When a coach is employed by a club to perform a radical change of mentality in what is the game style and the philosophy, it is never an easy process and the results are never immediate.
After Levadia embraced a new concept (winning by using the talents within the own academy) it took four years of fast before rising another title in 2013.
More recently, and on national team level, the Estonian FA has righteously extended Magnus Pehrsson contract until 2017, having understood that ‘the new deal’ opened in 2014 is not complete yet and needs further fine-tuning.
Obviously, a national team squad gathers few times a year, whereas a club’s one is working every day of the calendar year and in close contact with the head coach, who assumingly has the pulse of the squad thanks to his coaching staff help.
Is this the case of 32-year-old FC Flora’s gaffer, Norbert Hurt?
FROM DOUBLE TEAM FOOTBALL TO CLUB’S VISION ACCOMPLISHER
In order to understand Hurt’s task at Estonia’s most titled (for how long?) club, we need to set our clock back to the summer of 2013. A chilly July as was the one that just passed few days ago.
Following a defeat at Sillamäe (0-1), Marko Lelov was given the sack. Just a week later, the same two sides would clash in the Estonian Cup with Flora winning 2-1.
Norbert Hurt, at that time coach of Flora II (the double team playing in Esiliiga, the second tier) was called to coach the squad ad interim. It is important to stress this detail, because at that time, in the intention of the club’s president, Aivar Pohlak, Norbert was not a first choice. ‘Flora is looking for an Estonian answer to Alex Ferguson,’ flamboyantly declared the chairman to the Estonian press ‘someone who could develop the club for 30 years and bring it to the next level’. At present, and off from the fans grace in the year of theclub's 25th anniversary, he might not even look likely to last a third season.
The search for the ‘Alex Ferguson’ did not probably go well since the club was targeting a foreign profile (Sweden, Germany and Holland, the latter in the best tradition of the white-greens) but ended up confirming ‘Nopi’ until the end of 2013 and renewed his vows also for 2014 and 2015.
Marko Lelov was assumingly sacked for a lack of communication with his players, according to our information.
What could bring Hurt on the brink of joblessness is a lack of results.
However, are those due under the current ‘new deal’ at Flora?
RE-ENTERED EUROPE FROM THE BACK DOOR, BUT ONLY GLIMPSES OF A NEW GAMESTYLE
2013 ended with Flora’s exclusion from the European cups, the first ever for the club since 1994-95.
Norbert restored pride with a third place that gave back the white-greens the European dimensions. However, the circumstances in which it happened were rather unfortunate for many Flora fans out there.
First, they lost the lead of the table they had been holding for about half a season. They lost it to archrivals Levadia in a derby they have not managed to win since September 2011! After that, they slowly let the season go by slipping from the second place to the third, a downwards journey completed on the last matchday when they lost 3-4 in Sillamäe. A city that tastes bad for Flora and its coaches.
What about the new game style? Only glimpses and especially in the matches against minnows when Flora could go in full mode and possession against modest oppositions parking the bus and praying their gods for counterattack.
In the big clashes (Levadia, Kalju and partially Sillamäe), Flora did not appear as authoritative as it should be expected by a side motivated to fight for the title. What else could be their motivation having won the titles 9 times in their 25-year history?
In 8 games against Levadia and Kalju in 2014, Flora collected just one win (against Kalju, who ended 4th behind them). A bit too little if you bid for the national title missing from the cabinet since that same 2011.
DEVELOPMENT VS. SPORTING RESULTS: WHO WILL LOSE?
However, the fans of a club used to winning titles will hardly swallow talks about ‘players’ development’. It’s nothing you can brag about with opposing fans and there is not a special honours list of ‘developed players’ to be proud of one day. Eventually, those players will leave the club and make fortune elsewhere.
In the 90’s, Flora was able to both develop players (thanks to the special tie with the national team) and win titles. The rise of competition at national level has undoubtedly favoured the variety and the entertainment at the clear expense of the white-greens successful story.
A sign of the times was Flora losing to FC Infonet at home during last season.
However, at the start of season 2015, Aivar Pohlak said it clearly at the season’s presentation: we want to develop players.
The set target should keep Norbert ‘Nopi’ Hurt away from the fire.
However, he’d better not play too much with it.
If we take a look at FC Flora present-day squad, as resulted at the end of Summer transfer market window few weeks ago, we can find several keys to read and understand the confusion the Tartu-born coach might be going under when handling those players he is supposed to develop. However, his confusion might also be induced by the club’s inconsistent moves. Let’s try to explain.
If we consider that the set target is developing the young players at the club, therefore we will notice that Enar Jääger’s wide employment as central defender, it is quite at odds with the ‘philosophy’. His value as experienced international is unquestionable and actually acknowledged in our pages, however, he is there ‘taking space’ to the likes of Õunap and Vihmann (the latter stripped from Levadia’s hands in winter), with another talented centre-back, Juha, sent on loan to Paide to collect appearances.
On these e-pages, we have certainly addressed the employment of the young guns quite risky in the light of their alternate performances. However, this is youth: in order to develop it, you need to make them commit mistake, accept them, correct and move on. Especially at high level, and Premium Liiga is the highest level possible in Estonia.
Even in his recent times at Flora, wunderkind Karol Mets (already beloved at Viking FK) has done his mistakes before being sold for a whopping sum, according to Estonian criteria.
