Some of them come from very far away.
Some from just behind the corner.
They are the 44 foreigners* wearing the jerseys of the Premium Liiga clubs for 2014 seasons.
The biggest bulk of them (12) comes from the neighbouring Russia.
Most of them play in the Ida-Virumaa (Eastern Estonia) clubs: Sillamäe Kalev, Narva Trans and Lokomotiv Jõhvi.
Europe, Africa, Asia and even America are represented in the Estonian top-flight.
Let’s meet the 46 members of the Foreign Legion.
* the calculation doesn't take into account ethnic Russians born in Estonia who opted for Russian citizenship or holding the so-called 'aliens passport'. We have tried to be as much accurate as possible using sources like premiumliiga.ee, transfermarkt.de and the recently published magazine 'Eesti Jalgpall 2014'.
If there are any mistakes according to your opinion, please contact us.
Thanks to linguistic and cultural reasons, Ida-Virumaa it is the ideal place for young Russian players and not to find their spot in Estonian football. Contrary to all the other non-Russian-speaking foreigners they arrive in clubs where the work language is already Russian as most of the team members are ethnic Russians born in Estonia. A situation that might compel, on the other hand, an Estonian player to learn Russian: ‘he does not speak Russian, but he will learn’ said Siim Tenno’s mother to Narva Trans website.
In the border city Tenno’s teammates from the big neighbours are Dmitri Sheviakov (MF, 19), Pavel Avdeev (DF, 23) and Aleksandr Eliseenok (FW, 23).
Moving west, in Sillamäe there are the young (22-years-old) Zenit-grown talent Igor Cheminava (DF) together with the left flanker (26-years-old and already 3 goals in the first 3 games) Evgeni Kabaev, the goalkeeper Artjom Levizi (21) and the midfielder Stanislav Murikhin (22). Cheminava has still an existing contract with Zenit and will join Sillamäe in May.
Moving further Tallinn-bound the next stop is in Jõhvi where the newly promoted Lokomotiv fields the young defender Igor Potapov (20)
Once in Tallinn, most of the Russian players are at FC Infonet: Vladimir Malinin (MF, 22) and the prolific left flanker Oleg Valov (MF, 22) sidelined by a suspension in the first seasonal matchdays.
Lasha Omanidze (FW, 20) is the Russian player with Georgian ascent at Kalev Tallinn. In the last game against Lokomotiv Jõhvi, he served an assist for the winning goal by Belov after dribbling half of the Loko squad
Last, but not least as Flora fans elected him best player for 2013 season, is Irakli Logua (FW, 22). Grown in Moscow at Dynamo, he is actually of a various ascent as mother is Georgian and father Abkhazian: ‘if you wish, I can have a triple nationality!’ exclaimed in an interview for the Flora match program in order to solve the Estonian press dilemma over his real nationality. The official page of the Premium Liiga marks him as ‘Russian’ to solve any controversy.
He re-joined Flora after a break during the winter.
No other nationality is represented as Russia is.
Immediately after, a few groups are represented up to single individuals bringing proudly the flag of their country high in this corner of the Baltic sea.
Contrary to what one might think, are not Latvians and Lithuanians the most represented in Estonia after Russia, but Ukrainians. We talk only about four players though, Roman Smiśko (GK, 31), captain at Levadia and 2013 Best Goalkeeper according to RdS readers. The 199cm tall shot stopper has a notable tendence to emphasize certain contact episodes as the below video shows.
Oleksandr Volchkov (DF, 28) who was playing in Moldova before joining the Estonian club during last summer transfer window, reached Smiśko at the Estonian Champions during the summer.
he other two Ukrainian nationals are to be found in Sillamäe: midfielder Oleksiy Lazebny (20) and Yaroslav Kvasov, 22-year-old striker grown in Zoria Luhansk.
The three Latvians are divided between Narva Trans and Lokomotiv Jõhvi.
Andrejs Sinicins (MF, 23) and Sergejs Miśins (MF, 26) are the new hires at Narva Trans coming from Spartaks Jurmala and Daugava Riga during the last transfer window.
