Tiina Trutsi, female national team player and FC Flora midfielder, hit the headlines of Estonian sports media a month ago when the news of her signing with a US university club broke.
Tiina will develop her football career in South Alabama, the southern part of the Alabama state including all the counties under the so-called ‘Black Belt’.
She will move from the capital of Estonia, Tallinn (a 400,000-inhabitant city) to Mobile, the capital of the homonymous county (192,000 people).
From the Gulf of Finland to the Gulf of Mexico.
A different climate and a different culture are expecting Tiina in her ‘American adventure’ and obviously, many football challenges she is looking forward to take on in her young age (Tiina turned 20 on the 19th of February, few days after the news).
She will leave her FC Flora jersey in the closet to soon wear the South Alabama Jaguars colours (navy blue and red).
We talked to Tiina on the eve of her national team trip to Northern Ireland for a double-friendly challenge with the local national team (2-0 on aggregate for Northern Ireland the final output of the tour)
Tiina, first of all thanks for accepting to answer to ‘Rumori di Spogliatoio’s questions and congratulations for getting the possibility to go to US for playing football and studying as well.
What was your first reaction when they told you?
It was a pleasure to receive such an offer, but there were other offers too, because I was actively involved in searching the best university. I chose South Alabama, because they had the best offer and conditions. The coaches seemed very friendly and helpful. Another factor was that Grete (Küppas – A.P.) is going there as well.
I read the words from your future coach, Winkworth: ‘Tiina is the type of player that plays like she is floating," said Winkworth "Her wonderful soccer brain and touch provide her with extra time on the ball that other players do not always have the luxury of. This trait will be critical with the pressing style that many teams employ in the United States. I have no doubt that she will create many goal-scoring chances for the talented group of forwards in the squad’.
What would you add to describe yourself and introduce your way of playing football to the fans there?
I am a person who likes to train a lot to overcome my weaknesses and improve my strengths. In the game I am more of a technical player, who likes to pass and create goal-scoring opportunities.
Winkworth described you as an assist-supplier indeed. Are you that kind of player who enjoys more serving a pass for a goal rather than scoring a goal yourself? What taste scoring a goal has for you?
Who wouldn’t love scoring a goal! This is a very good feeling, but I also enjoy serving a pass for others. The most important thing is that the team scores goals and wins!
Until few years ago, in the US, the women football enjoyed an opposite situation than in Europe where men are the absolute protagonists. Men football has managed to gain some popularity there. More popularity, more pressure. What is your expectation of the pressure there compared to here?
As it is so popular, it certainly increases the pressure. And especially it is hard for those who go into a new environment and a new style of play. However, when the pressure is higher, then it inspires me to be a better player and train hard. I am not afraid of the challenges ahead.
Before you and Grete, other two Estonian footballers have played in US women football system, Katrin Loo and Liis Emajõe. Liis is actually still there in Maine University, Katrin was less lucky and came back after a season. Will you ask them some advices on how to acclimatize faster and what might be the main differences with Europe and Estonia you might be facing?
To be honest, I haven’t asked them about the acclimatization. I talked to a player from England who is there in South Alabama for the first year. I asked her how the foreigners are accepted there, how the climate and the conditions are, what she thinks about the professors and studying opportunities etc. It was great to talk to someone who is there and has experienced these things already.
Talking about playing football, how do you expect the US football to be different from the one you have played so far in Estonia and at international level during your 12 caps?
I haven’t been there and seen the level myself, but I think the football there is fast-paced and more physical, because they work a lot on the physical condition.
It is not your first experience abroad as in 2010 you had a chance in Italy at AC Milan. What exactly did not work then and what you think was the problem that made end that experience earlier than expected?
First of all, I could not manage to do all the paperwork. There was a rule that only one foreigner can play, but one player from Nigeria managed to sign the contract before me. I would have had to wait for one year to start playing in the league.
Secondly, the club president wanted to make a four-year contract, but in the beginning, we talked about one year only - until my 18th birthday. Also some financial problems occurred which led to the head coach resigning.
Was it generally hard to be away from home at such young age? Do you think it was a factor that played against? What were the main troubles in your acclimatization back then?
Of course, it was hard to be alone. Sometimes I felt very homesick. I had to make many decisions on my own and for the first time. In addition, the language barrier, since they do not speak English there and I had to use body language to make myself clear. I began to study intensely Italian on my own and I was able to express myself better. In addition, compared to Estonia, it was very complicated and bureaucratic to do all the paperwork in Italy.
In general, what have you learned from that experience and what you think will be useful from that once you are in the US?
Now I know better what is important and what to concentrate on when going to another country. I have the experience of going to a very new environment and coping with it. I can quickly blend into the environment.
Talking about Alabama. It is a Southern state of US and Mobile, where the University is located, is on the Gulf of Mexico Coast. How an Estonian bred in long and cold Winters and breezy and fresh Summers will adapt to the hot Summers (it can peak to 33’C!) and to the tempered winters (18’C during the day in Februray)?
I have wished to live in a warmer climate for a long time. I believe that now my body could get used to it. I also think it is easier to adapt to the heat rather than get used to the cold.
Now you can use ‘Rumori di Spogliatoio’ to send a greeting to your new club, to the fans and your future team and courses mates.
I hope I can give something new to the team. I believe that we have a strong team and I hope that we can provide great experiences for fans with the beautiful and technical possession-oriented game. I am very excited and looking forward to meeting with the coaches and the teammates already!
‘Rumori di Spogliatoio’ is the first webportal that, despite an Italian name, talks about Estonian football in English. What do you think about it?
This is a very good thing. We're a small country and all kinds of advertising is good for Estonian football. Now people who do not speak the language, can keep themselves updated on football news.
I don’t know how much Italian you have learned in Milano, however we wish luck this way: ‘in bocca al lupo Tiina!’ do you know how to answer? If not, we will simply resort to the Estonian ‘Kivi kotti, Tiina!’
Crepi il lupo! Aitäh!