Who is the greatest Estonian of all time?
Is it popstar Kerli, whose song “Skyscraper” was the 2013 UK Christmas number one, having been performed by that year’s X Factor winner Sam Bailey?
Is it Georg Hackenschmidt, the strongman who revolutionised professional wrestling in the early 20th century, becoming the first globally recognised heavyweight champion of the world?
Perhaps it’s Arvo Pärt, the most performed living composer of the past decade, or Kelly Sidaru who became the youngest gold medallist in Winter X Games history at 13 years old?
While the argument may rage on in the capital city of Tallinn, if you asked a Boro fan to weigh in on the finest products of the former Soviet Union state, there’s only one answer.
The greatest Estonian that the world has ever seen is Tarmo Kink.
The Estonian Exocet joined Middlesbrough F.C. in the summer of 2010 from ETO FC Győr as Gordon Strachan looked to further stamp his identity on a side that had finished 11th in the Championship in the Scots first season in charge.
Having already added Scott McDonald, Barry Robson, Willo Flood and Lee Miller in the January window, Strachan was about to burn a sizeable hole in the pocket of chairman Steve Gibson by adding six more to his Tartan Uprising.
Kink would be the final one of these signings, following Andy Halliday, Kris Boyd, Nicky Bailey, Kevin Thomson and a returning Stephen McManus into the club for a fee of £750,000.
While the likes of Boyd, Thomson and McManus were bigger names given their ties to the Old Firm clubs, Kink entered as the potential ace in the pack for a team looking to mount a promotion challenge.
Fresh off scoring 3 goals in four Europa League qualifying games earlier that summer, the then 25 year old had an eye for goal, a rocket of a left foot and was the star of the Estonian national team.
Most importantly, the Boro had been crying out for width and pace on the flanks (nothing changes) after selling He Who Must Not Be Named to Man City earlier in the year and Kink seemed ready made to fill that role.
Featuring in the first six games of the season under Strachan, Tarmo immediately showed his willingness to shoot, immediately being the key word. The winger took “shoot on sight” to the extreme as he let fly without any concern for the wellbeing of the opposition keeper or the fans behind the goal. While there was nothing to show for his efforts in terms of goals, the intentions were there and fans will almost always forgive a player who at least has a go rather than messing about with it.
However, pressure was already mounting on Gordon Strachan, with his summer spending spree amounting to one solitary win from the opening six games. Those games had included big defeats to Neil Warnock’s QPR, Ipswich Town and Barnsley and Boro now had to contend with newly relegated Burnlet coming to the Riverside.
Trailing to a Andre Bikey header, Strachan needed a lifeline, not just to save the game but to save his job and he placed his hopes on the left foot of his newly signed winger.
With fifteen minutes left in the game, Kink didn’t have to wait long to have his first crack at goal. As Boro piled forward in search of an equaliser, Scott McDonald knocked the ball sideways and perfectly into the path of an incoming Tallinn Torpedo. From outside of the box, Kink connected with the ball and quick as a flash, the score was 1-1 as the ball screamed into the bottom corner.
In the dying moments of the game Boro had won a free kick 30 yards out that was almost bang in line with the left post of the Burnley goal. As Barry Robson, the usual set piece taker, moved away from the ball the Riverside fell into an eerie hush. Over the next couple of seconds there was three auidble noises in the stadium.
The tweet of the ref’s whistle, the thwack of boot on ball and the thunderous roar of a football stadium being sent into raptures. Tarmo Kink hadn’t just scored the winning goal in injury time from a free kick. Tarmo Kink had almost ripped the net out of the goal as he smashed the ball into the top corner. That night, the Red Army raised a glass to drink a drink for Tarmo Kink.
It felt like a star had been born. Shock blonde hair, bright yellow boots and the ability to rocket the ball goalwards. Kink seemed to have it all. His name was almost Parmo as well to set up the Gazette with potential headlines for years to come. However, this star had already burnt at its brightest.
Despite Kink’s thunderbastard triumph against Burnley, Gordon Strachan exited the Riverside shortly afterwards to be replaced by Tony Mowbray. While Kink would help to secure Mogga’s first win as Boro manager, in another evening under the floodlights against Crystal Palace with the equaliser in a 2-1 win, the former Spartak Moscow flyer struggled to secure a place in the club legend’s team.
There were flashes, for sure. After recovering from a mysterious and debilitating virus during the winter months, Kink returned to the first team fold in the spring with a sumptuous assist for Scott McDonald against Barnsley. He further showed his class and penchant for last minute heroics with a 90th minute winner against Coventry, faking a volley before lofting the ball up and over Keiron Westwood.
However, Tarmo was unable to produce on a consistent basis and found it difficult to become accustomed with the physical side of the Championship, meaning opportunities were few and far between in the ensuing season. More reliable options such as Faris Haroun, Merouane Zemmama and Emmanuel Ledesma were brought into the club and after only appearing for ten minutes in the 2011/12 season, Kink was allowed to move to Karpaty Lviv.
A nomadic career would follow as he moved around Europe often conveniently in the midst of cup runs that have swelled his trophy cabinet. There was a return to ETO FC Győr to help them secure the Hungarian league in 2013, a 2015 stint in Scotland at a time when Inverness Caledonian Thistle shocked Celtic in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup before beating Falkirk at Hampden Park and a 2016 Finnish Cup victory with Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho (SJK).
For a player whose career never reached the heights that looked to be on the horizon on that misty September night at the Riverside Stadium, Kink has managed to pick up a fair bit of silverware and now finds himself gunning for glory as the player/assistant at FC Zenit Tallinn. His greatest achievement though isn’t one immortalised in a winners medal. It’s one that only lives in the memories of Middlesbrough fans.
It’s that Tarmo Kink is the greatest Estonian that the world has ever seen.
Photo Credits: Teesside Live, The Northern Echo, Middlesbrough F.C.