Rumori di Spogliatoio

Limits to foreign players: Premium Liiga rules explained

Angelo PalmeriComment

Since the Bosman ruling was introduced, the world of football transfers has never been the same.

After the initial euphoria, worries followed and football governing bodies have started to introduce corrections that would limit the so-called ‘Bosman effect’.

The ruling came from a European Union judging body (The European Court of Justice) and imposed the members states to remove any limits to the amount of EU players allowed in a squad or in a starting XI.  Limits were still allowed for non-EU players.

In few words, domestic football leagues/FA’s cannot impose any quota on foreign players with a EU passport as it would be deemed as discriminatory towards nationals of other EU states as against the principle of ‘freedom of movement for workers’ set within the EU acquis.

UEFA has always been aware of the negative effects of the Bosman ruling and deemed it an invasion of EU laws into the special realm of football. ‘We are going to fight the negative effects of the ruling,’ told then UEFA director general, Lars Christer Olsson to BBC when the Bosman ruling blew candles on the 10th birthday cake in 2005.

Olsson did not stigmatize the ruling per se, however ‘it took away certain structures that football officials had put in place.

What was the best solution then?

Trying to bring those structures back by thinking out new rules that would not go against Bosman ruling. Formally.


Obviously, the effects were not the same everywhere. If the Bosman ruling was the key for many top players in top leagues to let their contract run till the expire date and allow their new clubs to purchase them for free, in smaller football scenes they were facing other issues.

It is the case of Estonia.
A small football realm where talents are rare and the outlet to professional football is harder for a couple of reasons: there are few professional clubs and there are lesser chances to be scouted compared to Balkan countries (longer football tradition) and Central Europe.

One of the most prolific foreigners in Estonia, Hidetoshi Wakui (

One of the most prolific foreigners in Estonia, Hidetoshi Wakui (

On top of this environmental situation, we shall consider that a small domestic league as the Estonian one, it has been targeted as an easier outlet for foreign players who do not find enough space in their own countries.

The stories of foreign footballers leaving their own countries to look for a different experience abroad (not only Estonia, but also Latvia, Lithuania and other ‘exotic’ destinations) have been growing exponentially in the past 10 years.

The Bosman ruling will get 20 this year and it has already changed the shape of football as we used to know it before 1995. Also in Estonia.


Since a few years has been introduced the concept of ‘ETM’, acronym for ‘Eestis Treenitud Mängija’ which, in the local parlance, stands for ‘player trained in Estonia.

It is the Estonian way to correct the effects of the Bosman sentence.

Regardless the nationality within the EU, a football player is an ETM when he has played in Estonian official competitions (any tier of the 6 official ones) for a minimum of 7 years.

Therefore, it doesn’t matter where you are born and what is written on your passport. What it does matter, it’s where you spent the last 7 years of your football career.

A 7-year experience within the Baltic republic will entitle you as ETM. Otherwise, you will not be considered as such.

Italian striker Quintieri (left) in action against former teammate Tanel Melts from Estonia. Melts is ETM, Quintieri was not (RdS)

Italian striker Quintieri (left) in action against former teammate Tanel Melts from Estonia. Melts is ETM, Quintieri was not (RdS)

The difference is important since, starting from season 2017, Premium Liiga clubs will be compelled to register within the 30-player cap, 26 ETM’s.
As of now, clubs are asked to register ‘only’ 25.

As you may understand already, regardless the fact that the rule (article 13, paragraph 16 of the Premium Liiga and Esiliiga rules) never mentions a limitation of foreign players, especially EU (it actually includes in the ETM definition ‘player who has played in Estonian championships…independently from his nationality and citizenship’) it is a de facto limitation.

A foreign player will not be an ETM by definition since he assumingly reaches the country after playing elsewhere. He will then be counted for the limited space granted to non-ETM players (5 out of a 30-member squad).

