Accrington Stanley’s Academy has an international feel about it after one of their coaches was appointed assistant manager of his country.
Andres Oper was last month named in the management team of Estonia – striker Oper is Estonia’s all-time leading goalscorer with 38 goals in 134 games.
He will work alongside his country’s most capped player Martin Reim who is Estonia’s new manager, former Arsenal and Sunderland goalkeeper Mart Poom and Janno Kisveld who is their technical director.
However the 38-year-old will continue working in Stanley’s Academy as a Youth Development Lead Coach for 13-16-year-olds.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to be involved in the management of your country,” said Oper, whose career took him to Denmark, Russia, Holland, Cyprus and China before he gave up playing in 2013 after an injury.
“Estonia have had managers from other countries before, and some have done well, but this time they wanted to go with a home-grown management team with us all working together.”
While by day he is thinking about Stanley’s next generation of superstars, by night Oper is trying to plot the downfall of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Christian Benteke as Belgium are next up in November in Estonia’s World Cup qualifying group.
“It certainly gives me something to think about!” said Oper. “In our group are Gibraltar, Greece, Belgium, Cyprus and Bosnia.
“We lost 5-0 to Bosnia – when the former manager was in charge – then in our first game we beat Gibraltar 4-0 and then we lost 2-0 to Greece.
“The defeat to Greece was hard as we played well, we were better statistically but they were ruthless and we weren’t. However the important thing was to play well and get the fans behind us and build from there.”
Oper wants to help Estonia qualify for their first major tournament – they came close to sealing a spot in the European Championships getting to the play-offs in 2011 before losing to the Republic of Ireland.
“It’s always been my dream and my hope to be involved with my country at the coaching level,” said Opers. “I have previously worked as a striker coach for the Under 23s, Under 21s, all the way down to Under 17 level.
“I was surprised when I was asked to step up but I played alongside Martin Reim for Estonia and I am sure the four of us can work together and help Estonia.
“The dream is to take them into a major tournament. We have seen how so-called smaller countries like Iceland can upset the bigger teams and that’s what we want to do.”
Oper came to England after the coaching company he set up in Estonia linked up with Bolton Wanderers and he got to know current Accrington Stanley Academy coaches Dave Bailey and Dave Fitzgerald, who is leaving this week to take up a role at Bury.
Father-of-two Oper has been involved at the Wham Stadium for a year and says his role with the younger ones will help his job with the national team and vice versa.
“It helps me all-round working with the young players as, while I know what to do as a striker and how to make a nuisance of myself, it helps me develop my knowledge of playing in midfield and defending.
“I enjoy working with the younger players and watching them develop and now I have the chance to see the other side of it as well.”
Oper added: “We don’t have so-called ‘big’ names in the Estonia team.
“We have Ragnar Klavan at Liverpool and Mattias Kait who is in Fulham’s Under 23s. The rest tend to play in the Polish or Norwegian leagues but it’s about playing as a team and working hard for each other and seeing where it takes us.”