Newly-promoted Santa Lucia FC presented their new signings during a press conference at the Avanza Academy offices in Birkirkara.
Having won promotion thanks to an impressive 4-1 win over St. Andrews in the Play-Off, Santa Lucia strengthened their squad considerably for their maiden Premier League campaign.
Club president Martin Agius said that the journey had started four years ago when he had joined in as president. He said that at the time, the club was in dire straits. However he had clear objectives.
“We had clear objectives for Santa Lucia FC to be an icon for Maltese football. Our vision was for the club to develop the physical, technical and tactical talent of Maltese youngsters and the foreign talent at our club.”
He said that in the current squad, there were seven players who featured in last season’s team and these were all young players, with the exception of captain Lee Galea. Three foreigners were retained from last season, Colombian trio – Kevin Ante Rosero, Jackson Usuga Mendoza and Diego Mosquera Segura.
The squad has been strengthened, mainly with young players. There are eight new foreigners – coming from clubs of high reputation around the world like Botafogo, Santos and Porto. These include Rei Tachikawa, Kevin Correa, Farid Zuniga, Ignacio David Fideleff and Gabriel Bohrer Mentz. Even from the local market, Santa Lucia focussed mainly on young players, signing Daniel Agius, Jacob Walker, Omar Elouni and are on the verge of completing the signing of Jamie Zerafa.
Wilkerson Junnior de Souza Gomes, Maycon de Jesús Santana and Camilo Del Castillo Escobar are the only three ‘senior’ players with the rest all being players born 1998 to 2001.
“We were interested in younger players … players who would eventually make it to the Under-21 national team and maybe we help them move abroad. Scouts will be assessing their progress every fifteen days.”
“This will be a young team which will commit mistakes but will make huge efforts and play good football,” said Agius.
The Santa Lucia president said that the biggest investment was in technical aspect. He said that after confirming Oliver Spiteri as Head Coach, Brian Chetcuti was appointed as assistant coach, having worked mainly with younger players. Nigel McCarthy was confirmed as physical trainer.
“Our objective last year was to retain our status but we achieved promotion on the last day. This year, I am pretty sure that the young players at our disposal are eager to show what they are worth,” added Agius
The Santa Lucia president thanked the sponsors, namely Texmex and Chef Adam who takes care of the diet of the foreign players, Goto, Time to Ear, MultiVend Ltd, Atlas Insurance and Hugo’s.
With regards to the club’s administration, Martin Agius said that the club tried to encourage people who hail from Santa Lucia and identify their competences to work for the club.
He stressed that for a club to move forward, one could not rely on the president. He said that Edward Calleja was appointed as general manager and an organisational chart was created where everyone has his role.
The club is looking forward to taking full advantage of the law for the commercialisation of sports facilities. He revealed that they have already submitted a proposal for their facilities and the club has already local investors ready to start working and international marketing companies willing to join.
“We know where we want to go in the next five years. Otherwise you would not be able to make it,” said Martin Agius.
Coach Oliver Spiteri said that when he was approached in February, the club was going through a bad patch. He said he immediately embraced the project and was convinced Santa Lucia could make it.
“I was convinced we would make it. I know the environment and the people of Santa Lucia, having played there as well. Our DNA is that if we believe in something, we do it.”
Spiteri said that immediately after winning promotion, together with the president, he met colleagues from abroad to discuss which players were needed to strengthen the squad. He said that he focussed mainly on the foreign players while the president and the rest of the committee on the Maltese players.
“We worked hard in May up to mid-June as I wanted to have the players available for pre-season. We worked within our budget. Pre-season was excellent. Players made huge sacrifices. I believe that we can reach our objective although many players have never played at Ta’ Qali.”
“The team is united and like our slogan says, I can say that they are a family.”
When asked about the club’s chances, he said that there should be three to four teams fighting for the championship and another two or three fighting for Europe. He said that from what he saw in friendlies, the rest will fight to avoid relegation.
“We brought young elements, local and foreign. We brought players to fit our tactics. They are giving their hundred per cent on the pitch and in training. Sometimes we had to train at 7am or 4pm. There were no complaints and for the technical staff, this is of great satisfaction. The atmosphere in the dressing room is excellent. There is a lot of young blood.
We will learn from our mistakes, but thanked to their attitude – wanting to show what they worth, I am convinced of having a good season.”
The Santa Lucia coach added that he was impressed with the enthusiasm surrouding the team.
“Enthusiasm in Santa Lucia is something incredible. The town has only a community of 2,200. Sometimes people come to watch us during training sessions at 4pm.”
Club secretary Paul Sammut said that after twenty five years in the lower divisions, it was not easy for him but thanks to the support of Edward Calleja and Mark Piccinino, they are taking care of the huge work involved when dealing with clubs from South American countries when signing players.
In charge of PR and Marketing is Robert Micallef – a former player of Santa Lucia and former president of another Premier League club. He explained that Santa Lucia FC are using the slogan “We are Family”. He said that apart from unity, this is due to the fact that they all have links to Santa Lucia, having lived there or played for the club. Micallef added that the club is no longer what it used to be and made a leap of quality, not only on the field of play, but beyond. He mentioned the social media as the club seeks greater fan engagement and the website SantaLuciaFC.com which will be launched shortly.
Santa Lucia, who will be playing their first game against champions Valletta at the Centenary Stadium on Friday, kick-off at 20:45, launched new kits for the coming season as Jartazi was unveiled as the kit sponsor.
After the Valletta game, Santa Lucia will play Gzira United. Coach Oliver Spiteri admitted that these will be two difficult tests.
“These will be two difficult tests and I have great respect for Valletta and Gzira. However if we take the right approach, we will make life difficult for any team,” concluded coach Oliver Spiteri.