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Flora still the team to beat in Estonia

Published: Wednesday 2 February 2011, 9.33CET
Everyone in Estonia may, as striker Sander Post suggests, want to beat FC Flora but that will not inhibit their pursuit of a ninth Meistriliiga title when the season gets under way in March.
by Paul Simpson
Flora still the team to beat in Estonia
Flora celebrate winning the 2010 Estonian title ©Lembit Peegel
Published: Wednesday 2 February 2011, 9.33CET

Flora still the team to beat in Estonia

Everyone in Estonia may, as striker Sander Post suggests, want to beat FC Flora but that will not inhibit their pursuit of a ninth Meistriliiga title when the season gets under way in March.

The carpet in the reception at FC Flora's stadium is the texture and colour of grass – a striking contrast to the pitch which is white with winter snow. The club receptionist shares her office with 17 trophies and one toy badger decked out in Flora green.

One day all the strikers were injured, so the coach stuck me up front. I scored twice and kept scoring. It felt new, right
Sander Post
I can speak Russian and English. And when I shout something in Finnish the Estonian players know what I mean. And I can understand them even though I've never learned Estonian.
Valeri Minkenen
Everyone hates Flora. Everyone wants to beat us.
Sander Post

As I recount the trophies, Flora's lanky 26-year-old striker Sander Post, whose 24 goals helped secure the club's eighth title in November, strolls in with a black sports bag slung casually over his shoulder and shakes the last snow off his boots. A few minutes later, Flora's quiet 21-year-old Finnish midfielder Valeri Minkenen appears.

The three of us – and the large (but surprisingly light) Meistriliiga trophy – retire to a small office. Post and Minkenen are as laid-back as club president Aivar Pohlak is passionate and as the conversation starts it's not clear how much of the president's sense of mission is shared by his players. When I ask the significance of the green lady in the club logo, Post just looks at the emblem while Minkenen quips: "That's our mum!"

Post played for Flora in 2004 before going abroad. He returned halfway through the 2010 season but still finished the campaign as top scorer – not bad for a forward who started as a central defender. "I was good in the air, and at passing, but speed isn't my strong suit. Against a short, fast striker I could struggle," Post admits. "One day all the strikers were injured, so the coach stuck me up front. I scored twice and kept scoring. It felt new, right."

Minkenen – who turned down a place at Blackburn Rovers FC's academy to play professionally in Finland – has one gift that proved invaluable in his title-winning debut season at Flora. Post has to prod his team-mate to open up but finally Minkenen admits: "I can speak Russian and English. And when I shout something in Finnish the Estonian players know what I mean. And I can understand them even though I've never learned Estonian." Finnish and Estonian belong to the same family of languages but Minkenen's gift as an on-pitch translator is still impressive.

Post and Minkenen reinforce two of Pohlak's beliefs. "We try to play the short passing game but, if the grass isn't good, we might play the long ball," says Post. "Against [rivals FC] Levadia Tallinn, we play it easier." Minkenen interrupts: "Those games are so big no one wants to make a mistake."

Post is in no doubt about Flora's status in Estonian football: "Everyone hates Flora. Everyone wants to beat us. I don't know why." He peers out the window at the snow and jokes: "Maybe it's because we have such a nice stadium." Then he turns serious: "Flora is different. When you play for Flora, you have to come first. Second, third don't matter." The seven years without a title was, Post concedes, a "hard time".

Post and Minkenen look nonplussed when I ask who is the loudest player in their squad. So I ask who chooses the music before a match. Post greets this enquiry with a sheepish grin: "We used to play music in the dressing room – until I broke the CD player."

Minkenen laughs at the memory and Post feels obliged to explain: "It was an accident." If Post scores another 24 goals in 2011 – and Flora win their ninth title – his team-mates might splash out on a new CD player.

This article is from the latest edition of Champions, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League.

Last updated: 07/02/11 15.02CET

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