The A-Z of the Estonian Premium liiga 2023
A new Premium liiga season is upon us! The title is up for grabs, Europe awaits, and, as usual, there are many, many fascinating stories lurking in the background. So what can be expected?
ALLIKU, Rauno is the cornerstone of Premium liiga and FC Flora. At 33 years of age, he will start his 14th season in a row wearing the green of Flora. He is a seven-time Estonian champion from 2010, 2011, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020, and 2022, sharing second place behind nine-time champion and Estonian football legend Indrek Zelinski.
BRACELLI, Eugenio joined Tartu Tammeka from Serie D, but the 21-year-old central defender will not be representing Italy alone in the Premium liiga this season – his team-mate Giacomo Uggeri was born in Rome and still holds an Italian passport, but has been living in Estonia since childhood.
CUP results will be important. With eight teams left and Nõmme Kalju knocked out, they will be hoping for either FC Flora or Paide Linnameeskond to triumph – in that case, Kalju would play in the Conference League. Realistically, Narva Trans, FC Kuressaare, and Tartu Tammeka have a shot at stealing Kalju’s spot.
DÕMOV, Pavel is Kuressaare’s new midfield anchor. With Silver Alex Kelder leaving, Sander Seeman retiring, and Rauno Tutk taking a year off due to injuries, they needed a rebuild. Signing a 29-year-old former Estonian international sounds like a shrewd move.
ELVA has made the Premium liiga playoffs twice but lost in 2022 as well as 2018. This Esiliiga season, they will face fierce competition from TJK Legion, Viimsi JK, and Nõmme United, who all have Premium liiga aspirations, as well as dark horses JK Tabasalu and FC Tallinn.
FELICIO, Felipe joined FCI Levadia from the famous Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro; the 20-year-old striker, who played five times Atletico for and won the Brazilian championship in 2021, has been in fine form this pre-season. Look out for goals.
GOALS will be scored. Last season saw a total of 549 goals scored, translating to 3,05 per game. Every season since 2013 has seen an average of at least 3 goals per game, with 2018 holding the highest mark with 3,81.
HARJU JK Laagri is the fresh-faced rookie after achieving promotion four years in a row. With ten new signings added to an Esiliiga-winning core, they might be more competitive than many expect.
ICE forced changes in the calendar even before the season began. Due to their artificial pitch being unplayable, Narva Trans will not host Paide Linnameeskond or Pärnu Vaprus at home on March 5th and 8th respectively. Their next home game is scheduled for March 18th; of their first six games, only one is set to take place in Narva.
JÜRGENSON, Markus did not participate in pre-season training and seems to be close to retiring. Jürgenson (35) was the closest challenger to legendary defender Andrei Kalimullin, who played in a record 517 Premium Liiga games; Jürgenson, who last played for FCI Levadia, is likely to finish with 472. Andre Frolov (34) of Paide is on his heels though, now leading active players with 460.
KLAVAN, Ragnar, formerly of Liverpool FC, may – or may not – play for Tallinna Kalev this season after leaving Paide Linnameeskond. “I will not make a decision now. I have reached a point in life where I am not sure how much football I have left,” said Klavan, who is also the president of Kalev.
LEGION, who finished ninth last season and beat Elva in the playoffs to secure a Premium liiga place for 2023, voluntarily gave up their place in December. “To make two steps forward in the future, it made sense to take a step back now,” said Deniss Belov, president and head coach of Legion.
MARCH, 3rd is the date when FC Flora hosts Harju JK Laagri to kick off the 2023 Premium liiga season. It may take up to nine months to determine a champion, as the last round will be held on December 2nd.
NÕMME Kalju became a centenarian! This whole season, the club founded in 1923 will be celebrating its milestone birthday.
OFFSIDE lines will not be drawn in Estonia, but VAR will make its long-awaited debut in 2023. Essentially, it is VAR light, with just two referees working in the video booth, but the quality should not suffer – goals, penalties, red cards, and mistaken identity will be analyzed. Obvious offsides will be called as well, of course.
PRINS, Igor is back in Premium liiga after joining Pärnu Vaprus. The 56-year-old coach won with Levadia in 2008 and 2009, before joining Nõmme Kalju and delivering their maiden title in 2012. The last time he worked for a top-level club was in 2017.
QUALIFYING for Europe became easier again thanks to impressive results by Flora and Paide in the past seasons. After seeing just three teams competing internationally in 2021 and 2022, a fourth ticket is now pretty much guaranteed for at least the next three years.
RANNASTAADION will be everyone’s favourite stadium once again, with its unique location near the famous Pärnu beach attracting even sunbathers. Last July, a season-high 1948 spectators gathered to see local Vaprus take on Tartu Tammeka.
SAARMA, Robi made his Premium liiga debut for Paide Linnameeskond last year and settled seamlessly, collecting 16 goals and 9 assists in total. This pre-season he has been almost untouchable, also scoring the late winner in the Super Cup final – expect the 21-year-old to be the driving force for Paide.
TOP scorer with 21 goals in 2022, Zakaria Beglarishvili left FCI Levadia to join Uzbekistan’s FC Turon. In his two years with Levadia, the 32-year-old Beglarishvili played a total of 89 games, scoring 50 goals and assisting a further 26.
USTA, Kaarel is back in Premium liiga – this time playing together with his younger brother Taaniel for Harju JK Laagri. He featured heavily for Nõmme Kalju in 2020 and 2021 but took a year off before now popping up with the newcomers.
VASSILJEV, Konstantin might be starting his last season. Having left the retirement door open before, it seems likely that the 38-year-old captain wants to make history with Estonia by qualifying for EURO 2024. If they fail to make it, he might call it a day for Flora as well.
WILL Narva Trans return to winning ways? One of two (the other being Flora) ever-present teams at the Estonian highest level, Trans has a rich history. They last finished in the top three all the way back in 2011 but made it to Europe back-to-back in 2018 and 2019 via a fourth-place finish and a cup win.
XAVI Andres Ibarra is the new fitness coach of Levadia, having joined as a team member of Spanish head coach Curro Torres. At the 2002 World Cup, Torres represented Spain alongside the more acclaimed Xavi.
YELLOW cards will be seen quite often. In 2022, teams collected a total of 841 warnings, meaning an average of 4,67 per game; in the 2022/23 Premier League season, the same number is 3,79.
ZAHOVAIKO, Vjatšeslav is currently the only Estonian top-level football coach working abroad. After five years with Paide, he took a year-long break but was hired by Paide’s Gambian partner club Real de Banjul in October 2022.