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Oper reflects on record-breaking Estonia career

Published: Sunday 1 June 2014, 12.15CET
Estonia's all-time leading goalscorer Andres Oper retired on Monday – he speaks to about his "legacy", playing in China and his country's bright future.
by Mikhail Malkin
from Tallinn
Oper reflects on record-breaking Estonia career
Andres Oper scored a record 38 goals for Estonia ©Estonian FA
Published: Sunday 1 June 2014, 12.15CET

Oper reflects on record-breaking Estonia career

Estonia's all-time leading goalscorer Andres Oper retired on Monday – he speaks to about his "legacy", playing in China and his country's bright future.

Andres Oper made his 134th and final international appearance for Estonia on Monday. The now retired 36-year-old forward, his country's all-time leading scorer with 38 goals, spoke to about his memories of a career that started in 1994, his regrets and the future of Estonian football. What have been the best three periods in your career?

Andres Oper: Firstly, signing for [Denmark's] Aalborg BK as it was my first move abroad and I received a very warm welcome from the fans. That was the turning point in my career and I have very warm memories of that period. Secondly, representing my country. Although I enjoyed it at every club I played for, it was a proud feeling – especially against major opponents – to represent my country. Every national team game was special and this is probably what I will miss most.

The last one is a sentimental choice – being invited for a trial at Arsenal FC. Having been an Arsenal fan since childhood, it was a big deal for me, especially as I was very young at the time. I don't feel particularly sad that it didn't happen as the reasons were out of my control and nothing to do with my performances. Did you feel like an ambassador for Estonia when playing abroad?

Oper: I have always promoted Estonia to other players. At most clubs where I have played there have been some great fans who have brought Estonian flags to the stadiums. Have you felt any difference between playing at club and playing at international level?

Oper: A national team is more varied, whereas a club is more structured and follows a certain routine. Being on the pitch doesn't really differ, but of course you have a certain sense of extra pride when you hear your national anthem and the crowd chanting. Is there anything you regret?

Oper: Perhaps the only regret was choosing Shanghai Shenhua FC over ADO Den Haag [in 2009]. In hindsight I should have continued in Holland concentrating on a longer-term plan, but at the time China tempted me as there was a real chance to win the league. Throwing myself into a totally different culture was also great as I love to travel and experience new things. What does it mean to you to be Estonia's all-time leading goalscorer?

Oper: It means a lot as this is my legacy. I am very competitive and results matter. I won't lie – of course I want to hold the record for as long as possible. That said, records are there to be broken and the process would benefit the national team, so come on, boys. What do you expect from Estonia in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying?

Oper: For the team to give their best as always. It is not an easy group and it will require a lot of hard work, but I have faith in the coach and the team. When we had Italy, Slovenia and Serbia we managed to get to the play-offs, so it can be done. How would you describe the development of Estonian football since you started playing for the national team?

Oper: There has been significant progress. Estonians are fast learners and we have had a great deal of influence from Dutch coaches. You can see the evidence with more and more young players being signed by serious clubs. For example, the latest national-team debutant is Frank Liivak, who plays for SSC Napoli. When I moved to Aalborg there were a very small number of players abroad. Today most of the national team are at foreign clubs, which of course makes it that little bit harder for the coach to decide who to call up.

Last updated: 02/06/14 9.41CET

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