The Youth Football Association, in collaboration with the Malta FA launched the new Under 13 league for the forthcoming season during a conference held at the Centenary Hall in Ta’ Qali. Fr. Hilary Tagliaferro, the YFA’s President, in the opening speech looked with enthusiasm at this new competition and declared openly that it brings nostalgia of his younger days, when he first introduced the ‘In?obb il-football’ festivals, back in the 1980s.
Fr. Hilary showed his gratitude to the Malta Football Association and Technical Centre which through its collaboration, investments and dedication to the grassroots, was enabling more children to approach the beautiful game and youth football to expand. The Youth FA President also thanked the Referees Board who are going to provide officials for all the matches, primarily with ex-FIFA referees, who are willing to pass on their experience and knowledge to the young players and assist them in the transition from fun festivals to competitive football. Fr. Hilary ended his intervention by praising the solidarity of the nurseries who have offered their facilities free of charge to host the first phase of this new competition.
The General Secretary of the Youth FA. Joe Micallef explained that this Under 13 league is the fruit of many hours of discussions, questionnaires, studies, statistics and a pilot project, in collaboration with Technical Centre and always keeping youth development at the forefront. Mr. Micallef went on to explain the rules and regulations of this new league, which will be identical to those in the U-15 and U-17 leagues. The two major differences being that the referee will be assisted by club linesman (an U-17 player) and that the affiliated nursery in order to participate in this league, it first has to provide for 17 players to participate in the Gatorade U13 Football Festival and then have another 18 players listed in the league squad. The General Secretary stated that with this additional league the youths playing in the U-13 age group will increase by over 30%.
The Technical Director presented a very detailed analysis based primarily on the pilot project held at Luxol Grounds, where U-13 players were exposed for the first time to playing on a full-size pitch and goals and for some it was even their first time playing 11 v 11 matches. Mr. Robert Gatt said that the results were very encouraging and that these young players performed even better than expected, showing that they are physically capable and technically prepared. The Technical Director is adamant that this is a step in the right direction and that the time is ripe for competitive football for the U13 category.
Mr. Bjorn Vassallo, the MFA CEO, said that although the new administration is only a few months old it is already delivering promises, in this case to develop the most important sector of the game, the grassroots. He continued that it is a fact that reforms are happening all over the local football pyramid, but the MFA has a special relationship with the youth sector to provide quality technical background in order to assist the future players to develop and provide them with the tools to become better citizens.
The Malta Football Association President, Mr. Norman Darmanin Demajo reminded all those present that success, especially at youth level, is not to be measured by the amount of trophies won, but with participation, financial fair play, satisfaction and solidarity. Mr. Darmanin Demajo stressed that the MFA had invested heavily in infrastructural projects all over the island and will continue to do so in the future, and that these pitches were intended first and foremost for the grassroots and youth players.
The MFA President concluded by stating that he is sure that this new competition will be a success, that it will enhance the level of the game and that it will provide an opportunity to instil further into our young footballers respect for the laws of the game, referees, coaches, opponents and fair play in general.