By Pavle Gognidze
Estonian Football Association (EJL) president Indrek Kannik is proud to be hosting the UEFA Executive Committee and UEFA Congress in Tallinn this week following months of hard work.
"It's a big honour for us that UEFA's Executive Commitee made the decision to give the Congress to Tallinn," he told uefa.com. "Hosting a Congress is a tough job. Only 12 people work at the EJL, and it's been a great challenge for us. It's the biggest challenge we could take on in football."
Perhaps the biggest issue on the Tallinn agenda is that of quotas for homegrown players in European squads - UEFA has suggested every 25-man squad in European competition should feature at least two homegrown players and two more developed in a club's home nation. It is something Kannik feels strongly about.
"Personally speaking, I am very much an opponent of the development we've seen in football in the last decade or so," he said. "Some big clubs have all the best players and none of them are homegrown. It's a small step we are taking at the moment, because four players is nothing in the context of a 25-man squad, but it's a step in the right direction."
With Estonia having recently been admitted to the European Union, Kannik is well aware that any such changes would have to be carefully discussed to avoid contravening EU employment regulations. "The reason for the Bosman case was the incompatibility of football and European laws - we need to be careful to avoid such mistakes again," Kannik insisted.
Kannik remains confident in UEFA's ability to run the European football family and spared special praise for the work the governing body has done on behalf of smaller footballing nations. "
UEFA is a very balanced organisation and solidarity has always been very strong," he said.
The 39-year-old added: "UEFA has taken into account the interests of smaller nations. Without the strong financial backing of UEFA it would have been difficult for smaller countries to develop their football in the last ten to 15 years. Many infrastructure and youth development projects have only been possible with UEFA support."
He continued: "It would have been impossible without understanding from bigger nations, because the five big countries contribute 80 per cent or more of UEFA's income. It's important that they appreciate the need to develop football across Europe, not only in bigger and richer nations. We would like to see this sense of solidarity continue."
Football in Estonia is continuing to flourish. The domestic top flight has gone from being an eight-team league to a ten-team division this season - a reflection of the increased level of competition in a country where FC Flora traditionally reigned supreme.
"Our league is developing in the right direction," said Kannik. "[FC] TVMK Tallinn are the strongest side so far this season and they have never won the title, as [reigning champions FC] Levadia [Tallinn] have three and Flora seven. TVMK could have a good chance of winning, but the other two will challenge hard for the gold medal."
The national team may lie fifth in FIFA World Cup qualifying Group 3, but performances have been encouraging. "We have done well, really, as we have played bigger nations," said Kannik. "Of course, we have the example of Latvia who managed to qualify for UEFA EURO 2004™. That gives smaller nations a lot of hope."
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