National team, progress regarding professional club in Serie C discussed during MFA Council Meeting

The national team technical staff, the progress on the introduction of a professional club to take part in the Italian Serie C were the main items on the agenda of the meeting of the Council of the Malta Football Association which was held at the newly-refurbished Centenary Hall on Tuesday.

MFA President Bjorn Vassallo explained that over the past years, the investment on technical aspect was limited, both in terms of money spent and expertise. Therefore his administration will be focussing mainly on this aspect.

As from July, the new administration started working on a technical overhaul on three levels: the Technical Centre and the national teams; the professional football teams and the Inhobb il-Football Foundation. This technical overhaul is planned over a period over eight years.

The MFA President said that he believed that the direction from above should be from abroad. He added that although he had great respect for local coaches, unfortunately, so far, Maltese coaches do not have coaching experience in professional leagues. However they would still have roles within the MFA Technical Centre.

Vassallo said that he felt that after analysing three schools of football – the Italian, the English and the Spanish – the Italian school suits us best.

The coaches who were selected are relatively young and were eager to adopt an ambitious project. New national coach Devis Mangia worked at all levels from the Eccellenza to the Serie A where he coached Palermo, the Italian Under-21 national team and a top club in the top division in Romania. He brought with him assistant coaches Davide Mazzotta and Guillermo Giacomazzi and technical co-ordinator Alessandro Zinnari. While thanking all former national team coaches, Bjorn Vassallo said that now the association was not only appointing a new coach but changing the system.

The MFA President said that as team managers, the MFA wanted former players, Keith Fenech and David Camilleri along with Charles Scerri and Edwin Camilleri who were already part of the MFA technical staff.

Joe Cassar was installed as the new Operations Manager at the Technical Centre.

The biggest challenge for the association was the fact that the technical centre hardly had any data to work on and therefore the MFA will be investing in this aspect. The association will be using a software from a foreign company and clubs would eventually avail themselves from this software since the Inhobb il-Football Foundation will focus on football at youth level.

Bjorn Vassallo said that by the end of this month, all the members of staff of the Technical Centre would have been their role defined. Head Coach Devis Mangia did his best to deploy each staff of member since there were a number of members under contract.

As from March, the Technical Centre would be functioning normally with training for the various national teams in view of the commitments in the various competitions and friendly matches.

Devis Mangia will be visiting Premier League clubs and meet coaches during training sessions. In the mean time, the national team technical staff and the coaches earmarked for the Lega Pro team watched over 120 matches from the Premier League to the Third Division, the Youth League and the Under-17 and the Under-15 leagues apart from videos of foreign players with Maltese origins.

The association has scouted players of Maltese origins and studied the possibilities of players from the top two divisions of France, Belgium, Italy and England and A-League in Australia. A number of players have already been short-listed and from four to five players could obtain a Maltese passport and would therefore be eligible to play for Malta in the UEFA Nations League starting in September.

Bjorn Vassallo revealed he had met Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat who said that amendments to the laws regarding citizenship will facilitate matters with regards to players trying to obtain a Maltese passport.

Vassallo said that the association would also like to take advantage of the Citizenship by Merit initiative and that two foreign players based in Malta for the past five years have been identified as possible players for the national team.

The MFA President said that by having such players would satisfy the short-term objective of having a strong squad as from September, the medium term objective is having a pool of professional players to choose from and the long-term objective is that we produce better quality players.

During the month of March, Malta will be two friendly matches against Gibraltar and Azerbaijan. Liechtenstein will be in Malta for a training camp and will play friendly matches against Gibraltar and Azerbaijan.

Malta will then take part in a training camp in Austria in May which includes two friendly matches, one of which against Slovenia and in June, Malta will play Portugal in a friendly match in Lisbon.

The Under-21 national team will be playing two qualifiers against Ukraine and Finland; the Women’s national team will play two qualifiers against Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina while the Under-19 national team will be playing friendly matches against Montenegro.

