Liivak aiming to bring a winning mentality to the Showgrounds By Keith O’Dwyer

Sligo Rovers manager John Russell didn’t wait long to make his first new signing bringing in attacking midfielder Frank Liivak from Levadia Tallinn. The Estonian International said that it was John who instigated the move with an assist from a former Rovers team mate:

“It was actually the Manager, John Russell who initiated the first approach and had been in contact with me from there on in and it all happened very quickly. We had a number of calls and some long conversations and I felt that we clicked right away. The move in the end was unexpected but went fast and I am now looking forward to playing for Sligo Rovers. It was Sander Puri who John contacted first to get my phone number. I have not yet talked to him about his time in Sligo but will call him to first thank him and then to get some information on the club and the League. I know that Max Mata is playing with Rovers and to be honest I don’t remember exactly if I played against him while he was playing in Estonia. I do remember hearing his name and being told that he was an exciting young player.”

While Liivak admits that he didn’t much about Sligo or football in Ireland he did play for Levadia against Dundalk last season and watched the games between Flora Tallinn and Shamrock Rovers:

“In the past few years there have been a lot games between clubs from Estonia and Ireland. I played in the European games last year for Levadia against Dundalk and they were really close with Dundalk scoring the decisive goal in extra time to progress. Then you had the game between Flora and Shamrock Rovers and Flora won in those so they give you an idea of the standard. I know that the culture will be different and that there is more of a football culture in Ireland which is different to how it is in Estonia. In Ireland I know that football is a big part of people’s lives and I want to experience that and that is one of the reasons why I am really excited about the move. I think that overall the League in Ireland will be more competitive but the European games showed that the level of the top teams in Estonia and Ireland is not too dissimilar.”

This isn’t the first time that Liivak has played abroad as he had spells with Napoli in their under-age sides, played lower league football in Spain and also played in Bosnia, all experiences that he feels have made him the player that he is today:

“It has been an interesting career so far, I have seen a lot of colours of life as I like to say it. When I was 10 I moved to Holland with my family and there I really learned the abc’s of football so it was a good decision for me that we moved there. The youth programmes and academies there are among the best in Europe. When I was 16 Napoli came in to buy me and as a player from a small county when a club the size of Napoli comes in for you then it is a no brainer to sign. However while I don’t like to live in the past I do sometimes look back at that decision and think maybe it was a step too soon at the time to sign for Napoli. Everything was going great in Holland and there were a number of big clubs from there interested in signing me but you can’t change time. At Napoli I had a taste of what it was like to play with real Champions as I got to train a number of times with the first team, it was a great experience for me. Then I went to Spain which is a big football country and then Bosnia where I really got to experience the culture around football. Then I came back to Estonia where really my winning mentality came. I have won the League and all the Cups you can win in Estonia for 3 straight years. So yes it has been a colourful career but the experience of playing in different countries has made me who I am.”

After returning to Estonia and signing for Flora Tallinn, Liivak raised eyebrows when he made the cross city move to their fierce rival Levadia, a move akin to going from Bohemian FC to Shamrock Rovers:

“It was a bold decision as while in Estonia the rivalry wouldn’t be the same level as in Ireland it is still a move that a lot of players don’t want to take. For me I had won the league twice with Flora and at one point it felt a bit routine so I was really excited to take a new step and I helped Levadia win their first title in 7 years. So in the end it was a good decision and the right one for me as a person and a player.”

Liivak knows that he is joining the club at an exciting time and has made his debut against Shelbourne recently and then came off the bench in last week’s Europa Conference League qualifier First-Leg against Bala Town:

“Yeah it was a busy time. Here with Levadia the first goal is to win everything and the next is to perform in Europe. We were getting ready for our European game when news of the transfer came through. When you want for something for so long you can be anxious to have it happen but it was sad to be leaving but I want to show now with Sligo what I can do and perform in the big games as we come into what for me is the most exciting part of the season with the European games. I want to bring my winning mentality to the club. The worst feeling in football is to lose a football game. I will bring all I have to help the team do well and don’t expect less than to leave a game with 3 points. I want to help this club win trophies.”