Estonian Football Association (EJL) president Aivar Pohlak has told uefa.com there is "a lot of opportunity for improvement" as the new Meistriliiga season kicks off on Saturday with several clubs in the running for the title.
If more money has been invested in the leagues in neighbouring Latvia and Lithuania, Estonian clubs are still accustomed to working with tight budgets which, for Pohlak, has ensured a relatively level playing field in the Meistriliiga. "We have never had dramatic ups and downs like the clubs in Latvia and Lithuania who paid big salaries to players," said Pohlak. "We have our own way of doing things and are making progress step by step."
That cautious approach should make for another close title race, with FC Flora, last year's runners-up, regarded as favourites as they chase their eighth title since independence. Boasting a comparatively large budget, Flora nonetheless owe their strength to young local players. Tarmo Rüütli, who coaches Estonia as well as Flora, lost forward Jarmo Ahjupera to Hungary's Győri ETO FC over the winter, but still has reason for optimism.
Champions in three of the last four campaigns, FC Levadia Tallinn may well be Flora's main rivals. The titleholders saw full-back Tihhon Šišov and winger Tarmo Kink join Ahjupera at Győr, but the arrival of striker Vitali Gusev from Swedish side Enköpings SK has strengthened their hand. JK Trans Narva also have hope, having hired Sergei Ratnikov – who led FC TVMK Tallinn to third place last term – as coach. "We have a good squad," Trans president Nikolai Burdakov told uefa.com. His club will celebrate their 30th anniversary this year by opening a new training centre, funded by the EJL and the local council.
JK Sillamäe Kalev and JK Nõmme Kalju may also be contenders for European qualification, with the latter boasting several players and a coach from Brazil. Boss Fredo Getulio doubles up as coach of Estonia's beach soccer team. Avoiding relegation, however, would represent a success for newcomers Paide Linnameeskond and FC Kuressaare, along with JK Tulevik Viljandi, JK Tallinna Kalev and JK Maag Tammeka Tartu, whose coach Norbert Hurt is just 25.
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