In an interview released by Emils Latkovskis to One Nil Up, the General Director of Virsliga (the Latvian top flight) declared that Latvian and Lithuanian FA's have had joint conversations with UEFA about the possibility to create a Baltic League. ‘There are still many things to be discussed’ said Mr. Latkovskis to the English web portal about Baltic football ‘I am very much looking forward to further develop this project, because it would be completely different from the failed Baltic League’.
Throughout the interview, there is no mention of the Estonian FA.
Is this a sign of the scarce interest towards the project from the most Northern of the three republics?
Estonian pragmatism: no Europe, no League.
RdS contacted Estonian FA (EJL) press representative, Mihkel Uiboleht, to know what the FA position is regarding the idea of creating a new Baltic league.
The new league would be a different thing from the defunct Baltic Football League. The idea is to create a regional league (similar to the one kicked off by Belgium and Netherlands for the women clubs football, The BeNe League) with the same format of a national league.
The EJL confirmed the impression: ‘it is not a new subject for us and has actually already been on the table’ said Mihkel Uiboleht to RdS confirming what were Aivar Pohlak’s (EJL chairman) words last year when he was interviewed by local Estonian press: ‘EJL has to prioritize the development of the national football’ explained already back in 2012 stressing that the issue is not in the FA agenda.
What is the main concern for Estonia not taking part into a joint regional league?
The reason is to be found in the European acknowledgement of the Baltic League. Meaning, UEFA would not have any problem in recognizing a newly formed regional league made up by the three Baltic States. However, the spots acknowledged to the newborn competition for the UEFA tournaments (Europa League and Champions League) would not be multiplied times the three countries.
One competition, one spot (or several, accordingly, for the Europa League).
Estonia is adamant in not giving up the possibility to send more than one of its clubs to Europe.
'The Baltic league would be bestowed with just a set of European passes’ declared Pohlak in 2012 ‘it’s clear that not everyone will agree with this’ concluded the chairman labelling the project as ‘impossible’ to be fulfilled.
No change from UEFA, no change from Estonia
‘Nothing has changed’ said Mihkel Uiboleht to RdS ‘As far as I know it is still the same: UEFA gives only one set of UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League places to the united league - which means that instead of 4 places to Latvia and 4 place to Lithuania the united league would get only 4 places. That means that less (Baltic) teams will play in Europe. Additionally, we have developed Premium liiga quite much - signing a three-year TV deal with Estonian TV is the latest step. We know what Latvia and Lithuania are speaking and thinking’
The topic is quite dead in the Estonian press too.
The last piece of news dates back to January 2013 when Latvian FA Head Secretar, Janis Mezeckis, confirmed to the local press Estonia’s lack of interest to the project. However, he admitted what Pohlak feared: ‘if UEFA will confirm what it has been said by Platini, that the European spots will shrink, I don’t think our clubs will be interested in the project’ and he added that the idea would have not gone forward for the following 2-3 years. This is probably what Latkovskis refers to when talking about 'many things to be discussed'.
A negative answer came from Estonian clubs to the EJL at start of 2013, as Aivar Pohlak himself confirmed to the press: ‘I don’t think the neighboring clubs are interested in losing the European spots ' reiterated the chairman of the FA and also chairman of most-titled club, FC Flora.
If Emils Latkovskis recognizes that, the death of the Baltic Football League was due to the competition not assigning European passes as a prize, a similar explanation (assigning less spots) might be the reason why a new Baltic Premier League (our imaginary name) will never see the light.
What are the advantages then?
Recently, Estonian entrepreneur and football enthusiast, Priit Pavelson (field of hospitality marketing and publishing) sent an ‘Open letter to Pohlak and the other leaders of Estonian football’ resuming the topic about the Baltic League (October 2013) from the football column of Postimees.ee .
Pavelson started from the little figures of the average audience (he quoted 190 people per game, at the end of season 2013 it was officially 215) justifying that with the scarce interest towards the domestic games. ‘Estonian football needs a revolution!’ he claimed with bellicose intentions from the webpage of the most important Estonian daily. What he really asked for, it was a change though.
Where this change should come from?
‘The solution is simple’ he said ‘we need to rise the level and attractiveness of our league in order to bring people to watch football and sponsors to finance it.’
He agrees that the defunct Baltic Football League cannot be brought back into life – ‘does anyone remember who won the last edition?’ asks provocatively.
That tournament is not an example for him as the idea is just to change the entire system into something bigger and more powerful.
The Pavelson 'receipt'
Pavelson’s solution is exactly the one that is in the mind of the Latvian and Lithuanian ‘innovators’: a Baltic league where the biggest clubs would fight against each other.
