Compared to last season, the number of expats in Premium Liiga has considerably shrunk.
The number of foreigners in Estonian top flight has downsized to 23 people (it was 44). One continent has completely disappeared (The Americas), some countries are not represented any longer (Italy, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Brasil, USA).
The reduction of foreign players is a direct consequence of the new regulations implicitly limiting the number of foreigners in a squad.
Let’s check in detail who are the 23 foreigners starting from Europe, where the majority of the players come from.
It’s the country with the biggest representation in Premium Liiga. Russia borders with Estonia, and the majority of the seven Russian players in Premium Liiga are playing in the Eastern Estonia clubs with a strong Russian identity: Sillamäe Kalev (2) and Narva Trans (2).
In Sillamäe, we have Igor Cheminava (a Zenit St.Petersburg produce) at his second season in a row in Estonia and goalkeeper Artem Levizi who spent part of his last season at Kalev Tallinn.
In Narva there are the old acquaintance Pavel Avdeev (he joined Narva in 2013 from FK Piter) and the new hire Roman Protasov, a 28-year-old trequartista coming from Karelia Petrozavodsk.
The remaining three nationals of the Russian Federation are in Tallinn: FC Infonet’s Aleksander Semakhin, FC Flora’s Irakli Logua and FC Levadia new goalkeeper, Aleksei Shirokov, a produce of Lokomotiv Moscow.
*the number doesn't include 4 players born in Estonia but who chose to have Russian citizenship: Nikolay Mashichev (FC Infonet), Alexey Cherkasov, Igor Dudarev (Sillamäe Kalev) and Vitalj Andrejev (Narva Trans)
France, Lithuania and Ukraine (4)
Far behind Russia are other two neighbours of Estonia, and France.
The country of the cockerels is represented since a few years by the known faces of Allan Kimbaloula, Nicolas Galpin and Reginald all settled at Nõmme Kalju, with Kassim Aidara (FC Infonet) being the fourth of the lot. In the case of Kimbaloula, we shall point out that last season he received a call-up to represent Congo’s national team since he holds a double passport.
The Lithuanian troop in Estonia has fixed its residence in Sillamäe. Marius Cinikas returned to Sillamäe to re-join forces with Mindaugas Baguźis, followed by Rytis Leliuga and Darius Miceika, both debutants in the Estonian top flight.
The Ukrainian footballers are also all set in Eastern Estonia and equally parted between Sillamäe (Jaroslav Kvasov and Kyrylo Silich) and Narva (Roman Smishko and Volodymyr Kilikevich).
The Finnish troop has increased compared to last season when the only Jere Aallikko was collecting appearances in the Esiliiga (second flight) and some tokens in the dugout with Levadia first team. At least, he will now feel more at home since central defender Juuso Laitinen joined him from Jazz Pori during the winter transfer window.
The third Finn in Estonia is at FC Flora, Sakari Tukiainen, a striker who set a record in Kakkonen (Finnish third flight) after scoring 40 goals in one season, all-time best.
There is a bunch of old and new faces to represent their countries on their own.
Since many years, Jorge Rodrigues is the face of Portugues football in Estonia. He recently said he wants to end his career at Nõmme Kalju.
Ermal Hajdari represents Sweden after joining FC Infonet. He already made his debut in 0-2 loss against FC Flora.
Zakaria Beglarishvili represents Georgia at FC Flora. This season he changed his Flora jersey number back to 49, the number he had when he arrived at Flora for the first time in 2010.
Ivan Pecha (Slovakia) joined FC Levadia to form the new defensive line. He has become popular in Estonia for having played 6 minutes in a Champions League group stage game against Juventus when he was at BATE Borisov (here a short interview with Pecha ahead of the 2015 season)
Pecha’s teammate in the defensive line is Belarusian Artem Rakhmanov. Born in Minsk in 1990, he was at Neman Grodno up to October 2014 before becoming a free agent.
The vast African continent is represented mainly by small Ivorian colony set in Narva.
Bin Elysee Irie, already settled in the border city since few years, was joined by Goore Dacosta Akes, simply known as Dacosta.
The 30-year-old Ivorian left-back has been without a club for about a year since his last one was Alania Vladikavkaz (RUS) until February 2014.
The remaining African players are the well-known Egyptian, Omar El-Hussieny (FC Levadia), and Paide’s Nigerian, Jasper Uwaegbulam.
Last but not least, and the only one to represent the Asian continent, is Hidetoshi Wakui from Japan. Probably he is the most famous foreigner in Estonia since he hit the headlines last season with his ‘bowling celebration’. The piece has become a classic and has been recently included in a list of ‘Best and Worst Celebrations’ by the Telegraph.
The legend lives on.