Rarely do Wild East Football get the chance to cover lower than the Chinese Super League but when the opportunity presents itself to speak not only to a player in China League One but an international to boot, it’s too good to miss.
Estonia international capped 70 times, Taavi Rähn is a unique footballer; nine clubs, six different countries, four league titles, turned out in the European Champions League and played against some of the worlds finest at international level. Rähn now finds himself at Hunan Billows following a two-year stint at Tianjin Songjiang, both of which are in China’s second tier.
Speaking exclusively to Wild East Football, Taavi Rähn discusses his time in China, internationals with Estonia, own goals and being coached by a legend.
Taavi, thanks for sitting down with Wild East Football, you have just started out at your second Chinese club Hunan Billows, how are you settling in?
Yes that’s my second city and club in China, it’s not always easy to move with family but it’s a part of football players lives. It takes some time to get used a new team and city, but my teammates and people from club are nice and helpful, so it’s been a positive start here.
Hunan haven’t started too brightly, why do you think things aren’t quite clicking yet?
Unfortunately the season has not started as good as we had hoped and it’s not easy to find one clear answer to why that is. We have new coaching staff, new players, not only foreigners but also Chinese and the training process are different club to club. Also very importantly we have lost some important players because of injury already but everybody is working hard on training and I believe that our results will improve soon.
Hunan’s current coach is Dražen Besek is somewhat a legend to Wild East Football and not only won an award but had an entire category named after him – the “Bezek award for Heroic Deeds”. What is he like as a coach?
Besek is coach who likes hard workers. He likes players who give 100% in every situation whether it’s in a match or in training and he rightly asks for full concentration in every minute on the football field, he knows what he wants from his players.
This is your third year in China League One and you had a good couple of seasons with Tianjin Songjiang, how were they to play for?
I had a great time in Tianjin; there was a new stadium, good training conditions and we had a very good side, especially last season. We played good football almost all season and all the players knew each other well, there was no divide between young or old players either and everybody fought together. It was a great season for me as defender as we only conceded 23 or 24 goals. I believe if the new president of Songjiang continues the good work done then the club have great future.
It was rumored that when you first showed an interest in China that Qingdao Jonoon were interested in signing you, do you aim to play in the Chinese Super League?
That’s true, it was the summer of 2010 when Qingdao showed interest in me but in China some things take longer than in Europe and I had another offer from a Russian club which I decided to take up instead. I believe that all players want to play at the top level and I’m not different so I would also like to play at the top level in China.
You have an unusual list of leagues played in to your name; Azerbaijan Premier League, Ukrainian Premier League, Russian First Division, Lithuanian A Lyga to go with China League One. You must have incredible adaptability, what is it like to experience so many different leagues?
It’s good experience to live and see so many different countries and different cultures. I have played in six different countries and I have won four league titles (three in Estonia and one in Lithuania) and played in the European Champions League. It has a been great opportunity to play and train with many different coaches and I learnt something from every coach I have played under.
How does China League One compare to those?
One thing is clear that it’s not on the same level as Europe; it’s not as strong as the Ukrainian and Russian leagues I have played in. This league does have clubs that know how to play good football, Henan Construction this year and Shanghai East Asia last year but it’s also not an easy league to play in and year by year it is getting stronger. My biggest wish though is to see more supporters in the stadium!
With 70 caps for Estonia and still having many years to go, can you hit 100?
It’s big honor to every player to play for your country and until my national team need me, I’m happy to play for them. You never know, maybe I will get 100 caps but the only problem is that it’s very difficult to travel between Asia and Europe due to the time difference and distance.
You are quite well known for an own goal against England in 2007, how did that moment in your career spur you on to perform better?
If you are afraid to make mistakes it’s better not to play football at all, haha. Much better players and worse players than me have scored own goals and in more important games too, that’s a part of football. Of course nobody is happy and nobody wants to score an own goal but you can’t change what happens.
Speaking of England, your team mate, Dong Fangzhuo is formerly of Manchester United, Royal Antwerp and Legia Warsaw, how much are you missing him at the moment?
He has played at a very high level football and he is one of leaders within our team so we miss him, everybody hopes that he will be back soon. I believe that he has the skills we need and miss at moment.
Thanks Taavi, any messages for Chinese football fans?
All football fans get to stadiums! Take friends and family with you, especially people in Changsha, haha