We have the right to criticize performance. Nevertheless, the club has to invest in the philosophy they have committed to at the start of the season. Under this point of view, why would you use a 30-year-old in the middle of the defence after having released another one (Taavi Rähn, albeit Jääger's contribution has been qualitatively better)?
Moving on the same line, we have Flora’s second most-experienced centre back, Nikita Baranov. Saying ‘most-experienced’ goes at odds with his age: 22. But this is Estonia and you grow fast in important roles (the country’s prime minister is 35 years old, youngest in Europe…).
Baranov is/was a good promise. I personally remember him shining best in his right full-back position, with his characteristic pace that ended either with good crosses in the box or extraordinary goals (check this one to understand what I mean). More recently, he has turned into a centre-back, a role he was doing earlier to patch where needed. Is he successful in that role? I cannot say he is terrible there, and Flora have the best defence so far this season (just 13 goals suffered in 21 games), however he is prone to mistakes (see Levadia’s opening goal in the recent derby). The salary issue brought forward by the player (never confirmed or denied by the club, but the main issue according to our sources) contributed to add a sense of misunderstanding over the club’s real targets for the season. If they assumingly agreed to make Baranov’s payslip richer, it certainly went at the expenses of the abovementioned youngsters.
We obviously understand the reasons very well.
On the eve of the European campaign, with Enar Jääger’s injured, the club saw the chance that Baranov could leave compelling Hurt to choose two among Õunap, Vihmann and Juha to lead the defence in the double tie against Rabotnicki from Macedonia.
However, where is the plan of development here? In the aftermath of the 2-0 defeat in Skopje which meant Flora were being kicked out at the first attempt for the umpteenth time in their 25-year history, Hurt said it was a good chance for the young players to grow and develop.
Certainly it wasn’t for any of his central defenders who saw the game from the bench or from a comfortable seat in the stadia’s VIP zone.
THE STRANGE CASE OF KARL-ERIK LUIGEND
Moving onto the midfield, we have what I would rename the ‘strange case of Karl-Erik Luigend’.
The 22-year-old midfielder has now been sent on loan to Paide Linnameeskond.
However, up to one year ago, he was meant to be Flora’s game light, the key player handling the transitions.
Did it ever happen?
Similarly to Flora’s glimpse of new game (the same tiki-taka, ball-possession made of a network of an undefined number of passes) his pivotal role in Flora’s build-up was shining against minnows but went completely unnoticed in the big clashes. I will never forget this year’s Flora-Kalju 0-2 derby at A.LeCoq as being the most representative example of what Flora are missing to be a competitive team at national level when pitted against sides of the same (assumed) power. Not only Kalju completely ate Flora out from all points of view (will, space, determination and sporting anger) but Luigend completely disappeared from the pitch, shadowed by French midfielder Reginald, a product of Lille youth sector, definitely someone who had some competition to reach to first team football (which eventually, he never reached in France).
This gap is actually acknowledged by Hurt himself in a very recent interview with Flora match program.
Luigend’s story might be the parable of Hurt’s confusion.
Born a left flanker, after Euro U-19 in 2012 he was expected to make the big leap. Three years after, his leap was from Tallinn to (namely) Paide.
One step back to make three forward? Not quite, since he is now 22 and was evidently dropped by Hurt to make space to another interesting holding midfielder, the physically more prevalent (184cm) German Ślein. The latter featured in both European games at the expense of Luigend.
Turned into a holding midfielder, Luigend did not show to have the numbers to play there at this level. He will probably be a big fish in a small pond at Paide, however the impression is that his train might have already gone. Ślein is 19 and part of the U-21 national team coached by Martin Reim. Figure yourself out upon whom the club wants to invest.
We should mention that a role in Luigend's involution might have been played by Luigend himself. His bohemian character confirmed in a long interview with local press has probably played a role in his development, putting football in the background of his life priorities. However, here we are digressing already into his personal life.
CONCLUSION: REDEFINING HURT
We are definitely not putting the entire blame on the young coach.
As said at time of appointment, his case might bring back to the mind the one of Andrea Stramaccioni, the coach of Inter U-21 who was promoted to first team and sacked the year after. All must be taken in due proportions, however, similarly, he was assumingly put there as trait d’union with the youth sector. The project failed at Inter, however it is not said it will fail at Flora. The dimension and pressure are completely different and the club’s direction assumingly less hectic, albeit Pohlak is also prone to humoral changes.
If the club keeps steady in its philosophy (albeit giving contrary signs as shown in the case of Jääger-Baranov), we will have to accept a ‘fail policy’ which is part of every start-up project (sorry e-Stonia for borrowing your jargon) and under this point of view, we can explain why the ‘Luigend experiment’ failed.
Whether the club will have the fans on the same page might be already a problem ticked as ‘solved’ since, so far, at the venue, the fans have never openly criticized either the club, the coach (apart from a couple of whistling at the games) or the players.
A public pledge of loyalty, which certainly was compensated with many requests of clarification in the private rooms of the A.LeCoq Arena club’s headquarters and some online unsatisfied comments in the usual forum rooms of the Estonian football.
However, as Norbert said in the long interview on the same Flora match program last weekend, he doesn’t read the internet.