With regards to the recent meetings with the government and the Malta Olympic Committee, Vassallo said that the Malta Football Association had presented a document (strategy) for short, medium and long term with the objective being that of achieving results on an international level. This included a technical overhaul, providing an opportunity for players and coaches to be professional and launch a programme for accessibilty, schools, to strengthen grassroots, youth development and the elite through the Foundation.

Last year, the Government launched a national strategy in which support was pledged to associations who had such plans meant to provide the basis for long-term success.

The MFA President said that while the association was always criticised that football in Malta always takes first preference and others remain empty-handed, he had no issue with other associations taking similar initiatives. He said that

Vassallo stressed that while the MFA receives funds, it was also contributing when considering the social economical impact, our numbers are much larger than those of larger associations.

“When government gave a subsidised rate of income tax, we prepared serious legislation and strict compliance and then asked everyone to come clean. Now football contributes around one million euro in taxes. Criticism that football should not receive any funding is not justified as football is good for the country.“

According to UEFA, football in Malta generates €25 million generated plus €3 million in capital while the social return on investment amounts to €70 million.

The Malta Football Association is in discussion with the government over the replenishment of the pitches. The government would be helping clubs through the association. Fifty pitches will be replaced for a total expenditure of €6 million over five years. The association had spent €30 million on these pitches.

With regards to the law regarding the commercialisation of sports facilities, although being approved in 2015, not much had been done. Three projects have been given the go-ahead and a meeting will be scheduled shortly with the Parliamentary Secretary and officials from the OPM to resume the process. Vassallo said that there was a healthy discussion so far and now that even the MFA will be playing an important role in the process, hopefully more football clubs and other sports clubs could complete projects which would enable them to generate income and make them sustainable.

In parallel with this, the Malta Football Association started working on three reforms:

  • Statute reform led by Dr Samuel Azzopardi: better governance principles; fairer distribution of voting rights and decision making process.
  • Licensing reform led by Dr Peter Fenech: classification of club structures – Pro (Premier/First) vs Amateur (Second and Third) and MAFA, IASC, Swan, etc (recreational football).
  • Club corporate structure: Sustainability company vs community, will offer through MFSA a structure to help clubs become a company. This will enable local clubs copy what clubs in Cyprus were able to do by reaching the group stages in UEFA competitions.

A number of task forces have been working over the past months.

  • Professional Football Committee focussed on the principles who will mitigate the impact of the professional club on domestic competitions
  • Lega Pro focussed on an MFA charter to safeguard clubs as the MFA will need to buy or loan players from local clubs. Everything should be in a framework: how much will clubs be paid for a player for a definite transfer to the professional club or for a player to be loaned; the percentage to be paid to the local club if the player is resold to another club; what will happen if a player returns back, etc.
  • Social Dialogue focussed on the player status regulations which would lead to changes in regulations as suggested by FIFA.

A short-list of players will be prepared as twenty players aged 16 to 19 would be needed for the youth team and another ten for the Serie C club.

There is the political willingness by the FIGC and the Lega Pro and the project should be rubber-stamped by UEFA and FIFA shortly. The teams will start pre-season training in July.

Meanwhile during the same meeting, it was revealed the the Malta Football Association was cleared after an inquiry over the incident which occurred during the Third Division League match between Sta. Venera Lightnings and Kirkop United.

The inquiry found that there was no foul play or negligence and that all medical protocols were followed. The addition of an ambulance at the Mellieha Health Centre apart from those in Mosta and Paola should be enough to reach any of the venues in reasonable time.

With regards to the AED, the MFA has audited which training grounds had the AED or not and issued a call for applications to streamline the service for the servicing of AEDs.

The association took on board the suggestion by the inquiry to increase medical screening to once a year rather one every two years for senior players and from three years to two years for players under the age of 17. All clubs will be obliged to have at least one first-aider on the team sheet, no matter whether he is an official, a coach or a player.