However, in order to avoid paradoxical cases (Estonian player who returns to Estonia after having played 8 years abroad) the rule sets immediately a difference between Estonians and non-Estonians. 

In fact, ETM is any Estonian citizen and those who hold the so-called aliens passport or have been released a foreign passport in Estonia (hint at ethnic Russian players who opted for the Russian passport, as former Levadia’s striker Vladislav Ivanov, born in Narva). For them, the 7-season rule does not apply since it’s just an additional definition of ETM applicable to all the other cases.

Did you get lost?

We will give you a practical example.

'I don't care! I am going to Levadia!' (Siim Kibus)

'I don't care! I am going to Levadia!' (Siim Kibus)

Your columnist was born in Italy and holds an Italian passport.
He is obviously an Italian citizen.

However, back in 2008, he joined an Estonian amateur club playing each and every season since then. Putting all the seasons one after the other from 2008 till 2014, your columnist has earned the right to be called ETM as they are exactly 7.

While he is writing this article, the telephone rings. It’s the sport director of one of the top5 Estonian clubs. ‘Angelo, we’re seriously interested in signing you,’ says the club official on the other end of the phone while your columnist makes sure there was not a person’s exchange. Right, it’s a great chance. I am 40, why not trying myself at the highest level?

By now my alarm clock rings and I am already up, dreams of top-flight football in Estonia vanished with the annoying bell ring. However, the doubt stays: do I get registered within the 25 players or within the 5 ones of the 30-player squad?

Since I earned 7 years in Estonian IV.Liiga (the lowest tier, but it doesn’t matter) I will be treated as any Estonian footballer and leave a spot for a ‘foreigner’ to be taken.

The ‘limitation’ does not apply uniquely to the players registration, but also for the game day. In fact, out of the 18 players that a club can enter in the game sheet and hand over to the referee squad, 13 must be ETM. Starting from 2017, this figure will increase to 14 ETM’s (Article 26, paragraph 7).

What if a club is able to register only 25 players? How many ETM’s will be registered?

The ratio is always of 5 non-ETM’s, therefore, out of 25 players, 20 will be ETM.
In the picture below we give a further example of ETM’s and non-ETM’s taking into consideration Nõmme Kalju’s squad last season.

We have highlighted in red all the players who are not ETM. 
As you can easily see, the non-ETM players correspond all to foreigners. 

If in season 2014 they were 6, provided that Kalju squad will still be made up of 22 players, the amount of non-ETM shall reduce to 5.
If we take into consideration the Kalju's present-day transfer market, both Brazilian players (Nunes and Prates) have left the club. However, they are non-EU players.
Non-EU players have to be registered within a limit of 4.

If Kalju were to register 22 players again, they would still have one spot available for a foreign signing, either EU or non-EU.

The limit of 4 non-EU players is within the limit of 5 non-ETM and not cumulative.


If you think this was a hard concept to understand, what is next is even harder. However, we will try to clarify as well.

KTM – Klubis Treenitud Mängija, meaning ‘player trained at the club’.

KTM is a player (Article 26, paragraph 9) whose playing rights have been always, since season’s start, belonged to the club for at least 4 seasons.

How does this affect the ‘limitations’ on foreign import, we will soon explain.

Juridically perfect. Levadia's Andreas Raudsepp is both ETM and KTM (

Juridically perfect. Levadia's Andreas Raudsepp is both ETM and KTM (

First of all, it must be said that KTM concept applies only for the 11 players running on the pitch, states the Article 26, paragraph 8. ‘In the team, for all the duration of the game, there must be at least one KTM,’ exceptions are made in case of sending off, injury or any other reason that prevents the player from continuing the game and all subs have been made.
The rule is quite strict since, if the KTM cannot be replaced by another KTM, the team will continue in numerical inferiority (!)

The number of KTM’s running on the pitch will increase to two in 2018 and three in 2021.

As you may understand, the clubs are in a critical situation in the way they will have to compose the squads in future years.

