With invaluable experience of playing across Europe and beyond during their respective playing careers, two Estonian football legends now form part of manager Thomas Häberli's backroom staff. Mart Poom is the current goalkeeping coach, while all-time leading goalscorer Andres Oper has been assistant to the national team manager for a number of years.
In addition to his goalscoring form that delivered 38 goals for Estonia, Oper is also third on the list of all-time appearance holders having played 134 games for his country between 1995 and 2014. While his international career spanned almost two decades, Oper also played club football in Denmark, Russia, the Netherlands, China, Cyprus and his native Estonia. Scoring over 140 goals in almost 500 competitive club appearances, Oper is a celebrated figure not only for what he achieved in the colours of the national team, but for the success he enjoyed during his nomadic club career.
It was in 1999 that Oper made the first big move of his club career when he left Estonian outfit FC Flora to join Danish side Aalborg. “I reckon 21 was just the right age to move and the Danish league was the level I needed to develop,” he reflected in an interview with UEFA.com in 2008. “Russia is a difficult place to work for an Estonian, or any other forward from the west for that matter, but I do not regret going there. It was a special experience and the league has become one of the strongest in Europe.”
British football fans will be more familiar with goalkeeper Mart Poom as he represented Portsmouth, Derby County, Sunderland, Arsenal and Watford during his time in the English game. Prior to his move to Portsmouth, Poom played club football in Estonia, Finland and Switzerland, and is another Estonian legend who has a broad experience of the European game. Between 1992 and 2009, Poom made 120 appearances for the national team, and has remained in the international setup as a goalkeeping coach since his retirement.
While he will be remembered for his talent as a goalkeeper that kept 38 clean sheets for Estonia, Sunderland and Derby County fans will remember him for his heroics at the other end of the field following a memorable moment in September 2003. Returning to Pride Park as a Sunderland player having completed a £3.2m move from Derby at the start of the year, Poom headed in a last-minute equaliser to earn his team a share of the points in a 1-1 draw between the two clubs. An incredible finish, the goal was applauded by both sets of supporters.
“It was my first time back at Derby after I had left for Sunderland,” Poom told Derby County TV in 2013. “It was one of those once in a lifetime moments, and because it was against Derby I didn't want to celebrate so I just ran back to my goal as my Sunderland team-mates were trying to jump on my back! What really touched me was at the final whistle, the whole stadium gave me a standing ovation. It was a great moment for me.”
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