Ragnar Klavan has swiftly settled into the AZ Alkmaar defence since joining the Dutch side, initially on loan from Heracles Almelo, in January and could become the first Estonian to win one of Europe's biggest leagues.
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AZ Alkmaar are aiming to do what they have been unable to in recent seasons and make the most of a good start to clinch the Eredivisie title, and should their spring form match their performance prior to Christmas, they may have Estonia left-back Ragnar Klavan to thank.
The 23-year-old joined AZ on loan from Dutch rivals Heracles Almelo at the end of January, having already signed a long-term deal which will keep him in Alkmaar until summer 2013. He made his AZ debut on 4 February, replacing Kees Luyckx 60 minutes into the match Roda JC in a less familiar role in the centre of defence, and played a crucial part as a Mounir El Hamdaoui goal 14 minutes from time clinched a 1-0 win. "I prepared hard for my debut and was very nervous about it," Klavan admitted. "However Louis van Gaal said that he is happy with my performance."
An injury to egular left-back Sébastien Pocognoli was less happy news for AZ coach Van Gaal, but luckily he had a ready-made replacement in Klavan. "Louis van Gaal considers me as good cover for the left-back position," said the defender, who counts FC Elva, JK Tulevik Viljandi, FC Flora and Vålerenga IF among his former clubs. "That means a lot to me. Everything is in my own hands. If I continue to work hard during training, I will play in the starting lineup."
Klavan was indeed named in the team to face Willem II last Saturday, and although AZ conceded their first goal in eleven games, they came back to win 3-1 and move eleven points clear of second-placed FC Twente. The newly-signed left-back played the full 90 minutes, and now has a real chance of being the first Estonian to win one of Europe's leading championships. That would be a boost for national coach Tarmo Rüütli, though only if Klavan, capped 53 times since making his debut aged 17, keeps his place in the AZ side. "The name of the club, even if it is a very famous name, means little," Rüütli said. "It is very important for Klavan to find a way into the starting lineup."