineral water company and jersey sponsor). The two Ukrainian players are set for a professional football career.
Other players in the squad.
Siim Valtna is university student and Santos youth coach; Tarvo Laurson a construction worker; Robert Pluum, employee at printing house; Kaarel Kallandi a medical doctor; Kaspar Kohlek an IT employee; Jaanus Võrno a student at dentist course; Taido Idavain A.LeCoq beer factory employee.
4-4-2 for Liubinskas trying to exploit the talent of Vereschak supported by Alve. There are frequent incursions from the midfield with Mikk Laas and Taavi Vellemaa able to finish. As shown against Levadia, they will suffer the gap difference with a bigger team even though losing only 4-0 was a good result (top-flight Kalev Tallinn recently surrendered 9-0 to the Estonian Champions.
· The president, Meelis Eelmäe, was among the founders of Tammeka, Tartu’s first club
· A strange case of a Nigerian footballer ‘smuggled’ into Estonia involved the unaware club back in December 2013, story here
· Siim Valtna is the brother of Mikk, playing top-flight football at Tammeka
· The home stadium is, as for any Tartu team, Tamme Stadium and it shall be adequate for the UEFA standards of first qualifying round.
· This is the first time for Tartu (Estonia’s university city, 100,000 inhabitants) in the European Cups
· Santos are the first club from Estonian lower leagues to reach the European competitions
· Santos have are the organizers of Celtic FC vs. Tottenham Hotspurs FC friendly game in Helsinki on the 2nd of August at the Olympic Stadium of the Finnish capital (tickets available here)