On top of the ETM concept, they will have to pay a special attention whether he is also a KTM or not.

A player with both qualities (ETM and KTM) it’s the perfect profile a club might want. And, as it is easily understandable, Estonian players are the ones who will own both qualities more easily.

If we take any foreigner signed by an Estonian club so far, say Slovak Ivan Pecha who joined Levadia, he doesn’t own neither the ETM quality nor the KTM one.

In order to make this explanation easier, we are bringing another example up to your attention. In this case we will take Nõmme Kalju double team which plays in Esiliiga, the second tier (NB! These rules apply also to the second flight and actually allow the same club to register foreigners who shall be used in first team, with the second team).

As you can see from the above picture, both foreigners, Galpin and Quintieri are not provided with KTM or ETM statuses, a quality most of their Estonian teammates possess. 

It should be mentioned that Damiano Quintieri was used exclusively with the first team as a club is allowed to use players (including foreigners) registered in the double team list.

On a side note, player in row 1 (Mihkel Ainsalu) moved from Kalju to Flora. He will lose is KTM status when Flora will register him for season 2015.

Going back to the first team list, if Galpin was to be added to the first team this season and Kalju were to register 22 players, he would basically fill the 5 non-ETM quota. Any other foreigner the club might sign before the deadline, he shall be registered with the double team.

With further help from visual example, we show you a possible starting XI of Levadia for season 2015 (we are taking into consideration that Tarmo Kink and Taavi Rähn might sign with the club and one of the two central defenders on trial is also offered a contract

KTM status is marked if available

Levadia have one KTM on the pitch, Andreas Raudsepp. If Marko Kristal was to replace him during the game, he knows that he can replace Raudsepp only with another KTM from the bench.

The remaining players is a mix of ETM and non-ETM's, the latters are again only foreigners and there are both EU and non-EU players.


The Estonian FA rules, like those of many other European Union FA’s, are what Estonians would name ‘JOKK – Juridiliselt On Kõik Korrektne’ (juridically, it’s all correct), however they achieve to basically impose a limitation on circulation of EU players.

The ETM concept, in particular, prevent a club from looking for players abroad and compels them to grow the local talents, which, in the last instance, it’s the noble intention of putting off the Bosman ruling 20 years after it was issued.

We are back to what Olsson said 10 years: fighting the negative effects of Bosman ruling and, we would add, protecting the peculiarity of the football world, which, according to many officials, cannot be ruled by the same EU acquis principles.

Until UEFA, FA’s and EU will not sit down around a table to discuss common rules and exceptions, there will always be single football governing bodies imposing their rules which, apparently, do not violate the EU ruling. Until the next ruling from the Court of Justice.

Who will be the next Bosman?

Vitaly Mutko is thoughtful about Russian football destinies ahead of the 2018 World Cup (

Vitaly Mutko is thoughtful about Russian football destinies ahead of the 2018 World Cup (

A similar discussion, but with different frames (Russia is not EU) has been going on across the Narva river border as Russia have been notably limiting the amount of foreigners ‘invading’ the top flight. In a recent development (check here), it has been discussed to reduce further the 7+4 limit (no more than 7 foreign players in a starting XI – the registration limit is 10) by introducing similar criteria of eligibility as those outlined by the Estonian FA.

The only difference here, it is that the initiative comes from the Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko, on behalf and with the endorsement of the presidential legal department.

Mutko and the presidential entourage, they believe the existing limit is too big. ‘The adopted limit leads to commercialisation of certain football clubs, but contradicts interests of the national sports development,’ said Ananskikh, head of State’s Duma Committee for Physical Culture and Sport. ‘The issue of  legionnaires (foreign players –edit) is particularly important in the run up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Russia.

Again, there is a noble intent behind but some side-effects have been already outlined by Russian football observers: Russian players not moving abroad (they can demand better salaries at home) and overall decrease of their playing qualities.

Different country, different problems.

What could be the side-effects for Estonia apart from the evident benefits?