Rihards Ivanovs (FW, 19) was signed by Lokomotiv Jõhvi from his birth town club FK Rezekne.
Quite surprisingly, the 4th most relevant contingent is not coming from a former USSR republic, but from Western Europe.
Allan Kimbaloula (MF, 22) is probably one of the most familiar faces since season 2012. Set at Kalju after turning down an offer from Norwich academy, he’s been object of several transfer market rumours and news (AS Roma, Slask Wroclaw and a Russian club).
His second season at Kalju FC started very well as he scored a brace against Paide and served two assists in the previous two games both for Neemelo to score.
He is not alone at 2013 runners-up as since this winter he was reached by his mate at Lille OSC academy, Mbu Alidor Reginald (MF, 20) who has already favourably impressed fans and critics.
A known face is Kassim Aidara (FW, 26) who left Sillamäe to join forces with FC Infonet. Kassim was a very prolific attacking midfielder during the past season netting 17 goals in 34 games. Born in Hamburg, Germany, from Senegalese parents, Kassim holds a French passport. He is still looking for his first goal at FC Infonet.
An ex-aequo place with France is to be granted to the Caucasian republic featuring three of their nationals in the rows of Estonian clubs.
A old new face is Zaxara Beglarishvili (MF, 23). Already at FC Flora in 2012 (17 goals in 28 matches), the Georgian talent with a past at Ajax Amsterdam U-19, has returned to what he feels like home after a difficult period in his home country where things did not work as expected at Sioni Bolnisi (Umaglesi Liga, Georgian top flight). He has already been a protagonist of Flora’s successful start of season: a decisive goal in the Supercup against Levadia and two nettings in the Premium Liiga, all goals featuring a mix of skill and power for the pint-sized attacking midfielder (171cm).
As we have considered Omanidze and Logua both holding Russian citizenship, the other two Georgian presences in the Estonian top-flight are Lasha Naveriani (23-year-old striker with a past at FC Samgurali Tskhaltubo) and Malkhaz Garsevanshvili (20-year-old striker with a past in Ukraine at DYSS-15 Kyiv) both set since the winter transfer window at Lokomotiv Jõhvi.
The Finnish neighbour has provided from time to time few ‘legionars’ however the number is quite little compared to other neighbouring country. Estonia it is mostly a destination for younger players to get some experience and playing time before returning to the home country or setting up for other destinations in continental Europe.
Jere Aallikko (MF, 20) is a young talent (member of the Finnish U-20 selection) signed by FC Levadia and already indicated as one of the promising talents for season 2014. It will be hard to get a spot in the starting XI. Kristal is used to switch between Ilja Antonov (most of the times given a start) and Andreas Raudsepp (an all-around midfielder ready to play wherever the coach asks him to). However, the season is long and he might get his chance is he will well impress in Levadia second team games (he has already scored a goal in the Esiliiga-A, the second tier where the double plays). In a profile given by former Estonian international and Levadia player, Sergei Hohlov-Simson, he is described as follow: 'he has good technical skills and vision of play, however his weaker spot is a weak physical preparation. So far he has been playing only at youth level and in the next two years we will see how he will adapt in the switch to professional football. He has great potential.'
Instead, Ionel Armean from Espoo (DF, 22) risks to go unnoticed having joined the amateur side of Kalev Tallinn. As of now he is been given a start only twice out of three games, and in the last 0-8 loss to Levadia he mostly watched from the bench.
Also Lithuania lags behind in terms of players supplied to Premium Liiga.
According to ‘Eesti Jalgpall’ – a new magazine released yesterday – three Lithuanians are in the ‘Legionars Best XI’ of all times: Vitoldas Cepauskas (DF, Levadia and Trans), Tomas Razanauskas (MF, Flora) and Tomas Rimas (DF, TVMK and Trans). On the bench of that ‘Best XI’ we can find Algimantas Briaunys (GK, Flora), Viktoras Olśanskis (MF, Flora) and Ricardas Zdancius (MF, Flora).
The little presence limited to Mindaugas Baguzis (DF, 30, Sillamäe Kalev) and Arsenij Buinickij (FW, 28, Levadia) might be due to the crisis Lithuanian football has been going through the recent years.