He even figures out the composition: the four best Estonian clubs (according to the last Premium Liiga table we would offer: Levadia, Kalju, Flora and Sillamäe – having Narva out of there would already cause quite a stir) and the 5 best Latvian and Lithuanian clubs. A League of 14 clubs, ‘strong and with a good reputation’ concludes Pavelson.
He pushes himself to think that Kruglov (Levadia left flanker) would stop looking for a club in Russia, but would be interested in playing in such a more competitive league. We would add that probably also Tarmo Kink would not be ashamed to say he is testing with Kalju.
Pavelson speculates that the Baltic Premier League (still our name) could rise to the same level as Norway’s TippeLigaen or Sweden’s AllSvenskan, two leagues that have generated many talents exported to European top-leagues.
He spots indeed the opportunity for talents to get a better contract elsewhere helping other Ojamaa’s to reach top football.
Is this project really bringing anywhere?
Pavelson analysis, however, does not to deal with the biggest problem: the European spots.
If he invites Pohlak and the other ‘football leaders’ (he mentions also Nõmme Kalju’s president Kuno Tehva and Levadia’s Viktor Levada) to forget their divisions, he does not explain how the leaders shall give up to the European scene and the cash flowing from it.
In the hypothetical Baltic Premier League, only one club will go to the Champions League and it will be either Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian. Let’s say FK Ventspils became Baltic Champions, how happy Zalgiris Vilnius, Levadia or Nõmme Kalju would be to give up to a chance that they would normally earn in their national leagues?
Yes, they could go the Europa League, but then we need to deal with the dissatisfactions of clubs like Skonto Riga, Atlantas Klaipedos and Sillamäe Kalev (or Narva Trans).
This year Nõmme Kalju earned more than 700,000€ only thanks to their successful European campaign that brought them to the Europa League play-offs.
A turnaround that allowed them to start investing in the academy development after years of outwards spending.
What would have happened if they were not to play at European level for a couple of seasons?
An almost impossible scenario in the present-day situation of the Premium Liiga where only few clubs can really compete for the title.
A title-fight that usually ends up being a two-contender race.
Paradoxically, the lack of competitiveness of each league, allows the possibility to these clubs to rule and bring home the best part of the cake.
Are they really interested in growing the competitiveness of the domestic leagues?
Surrendering sovereignty, a political step.
The answer should be ‘yes’ as European results show that, sporting talking, the best Baltic clubs cannot still compete with the average European clubs let alone make it to the autumn group stages (some years ago - 2007 - FK Ventspils managed to make it to the Champions League play-offs losing to Red Bull Salzburg 7-0 on aggregate).
Latvian and Lithuanian 2013 campaign were quite deluding. Apart from Nõmme Kalju (who anyway suffered a 10-2 defeat on aggregate against Viktoria Plzen) Flora and Narva saluted the Europa League at first stage (to Albanian top club and to Swedish drop-zone side);Levadia risked against a bunch of Welsh semi-pro and later they were defeated 4-0 on aggregate by a Romanian top-club.
The decision about a ‘Baltic Premier League’ is more political than else.
As it happened with entering NATO, EU and the Eurozone (the latter only Latvia and Estonia) the three governing bodies will have to take a political decision of surrendering sovereignty in order to become stronger. However, it is not as easy as it seems.
If national governments are not keen in asking citizens whether they want to join any political organization or not (either fearing the failure or not willing to use the national poll option for decision-making when not necessary), each national FA cannot override the clubs’ wills without causing an internal war between the clubs and the FA’s themselves. Football is once and again a special realm.
UEFA’s help will be limited as it is quite unlikely that Platini will change his mind and change rules to help the Baltics to come together.
The ‘Baltic Premier League’ European issue is only the tip of the iceberg. Several other concerns might be on the table:
- What are the costs for the travelling fans?
- Shall the second tier be either pan-Baltic or local?
- How to organize the lower tiers?
- How to organize youth competitions?
Pushing the topic forward, we might also ask ourselves the following:
- Shall the three FA’s merge into one to avoid decision-making conflicts?
- Shall a Baltic national team be kicked off?
- What about the youth national teams?
The road is long and winding, as the Beatles used to sing.
Previous articles on the Estonian press about the topic:
Õhtuleht 14th of December 2012
Õhtuleht 8th of January 2013
A report about defunct Baltic League appeared originally in Helsinki Times:
Nordic Football News 6th of November 2009
Similar topic is discussed elsewhere in Europe as Czech Republic and Slovakia discuss about the possibility of joining back in one unique league and cup reviving the Czechoslovakian league:
Inside World Football 27th of January 2014 courtesy of Dinamo Babel (ITA)