Champions Valletta lost another two players just a few days before hosting FK Qarabağ in the first leg of the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League as Denni Rocha dos Santos will be returning to Brazil for family reasons and Hamza Barry joined Club Esperance of Tunisia. This was announced by Valletta FC president Victor Sciriha at the Golden Tulip Vivaldi, St. Julian’s on Friday.
Sciriha said the draw with FK Qarabağ was one of the worst possible for various reasons. First of all, one had to go through the trouble of obtaining visas for the players and officials while to travel, Valletta could not find a flight to take the whole contingent to Baku and therefore the squad will be travelling in two groups. On the other hand, although they are participating for the first time in the UEFA Champions League, in four of the last five years, they managed to reach the third round or even the play-off stage of the UEFA Europa League and was only eliminated by teams like Twente, Borussia Dortmund, Club Brugge and Eintracht Frankfurt.
According to the Valletta president, FK Qarabağ have a budget of €11 million. However he is certain the Valletta players will be doing their very best, aiming to get a good result in the first leg.
Although Valletta lost a number of players since last season, namely goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili who joined FC Tosno in Russia, Irakli Maisuradze who joined Anorthosis Famagusta in Cyprus, Alan da Silva Souza, Denni Rocha dos Santos, Hamza Barry, Edmond Agius who joined Birkirkara, Steve Borg who is set to join Platinum Stars in South Africa, Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza and Dyson Falzon who joined Balzan and Mosta on loan, Victor Scriha is confident the squad has been strengthened and will be the main challengers for honours. In fact, the only objective will be to win the double once again. The Valletta president said the club had offered new contracts to Revishvili, Maisuradze and Alan da Silva but the Georgian duo preferred moving elsewhere while da Silva has not decided yet. Denni, on the other hand, may return back with the Citizens later throughout the season.
Gilbert Agius replaced Andre Paus as the new coach, signing a three-year deal, and will be assisted by Darren Abdilla. New signings include Nicky Vella from Tarxien, Ryan Camilleri from Hibernians, Adrian Zahra from Perth Glory, Hugo Faria from AEL Kalloni, Hamid Al Kamali from Al Wahda and Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna from Pietà Hotspurs.
Sciriha revealed that although Insignia is still the club’s main sponsor, the company did not sponsor individual players which led to a number of new signings in January. He said discussions are ongoing but in the mean time, other companies are chasing the club to offer new sponsorship deals.
New Valletta coach Gilbert Agius said that his main objective as a coach was to repeat what he had achieved as a player throughout his career with the club. He said he had strong backing from the committee and although there were hiccups in the pre-season due to the departure of a number of players, the club tried to replace them with valid players. He said he is finding full co-operation from the players and hopes that they will continue to work hard together in harmony.
Agius revealed that he would like to utilise particular players in roles that they may not be used to and pointed out that if by the end of the transfer market, the club feels that there could be further signings, the squad will continue to be strengthened.
The Valletta coach said that apart from the injured Llywelyn Cremona, Adrian Zahra and Manuel Bartolo, all the other players will be available for the first leg against FK Qarabağ on Tuesday. The presence of Raphael Kooh Sohna for the second leg has not been confirmed yet as the club had just applied for his visa.
Gilbert Agius is aware of his opponents’ potential but promised the team will do its very best to maintain alive hopes of qualification during the second leg.
Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna – top scorer in Division 1 with Pietà Hotspurs in the last two years is eager to continue where he had left by scoring more goals but stressed that he will play for the team and do his best for Valletta. Hugo Faria said he was looking forward to this new challenge and believes this move was a step forward in his career, saying Andrew Hogg had spoken to him highly of Valletta. Hamid Al Kamali said that he is looking forward at doing well for the Citizens. On the other hand, Maltese-Australian Adrian Zahra views his move to Valletta as a good step in his career in Europe.
Nicky Vella, who returns with the club after a spell with Tarxien, said the responsibility was bigger now as he has an even bigger challenge to establish himself as the number 1 goalkeeper. Malta international defender Ryan Camilleri said that a move to Valletta is the best step a player in Malta could take and is now looking ahead for this new challenge. Finally, Valletta captain Ryan Fenech said he hopes to follow the steps of Gilbert Agius and win as many honours as possible with the club.
Tickets for Valletta FC vs FK Qarabağ are already on sale for €10 for club members and senior citizens and €15 for non-members from L-Amerikan. Children under twelve enter for free.