Baguzis collected a red card in the last tie against Narva Trans. Buinickij scored an overhead kick goal in the Levadia's 8-0 win against Kalev.
Rest of Europe (5)
Single individuals represent some European countries in the Estonian geo-football map.
One of the veterans at Nõmme Kalju is the Portuguese defender, Jorge Rodrigues (32). Appreciated for his football skills and a solar character that has helped him surviving the long Estonian winters, the 182cm defender born in Vila Real, has been at the club since 2011 seeing the 2012 success build-up and being one of his protagonists. Jorge has a past at top-flight club Boavista and another spell abroad in Slovenia at ND Gorica. He often writes about his football life in Estonia to the Portuguese webmedia Maisfutebol.iol.pt, under the section 'Cronicas Made In' talking about the life abroad of Portuguese footballers. In the last article he explains how the 'bowling celebration' was chosen by the squad to celebrate the goal against Flora: ''The idea of doing this kind of celebration came after a meeting I had with the club president (Kuno Tehva - A.P.). The goal is to improve team spirit, animating our fans and captivate more people to come to watch football. The team like the idea of doing this special celebrations and we decided to do human bowling! Unfortunately, I was not on the field to participate this time but certainly within the next will be. So be alert!
One of Jorge's teammates on and off the pitch, it’s the Italian Damiano Quintieri (FW, 23). Since Marco Bianchi returned to Italy, Damiano is the only representative of the Boot Country in Estonian top flight. A past at FC Internazionale academy, Damiano helped Kalju in clinching their first ever title and was a great protagonist of the Champions League campaign with 3 goals. A knee injury (torn anterior cruciate ligament) has sidelined him for the start of season. He is trying to recover and avoid a surgical operation. Voted as 2013 Best Foreign Player by RdS readers, we might see him back on the pitch at the end of April, start of May.
Staying at Kalju, a very last addition of the 2013 runners-up’s transfer campaign was the attacking midfielder from Bosnia-Hercegovin, Novo Papaz (23). His debut at Hiiu in the notorious technical defeat against FC Infonet was positive and he’s also giving a help in the second team playing in Esiliiga-A.
From the Balcanic peninsula is also Dragomir Vukobratovic (MF, 25). Born in Karlovac (today part of Croatia) he holds both Serbian and Croatian nationalities. The defensive midfielder signed to replace Estonian international Aleksandr Dmitrijev, as had a short spell at Crvena Zvezda. He has joined FC Levadia.
Another latest purchase from across the Baltic, it’s Atie Said, 21-year-old striker with Arabic ascent settled at Paide Linnameeskond. His goal against Levadia shocked the Premium Liiga matchday 1 fixtures.
Time to move on ‘across the pond’ as the British say and see what the ‘new found-land’ has brought onto the Baltic shores
THE AMERICAS (3)
Seen from there, Estonia might look like a far, tiny and unknown country nestling between Finland and Russia. Very little is known about Estonia in Northern and Southern America, and even less about its football.
However, there have been several Southern Americans populating the Estonian top-flight. The Brazilian troop at Nõmme Kalju led by Getulio Fredo (still at the club as Igor Prins’ assistant coach) and topscorer Felipe Nunes, it is still in the heart of the ‘pink panthers’ fans. Midfielder Fabio Seravalli Prates (27, his full story here) maintains the tradition of the land of samba. Part of his family name (Seravalli) is Italian: ''my grandparents are from Empoli (Tuscany - A.P.)'' told Fabinho to RdS ''however I support AC Milan!''. Read his incredible story of how he escaped an armed conflict in Bangladesh while he was at a local club.
If the ‘saudade’ (the Brazilians nostalgia for their homeland) might hit him, he could catch up with Joao Paulo Reginato (DF, 22) in Sillamäe (at the moment mostly employed at the double team in Esiliiga-B, third tier) and previously at Kalju himself.
