In 2001, Marko Kristal became the youngest player to make his 100th appearance for a European national team, with the midfielder going on to win 143 caps, making him Europe's fourth most-capped player.
Having won seven domestic titles with FC Flora, he finally hung up his boots in 2008, moving into coaching as Igor Prins's assistant at FC Levadia Tallinn. Having won two titles in his new role, it was something of a surprise that he decided to take sole command for the first time in his career with youthful outsiders JK Tammeka Tartu.
"Obviously it was real challenge," said the 36-year-old, who played abroad for IF Elfsborg and FC Lahti. "Everything was going well at Levadia. We had won everything we could in Estonia, so I'm glad I made that step. My job got harder, but it's more interesting that way. Tammeka are a young team and it's possible to build something here."
Sixth in the ten-team table after ten games, Kristal's side are holding their own, and Kristal is enjoying putting the lessons he learned from his former mentors into practice. " I am using some techniques I picked up from Prins at Levadia and from the foreign coaches who I worked with in the national team, like Teitur Thordarson and Arno Pijpers."
Notable successes have seen Kristal's young side – 24-year-old Siim Roops is their oldest player earn 0-0 draws against Levadia and FC Trans Narva, with Kristal explaining: "I played at the highest level in Estonia, so have experience as well as Pro-licence qualifications. The respect I am given for who I am and what I did also helps a lot."
Tammeka are growing in confidence, with Kristal noting: "
At the start of the season the lads were amazed that they were strong enough to win games. Now they believe in themselves." However, their tight budget is an ongoing challenge; 24-year-old defender Timo Teniste notably left after he was offered a more lucrative, non-footballing job in Norway.
"When we lose players like him we're taking a step backwards," admitted Kristal, who acknowledged that "a lack of funds is a big problem for us". However, as he looks to build a new career, Kristal said he "took a lot of optimism from watching the local guys play", adding: "If things carry on as they have been, I'm not sure I'll want to leave."
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