Valletta presented their new signings during a press conference at the Golden Tulip Vivaldi, St. Julian’s on Wednesday.
Following the appointment of Paul Zammit as their new coach, Valletta signed two former players, Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao and Njongo Lobe Priso Doding. The club also signed Argentinian defender Juan Cruz Gill, Italian midfielder Claudio Pani and Nigerian striker Callistus Uchenna Umeh who have all made their debut in the UEFA Europa League. Since then, they secured the services of goalkeeper Henry Bonello on loan from Sliema Wanderers following a spell with Hibernians, Brazilian defender Romeu Pericles Romao and Argentinian striker Federico Falcone.
The club had earlier signed Moldovan defender Maxim Focsa, Ukranian goalkeeper Oleksandr Musiyenko and Cameroonian striker Thierry Fidjeu Tazameta. However Musiyenko and Tazameta were released while Focsa joined Balzan on loan.
Addressing the media, Valletta coach Paul Zammit said these had been ten difficult weeks but thanks to the strong technical staff and the full backing of the Valletta FC president and administration, they started to build a new set-up.
“Nine weeks ago, there was nothing. We lost several players. We were aware of the difficulties but wanted to give a new direction to the club and an identity to the team,” said Zammit.
In fact, during the close season, Valletta lost Ryan Fenech and Samir Arab to Balzan and Steve Borg to Aris Limassol, Luke Dimech joined Sliema, Hamza Barry signed for Maccabi Netanya while Dyson Falzon, Terence Scerri and Siraj Arab Eddin returned with Mosta, Senglea and Pembroke on another loan spell. The contracts of Djamel Leeflang, Ikenna Paul Hillary and Lateef Elford-Alliyu expired while Pietro Marino and Yenz Cini were released.
Paul Zammit said that he was satisfied of the work so far and the administration and players are aware of the pressure. He said that although the team cannot stop being competitive, it needs to have a long-term plan. In fact, the club is aiming to have a strong basis and hopes to sign promising youngsters in order to be able to plan better for the future.
With a strong basis, one could do well in Europe and Zammit said Birkirkara and Hibernians prove this. He said it was not healthy at all having to change a lot in summer before the European commitments.
The Valletta coach said that over the past weeks, technically and tactically, he wanted to give an identity to the team. Building a squad based on local players who are worthy of wearing the Valletta FC shirt, like Henry Bonello. He said the club worked hard to sign new foreigners who fit in the technical staff’s plans.
Paul Zammit said that now is the time to gauge the team’s potential against those of the main title challengers. He said Birkirkara and Hibernians have very strong teams but with the introduction of seven foreigners, there could be other teams who will challenge for honours.
Zammit has twenty-three players at his disposal – including three Under-19 internationals and eight foreigners. He did not rule further signings and not even the possibility of having a player moving elsewhere on loan by the end of August, if they feel it was for the good of the player.
The squad will be training on a more professional basis with morning and evening sessions although Zammit stressed that being professional is all about attitude but with the addition of the morning sessions, he feels that by doing so, the team would improve its level.
Valletta president Victor Sciriha thanked Paul Zammit, vice-presidents Paul Spiteri and Alex Fenech and team manager Gerald Ellul for working hard following the disappointing exit from the UEFA Europa League. He revealed that as part of a long-term plan, the club signed Under-19 international Jean Borg and is monitoring other promising youngsters.
Sciriha stressed that the club would not repeat past mistakes of changing foreigners just before their European commitments and said that all players in the squad have at least a two-year contract apart from Henry Bonello who already agreed to sign a five-year deal at the end of this season when he would move permanently to Valletta after the expiry of his contract with Sliema.
The Valletta president said he believed in the squad coach Paul Zammit has at his disposal and said he believed that Zammit could lead the team to reaching its objectives.
The issue regarding the Valletta FC stadium is still unresolved with discussions with the government still underway. The land which the club had been offered in Hal Farrug has been earmarked for aviation purposes and Valletta are seeking an area of the same size where they could develop the stadium. Other pieces of land which were offered over the past months were not considered feasible to build the stadium and other facilities. Valletta have been spending €25,000 a year to rent a training ground.
Meanwhile Valletta reached a settlement with Insignia over the surrendering of the sponsorship contract. The case in court is being dropped as Valletta will be carrying the Insignia logo on the back of the shirts for the coming season. In the mean time, Valletta are hoping to secure a main sponsor in the coming weeks or months.