Believe it or not, Premium Liiga features also a US citizen among its rows. Sean Tremaine Whalen is a 33-year-old defender from Los Altos, California. His footballing career has been between Brazil (Coritiba FC B) Argentina (Estudiantes de La Plata II) his home country (Stanford University Soccer) before settling to Tallinn in August 2010 at Kalev. He is the founder of AlterG, a company which has brought to the market an anti-gravity treadmill to help footballers to recover from injuries (it helped USMNT member, former AC Milan Onyewu, to recover from a patellar tendon rupture), an invention that was set by his father, Robert, a NASA researcher.
We fly from Whalen’s California to land in the country of the Rising Sun, as Japan is the only country represented in Premium Liiga
Among the two presences, Hidetoshi Wakui (MF, 31) is the most known and beloved not only by Kalju FC fans. He made it to the ‘Eesti Jalgpall’ all-time ‘Foreigners Best XI’ in his favourite position: as trequartista behind the strikers’ line. Set to leave at the end of last season (he spent a long vacation in Japan catching up with his grassroots football and charity projects) he changed his mind and returned to Estonia to sign another yearly contract with Kalju. He scored a wonderful goal against Paide in matchday 3. On his Facebook page, he likes to share feelings, impressions and emotions about his football life. His name has gone worldwide thanks to the 'bowling celebration' he performed against Flora following his opening goal.
He does not enjoy the same popularity as his country fellow however he will try to make critics change opinion now that he is set at Sillamäe Kalev, Hiroki Maehara (DF, 19).
‘This time for Africa’ was the popular tune resounding in our car radios during 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Contrary to what one might think, the African presence in Premium Liiga it has been quite constant over the past few years.
Ivory Coast (2)
From the country that has bestowed Didier Drogba upon the World of Football, we have received Bi Sehi Elysee Irie (MF, 24) and Elysee Kouadio aka Manucho (FW, 23). Manucho has been a prolific striker in his first season in Estonia contributing to FC Infonet historical promotion with 31 goals in 32 matches. A scoring vein lost last season in the newly promoted 6th place at debut.
Irie is the only non-European at Narva Trans as he joined the Eastern Estonia club in 2012 after a spell at Mordovia Saransk (Russian first division).
Rest of Africa (3)
Maxime Mboungou (MF, 21, Lokomotiv Jõhvi), Omar El-Hussieny (MF, 28, Levadia) and Jasper ‘Uwa’ Uwaegbulam (FW, 19, Paide Linnameeskond) are the last three foreigners of the legion.
Mboungou left Tammeka to set in Eastern Estonia with the newly promoted ‘Loko’ after he had some trials in Turkey and Greece during the winter break.
Omar El-Hussieny is the first footballer in Estonia from the land of pharaohs to Levadia. At his third game (he missed the Supercup final due to a transfer documents issue) he managed to score a brace in the 8-0 win against Kalev. Omar was nicknamed ‘the Pharaoh from Lasnamäe’ (a district in Tallinn) as, according to many commentators, he has been living there with his Estonian girlfriend. ‘I don’t live in Lasnamäe’ explained Omar to RdS ‘I live in Pelgulinna’. Omar has recently opened a Facebook page where he shares news about Levadia and himself.
Uwa will not feel alone at Paide Linnameeskond since Atie’ Said joined the central Estonia club, however we can righteously talk about some adaptation issues for the Nigerian striker when came to change of climate and to the long and dark winter days. ‘I was waking up at 8am in the morning and it was dark‘ explained once to local press Järve Teataja ‘I didn’t know what time it was, so I thought it was still night. I continued sleeping. I woke up at 3pm and it was dusk. Thinking it was already evening and not afternoon, I was staying in bed till the next day until 7am. I was confused.’
Nonetheless, he managed to impress coach Meelis Rooba who decided to keep him also for the upcoming season in a club with a strong majority of local Estonian players, Paide Linnameeskond.
Oceania is the only continent with no representative whatsoever.
A club which has completely cut with its international past, it’s Tammeka Tartu.
In its 2014 squad there are no foreigners featured. We have to track back to the club’s staff to find a foreigner: Spaniard Nicolas Tamargo, appointed fans coordinator of the University town club.