New Malta national coach Tom Saintfiet was unveiled to the media during a press conference at the MFA Headquarters, Ta’ Qali on Friday.
MFA President Norman Darmanin Demajo announced that the Executive Committee had agreed to hand Saintfiet a two-year contract which will cover the UEFA Nations League which will be held next year and the European Qualifiers leading to the EURO 2020 which will be played in 2019.
The forty-four year old Belgian started his coaching career at the age of twenty-four and throughout his career, Saintfiet coached the Qatar Under-17 national team, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Yemen, Malawi, Togo, Bangladesh and Trinidad and Tobago. He also coached a number of other teams at club level, namely Satellite FC (Guinea), Stormvogels (Netherlands), Al Ittihad SC (Qatar), BV Cloppenburg (Germany), FC Emmen (Netherlands), RoPS (Finland), Shabab Al Ordon (Jordan), Young Africans (Tanzania), KV Turnhout (Belgium) and FS Stars (South Africa)
His most successful spell was as national coach of Namibia between 2008 and 2010. Saintfiet started very successfully with Namibia by beating Comoros and Malawi and playing a draw against Lesotho in the Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup in South Africa in July 2008. Namibia were eliminated from the Quarter Final at the hands of subsequent winner and host South Africa. They also managed to defeat Zimbabwe in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier. Under Saintfiet’s leadership, Namibia rose 34 places in the FIFA rankings.
Darmanin Demajo thanked Pietro Ghedin for the services rendered over the almost six-year period and said it was not an easy task to appoint a new coach since the association was seeking someone who went beyond the traditional role of just a team selector. The MFA President said that the association wanted a person who would take a full-time hands-on employment with a number of additional duties, including direct involvement in scouting of players eligible to play for the national teams; full collaboration with the MFA Technical Director in all aspects of the technical sector including coach education; supervision of sessions by MFA staff at National Sports School and the establishment of stronger relationship with clubs, especially those who provide players for the national teams.
“For this reason, he was the preferred candidate as he held the right credentials and experience,” said Darmanin Demajo who also confirmed that his first game will be the friendly match against Estonia in programme next month.
Tom Saintfiet said he was very honoured and proud to be the new Malta coach, saying “This is a long-term ambition for me.”
He revealed that he had visited Malta for the first time in 2005 but the first contact was established in 2010 when he spoke to Norman Darmanin Demajo. He said he had an interest in the country which he described as being “a football country which suited me – an underdog country.”
He said he kept the contact through these years and now seven years later, he got the the opportunity to take over the Malta national team.
Although he admitted that his knowledge about Maltese football may be limited, Saintfiet revealed that he was in Malta in recent weeks and months, watching the World Cup qualifiers against Slovakia in March, England in September and Lithuania earlier this month, against Slovenia in Ljubljana in June and the UEFA Europa League qualifier between Valletta and Utrecht in the Netherlands. He also revealed that he has already watched all Premier League and Gozitan clubs in action so far.
Tom Sainfiet spent most of his time as coach in Africa and Asia but was looking forward to working in Europe.
When asked whether the fact that his appointment has drawn a lot of criticism, Saintfiet said “I am not worried about proving people wrong. My job is to do a good job for Maltese football. Hope most fans will eventually be satisfied with my work.”
“What I look forward to is to develop the team on the pitch with results – be competitive with countries which are on the same level or a bit better but also do well against stronger teams. ”
“Every coach wants to do better than his predecessors but naturally I do not compare myself to previous coaches but I am here to deliver.”
“As a coach, it was always objective to work in Europe but the experience in Africa and Asia made me the coach who I am now. In those countries, coaches are usually employed for a number of games rather than for a period of time – that was the reason whey they were almost all short-term deals.”
“I will live full-time here. Football is my passion and my job. I am looking forward to work with the coaching staff at the Malta Football Association and the coaching staff and officials at the clubs.”
The new Malta national coach will not make any swift decisions with regards to the rest of the national team staff. He said that for the time being, he would be working with assistant coach Ray Farrugia, goalkeepers coach Charles Sciberras and physical trainer Luca Pagani.
“For the time being, I will be working with the rest of the MFA technical staff. I will also have discussions with coaches from clubs as I want to hear from them what the real work on the ground is. Eventually I will try to meet all clubs in order to get background information.”
“You have to start each game with the idea that you will win the game. I want to win even if it is a difficult task. There are no more small countries as there are small countries that got great results.”
With regards to the next UEFA Nations League campaign, Saintfiet did not hurry in making predictions. “We could dream of 2024 if we have the right setup and right development and be among the best, at least, among the lower ranked sides. We will move step-by-step but we definitely want to improve and get good results.”
Tom Saintfiet looks forward to having national team players at his disposal for more time rather than just a few days before friendly matches and qualifiers. Although this does not mean that the national team will go back to the professional scheme for national team players, Darmanin Demajo said that the association targets a fresh approach in order to find a way where clubs and players could be assisted, especially with regards to physical preparation.